With a fuzz bass sound to die for high on their list of priorities, and critical adulation low, Grand Funk (Railroad) blazed a trail across America from the late 60s and way into the mid 70s, playing their crowd pleasers to packed out venues regardless of what the critics of the era had to say.
Rising to prominence at a time when Blue Cheer, Iron Butterfly, Vanilla Fudge and their ilk had taken Cream’s amplified blues rock blueprint and smeared it in various jams, Grand Funk built their sound around the interplay of Mel Schacher’s none-more fuzzy bass, Mark Farner’s riffing and Don Brewer’s solid drumming. Home grown kings of the road at a time when Led Zeppelin were breaking the market, Grand Funk Railroad were among America’s most popular bands at a time when shirt-free guitar solos could be measured out in days. True, there were cooler bands out there, but few acts packed them in night after night like the relentlessly touring Grand Funk Railroad.
Grand Funk (a.k.a. The Red Album) was the band’s second release and, once you get your head around the fact that Schacher’s bass sounds for all the world like a luxuriantly piled premium carpet, it sounds exactly like you would expect a late 60s American power trio to sound. They played no frills amplified blues rock for the masses, with Farner and Brewer both being solid vocalists and the band able to slip into a seamlessly interlocking groove at a moments notice. True, the lyrical content has dated, but it should be kept in mind that half a century has passed since the release of Grand Funk, and little rock music from the period stands up to scrutiny when you hold it against modern standards of political correctness. Grand Funk is an album that can whisk you back to a time of faded bellbottoms, cheesecloth shirts, waist-length hair for men, and luxuriant moustaches for those blessed with the capability of growing one. Sure, Grand Funk is not a critical favourite, but it is an enjoyably shaggy-haired time capsule of its era, and one that can drag lapsed fans straight back to their mis-spent youth.
Grand Funk Railroad may not have meant much to music fans in Britain and the rest of Europe, but in fairness we had a plethora of our own various long haired noisy types to celebrate, but they are one of the under-celebrated foundation stones of amplified American rock and roll, and there is still a nostalgic fondness for them to this day. The last word on Grand Funk Railroad should perhaps go to one of the sage voices of modern America, and his dead-on assessment of their appeal – “You kids don’t know Grand Funk? The wild, shirtless lyrics of Mark Farner? The bong-rattling bass of Mel Schacher? The competent drum work of Don Brewer?”