Grand Funk

Grand Funk Railroad

Capitol, 1970

http://www.grandfunkrailroad.com

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/24/2015

One of the saddest stories in musical hallmarks is the decline of the Grande Ballroom in Detroit. The two-story location on Detroit’s west side featured stores on the ground floor and a huge ballroom on the second floor, with a great stage and a spring-loaded dance floor that gave dancers the feeling of floating. Initially starting as a jazz and big band club, the Grande was quite popular but then faded as rock and roll took over in the late 1950s. It wasn’t until 1966 that local DJ Russ Gibb reinvented the Grande in 1966 as a sort of Fillmore Midwest, becoming a psychedelic and hard rock mecca for the Motor City.

During the brief 1968-72 period, nearly every relevant ‘60s band you can think of played the Grande, loud and sweaty and fantastic. The Who and Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead, Cream and Coltrane and Janis Joplin…they all passed through the now-legendary hall. Moreover, the Grande was the place for local talent; the MC5 was the house band who played once a week (and recorded their debut live disc Kick Out The Jams there), and Bob Seger, Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes, Grand Funk Railroad (and the Pack, which was GFR with Terry Knight before the split), SRC and, most notably, Iggy Pop and the Stooges regularly played.

Rock historians can debate over where garage rock and punk was born, and several have made a strong case for the Grande, inasmuch as Iggy Pop and the MC5 pretty much introduced the concepts. The Grande has since fallen into disrepair, crumbling and succumbing to looters and weather just as the city around it, but even with the heartbreaking pictures online, one can still imagine the amplifiers on the stage, the crowds of sweaty high teenagers, the light shows on the huge backdrop and the colorful Gary Grimshaw posters everywhere, with Leni Sinclair lurking around with a camera.nbtc__dv_250

It was this environment where Grand Funk Railroad was born, and just as one needs to step back in time to appreciate the Grande, so does one need to imagine the music of early Grand Funk in this time capsule. Crude might be a strong word, but this is certainly not sophisticated rock, no studio trickery needed, just a beer and some fat chords and the most basic rhythm section you can imagine this side of the Stooges’ Fun House. There was nothing funk about these guys in 1970, but there was a lot of sweaty blues-based blue-collar primal rock, and the audiences absolutely loved it. For a time, Grand Funk was huge, especially because critics and the media hated them, a fact that manager Knight used to his advantage when relentlessly promoting the trio.

Grand Funk, or the Red Album to some, was the band’s second outing, and although it is not sonically different than On Time (read: murky production, same basic approach to each song), it’s slightly better overall despite being very much a product of its time and place. Only “Inside Looking Out” ever makes it onto hits collections, and you won’t hear these eight tracks on classic rock radio, but it’s still an important part of the band’s history and a decent listen.

Never one to shy from a good jam session, Mark, Don and Mel extend a few of these songs longer than necessary, although the rumbling, rollicking midsection of “In Need” is a blast, Farner’s howling guitar solo a necessary counterpoint to Don Brewer’s gut-punch bass. “Paranoid” is another good jam session and “Inside Looking Out” is both energetic and restrained, maybe not justifying its 10 minutes but blowing your hair back all the same.

That’s about it for the highlights. Mediocre, repetitive songs like “High Falootin’ Woman,” “Please Don’t Worry,” “Mr. Limousine Driver” and the annoying “Winter And My Soul” clog up the first side, although “Got This Thing On The Move” is a canny choice for the opener. Yet every song has charm and a positive feel, and listening to these disparate elements before they came together a few years later is interesting for fans of the band, not to mention revealing in just how many arena rock bands of the next 20 years drew from the GFR playbook.

The band would take much of this material on the road, chronicled on the double album Live Album later in 1970, and it sounds pretty much the same. In that era, at the Grande, it would have been fantastic. Forty-odd years later, it’s raw, an assault, energetic and even sporadically great, worth looking into for fans, worth rediscovering for old fans, and not really worth checking out for the uninitiated.

Oh, and as side note, someone needs to renovate what’s left of that legendary Grande before it’s gone forever.

Rating: C-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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