One of the most popular bands of the early 1970s. Hard-rocking and gritty, as many bands fresh from the late-60s were. Long hair, blue jeans and bluesy guitars. Grand Funk Railroad was Don Brewer (drums, vocals), Mark Farner (guitar, keyboards, vocals) and Mel Schacher (bass), and later Craig Frost on keyboards.
Grand Funk had a style that was bluesy and riffing, not heavy metal, but blue collar rock and roll. These guys were from Michigan, so accessible Midwest rock was their style. It took three albums before mainstream radio found them.
The words, “We’re an American band” are rather iconic, that and the thundering guitar riff of the chorus, it was Grand Funk Railroad kicking the door in. The name came from the Grand Trunk Western Railroad Company.
Albums released during their classic period:
On Time (1969) – A million selling album right out of the gate, it reached #27 without the assistance of any hit singles.
Grand Funk (1969) – The second album also went gold and rose to #11 on the chart, still without a hit single.
Closer to Home (1970) – Another gold album and more mainstream than their first, two albums. Instead of all hard-rocking songs, they incorporated strings, acoustic guitars and other more expansive production. It paid off as the album peaked at #6. The title track, augmented by “I’m Your Captain” hit a chord with audiences and FM radio. The length of the song was problematic for radio, so a shorter version (still long by radio standards), put these guys on the radar.
Live Album (1970) – Time for a live album, and a successful one, rising to #5.
Survival (1971) – Again there were no hits, although curiously, two cover tracks (Feelin’ Alright, Gimme Shelter) were released as singles. The album sold successfully in spite of that.
E. Pluribus Funk (1971) – only a middling single, “Footstompin’ Music”. Again, a top selling album without serious airplay, perhaps because this band was hugely popular in concert, selling out Shea Stadium on their last tour.
Phoenix (1972) – This is getting repetitive, only mid charting single, Rock and Roll Soul” but otherwise a pleasant album with the full time addition of a keyboardist to boost their instrumental cred.
We’re An American Band (1973) – Bringing in Todd Rundgren as producer was a good move. Their highest charting album at #2. Rundgren refined their sound giving it grit and polish. Drummer Brewer took a larger role in the band.
Shinin’ On (1974) – Another Rundgren produced album, with chart topper “The Loco-Motion”. A lesser album than their previous one.
All the Girls in the World Beware!! (1974) – “Some Kind of Wonderful” is a very cool song, a bit R&B in swagger. Also include the top five song, “Bad Time”. That would be their last top 40 hit. The production includes horns and orchestra. Not a great album but a good one.
Caught in the Act (1975) – A fan’s delight, a live album capturing them at their peak. They were always a great live band, this captures it.
Born to Die (1976) – The album peaked at #47. What happened? No hit singles, and the move toward darker, moodier songs. Critics panned it, radio ignored it and buyers did not.
Good Singin’, Good Playin’ (1976) – The broke up, but made an album anyway and asked Frank Zappa to produce it. Fans were split, even though the song have more brightness and energy than the last album. It did not sell.
That’s a lot of music in a short period of time, but this was back in the time of release, tour, release, tour, release, tour – repeat! Musical tastes changed and new artists were constantly being debuted. Record companies wanted new product.
In that period of time, the band charted nine top 40 singles, including two, chart-topping songs.
“I’m Your Captain/Closer to Home” (1970) #22 A 10-minute classic. This song is unlike other Grand Funk songs so the casual listener might not even know they released it. I hate to use the word epic to describe it, but it is grand in its scope. This song is something Yes or other progressive-rock band might have written.
“Footstompin’ Music” (1971) #29 Not a great song, but one designed for live performance. The beat, funky organ and thumping bass would get people on their feet, then Farmer’s wailing guitar solos.
“Rock and Roll Soul” (1972) #29 A rocking song, especially live. This is the energy and swagger these guys had onstage that make them a sold out ticket.
“We’re An American Band” (1973) #1 Their best-known song, written by Don Brewer, produced by Todd Rundgren. Written about life on the road.
“Walk Like a Man” (1973) #19 Driving, riffing guitars. Another really cool song.
“The Loco-Motion” (1974) #1 Grand Funk turned a Carole King/Gerry Goffin song into a rock hit.
“Shinin’ On” (1974) #11 A song that is both rocking and funky.
“Some Kind of Wonderful” (1974) #3 Driving beat, bluesy rock.
“Bad Time” (1975) #4 A rocking, mid tempo song. A sing along kind of song.
The band broke up in 1976. Over the years, the band reformed with different lineups. The magic of their early 1970s albums never reappeared in new music, but they have played to old fans and new fans.