Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Julian Cope’s Album of the Month

Grand Funk - Live Album

Grand Funk
Live Album


AOTM #53, October 2004ce
Released 1971 on Capitol
Side One
  1. Introduction (2.30)
  2. Are You Ready? (3.34)
  3. Paranoid (6.20)
  4. In Need (9.50)
Side Two
  1. Heartbreaker (6.58)
  2. Inside Looking Out (12.22)
Side Three
  1. Words of Wisdom (0.55)
  2. Mean Mistreater (4.40)
  3. Mark Say’s Alright (5.10)
  4. T.N.U.C (11.45)
Side Four
  1. Into the Sun (12.10)

Note: All you compassionate Forward-thinking Motherfuckers dig The Monkees, right? Yeah, me too! Most likely, you dig ‘em for the TV series that premiered in September 1966; and for that superb refusenik movie HEAD that closed their ‘official’ career three years later to the month; but probbly most most most of all, you dig ‘em for the seven monster 45s they barfed out in between. However, you know in your hearts that the seven accompanying (count ‘em1) LPs they delivered between January ’67 and September ’69 are ultimately nothing more than a patchwork of underachievement (cynically created sessioneering cash-ins, comedy goof-offs, and Hollywood Brill Building hack jobs) constructed specifically to rip off ‘The Kids’ grand stylee. Well, now that I’ve brung to your attention what you intuitively knew all along, but didn’t wanna address because y’all had so much childhood nostalgia invested in them moptop-a-likes, now what I’m asking is that you please extend a little of that Monkees grace to a hard-working band that never had the luck to be granted their own TV series, got it all together themselves (along with their particularly inspirational manager) and, in their first half decade, pumped out umpteen patchy-but-listenable LPs that would have distilled into five very excellent albums, had their Monkees Release Schedule-style work rate been taken at a more moderate and carefully edited pace. So, Ladies’n’gentlemen I now present to you those worthy, journeymen musicians Mark Farner, Don Brewer and Mel Schacher - collectively Grand Funk Railroad. Moreover, this LIVE ALBUM is the specific record that inspired my forming Brain Donor back in the summer of ’99, not the MC5 or Blue Cheer as everyone has presumed. But hey, it’s so long ago even I’d forgotten about the monumental vibe on these discs until the past coupla shows at Reading and Brighton playing with Dogntank, whose band members collectively still worship at the shrine of this double-LP.


Come & Geddit while it’s hot!

Imagine an American band fixated on the raw white soul-blues of the Animals and the sheer raging and seemingly endless tragedy and joy pumping out of the neighbouring Tamla Motown label; a band surrounded and inspired by the massive automobile works of Michigan’s Detroit, Pontiac and (their hometown) Flint, and all the attendant blue collar ‘hard-working man’ values that surrounds such a scene; a band that fused the vibe of The Spencer Davis Group’s ‘I’m a Man’ with Count Five’s ‘Psychotic Reaction’, then segued directly into riffola somewhat akin to Eddie Floyd’s massive and descending ‘Big Bird’ riff via obvious-to-the-point-of-being-generic heavy soul stomps such as Aretha’s ‘Save Me’, The Supremes’ ‘You Just Keep Me Hanging On’, and Otis’ ‘Respect’ (Deep Purple/Vanilla Fudge-stylee), yet still threw in raging and unaccompanied raga-rock solos in the style of J. Page’s ‘White Summer’ at every opportunity, whilst the ultra-athletic singer/guitarist took every opportunity to run bare-chested around the arena, randomly flashing peace signs and arbitrarily screaming ‘Brothers and Sisters’ at the audience throughout. Imagine all of this description being about neither the equally collectively-naked MC52 nor Scott Morgan’s wonderful Rationals nor even Funkadelic themselves, but about a band that were Top Ten regulars in the American album chart throughout the early ‘70s.

Ladies’n’gennelmen, welcome to Grand Funk Railroad’s LIVE ALBUM.

ON TIME

Musically, it’s a stew of ingredients so very obvious that the results are actually not that obvious at all.3 Commencing with that same heightened sense of sonic moment located within the grooves of the two other best ‘live’ albums of the late-60s/early 70s Cosmic Portal (1968-71), namely the MC5’S KICK OUT THE JAMS, and The Who’s LIVE AT LEEDS, Grand Funk Railroad’s awesomely massive LIVE ALBUM was a stone killer that distilled their first three studio LPs (the excellent debut ON TIME, the schizophrenically lop-sided-but-essential-for-the-proto-doom’n’dirge-of-side-2 GRAND FUNK, and the charmingly self-righteous but deeply sexist protest-by-numbers of CLOSER TO HOME) into a one-hour-twenty-minutes-long double-LP of the kind of demented tight-assed Heavy Acid Soul that San Fransisco’s Flipper would distil even further one decade later into their legendary 8-minutes-long ‘Sexbomb, my baby’. That is, LIVE ALBUM saw Grand Funk take umpteen traditional-to-the-point-of-clichéd musical vehicles and work them so damned relentlessly, so speedfreak cleaning-the-lightbulbs thoroughly, and with such a Plymouth Rock straight-edged Puritan work-ethic attitude that the psychic hackles of even The Wire-readingest dude will rise eventually (albeit reluctantly) as your 21st century self glimpses just for one second precisely what the 1970 world then believed it might still become. Because Grand Funk Railroad was the biggest and they wuz Utopian to a man (and in a late-60s Man’s Man’s Man’s World, these motherfuckers wuz some seriously sexist Utopians!4). And, of course, by conflating three canons of work into one fairly short double-LP (plus of course enriching it all further with the addition of a highly potent audience, nay crowd), you get the KISS ALIVE effect, in which all the boneyard detritus and filler is scummed off the top and the deeper more successful grooves that the band most loved to play live come rising to the surface like juicy worms in the furrows of a newly ploughed field (dig my righteous and honest man o’the land metaphor, fellow Grand Funksters?).

GRAND FUNK (2nd LP)

Furthermore, even a hardened Grand Funk Railroad fan such as myself is forced to admit that the only truly essential releases they ever made were this LIVE ALBUM and the debut ON TIME (okay, side two of the red second LP makes it essential, too). Mainly, Grand Funk studio LPs were, in comparison to this concert record, dry and boxy. Indeed, you only have to see a coupla moments’ footage of Marner’s bare torso’d Psychedelic Gymnast persona going mental in front of a blue-collar proto-Sabbath audience to understand that without the collective dead-end mentality of that audience (remember Homer Simpson was a fan of this lot – which sums it up perfectly), their LPs weren’t gonna sustain beyond the 1970s. Musta been hard being Mark Farner. Hell, crossing the fittest dude in the football team with the greatest stoner in the basement is one thing, but adding to it perpetual priapism and Cosmic Earnestness without an ‘off’ switch is beyond the beyond. My being English and not able quite to reach Grand Funk’s place in rock’n’roll history, I always wondered if Pere Ubu had got Ken Hamann in to engineer their albums because they wuz Grand Funk fans. Did Farner & Co. aim for that dry-to-the-point-of-being-parched studio sound, or was it foisted on them by their manager/producer/mentor Terry Knight? Well, the evidence is here on these concert discs, where they lose the tappity boxiness and spread out into an enriched and healthy vegetal wildness almost approaching James Brown’s LIVE AT THE APOLLO. Groove to the rhythms of your own Tinitus, all you metal heads and soul brothers, and tell me it ain’t so! One listen to the energy of this double-LP should have any male with a full sac in his shorts deludedly marching for ‘Freedom’ and ‘The Truth’, at least for the duration of these four 12” discs. For the atmosphere and intensity of this record is a Woodstockian night rally and Mark is The Fuehrer – hell, no one else would dare include track titles such as ‘Words of Wisdom’ and ‘Mark Say’s Alright’(sic sic sic).


‘Three who belong to the New Culture, setting forth on its final voyage through a dying world’ (TERRY KNIGHT, sleevenotes for CLOSER TO HOME)

Rising from the ashes of mid-60s teen stompers Terry Knight & the Pack, Grand Funk was created by Pack rhythm section, bassist Mark Farner and drummer Don Brewer, in 1968, as a call-to-arms. Eight consecutive flop singles informed Terry Knight that his time as a Country Joe/Kim Fowley-a-like lead singer was up, so he threw in his lot as the manager of this ‘heavy metal band’. The previous year had seen Detroit’s John Sinclair, just thirty miles to Knight’s south-east, so successfully politicise and mobilise his proteges the MC5 that they had gone from being perceived as a garage band-in-stasis to free jazz explorers aligned with the Black Power struggle, outlawed in their own state and accompanied to gigs by fleets of motorcycle cops. Inspired by the so-called Struggle going on down in Detroit against what Terry Knight called ‘violence, pollution and desperate dying elders’, the new manager hired a brick rehearsal hall in Flint, whilst his old bass player Mark Farner swapped over to guitar, and he and Brewer added Mel Schacher from ? and the Mysterians on bass.

INSIDE LOOKING OUT c/w PARANOID (Japanese 7")

In every way, Terry Knight & the Pack was to Grand Funk what Yuya Uchida & the Flowers was to The Flower Travellin’ Band. The portentous sleeve-notes and wider ‘world-views’(sic!) all seem to have been those of Terry Knight, but the cod revolution all came from the pen of bare-chested quasi-Native American Mark Farner. And if ever a band simultaneously straddled Righteous, Unrighteous and Self-Righteous more effortlessly than Grand Funk Railroad and their leader Mark Farner, well I ain’t yet found them. Self-appointed champion and spokesmen of just about everybody in the world – the indigenous native population, women (when it suited him), the Godless (when it suited him), and most-of-all (like those other never-done-a-proper-day-job-in-their-lives-refusenik-blue-collar-hippies Neil Young and Bob Dylan) spokesman for all those hard-done-to blue-collar All American working stiffs. Like Eric Burdon’s similar appropriation of L.S.D., Black Power, Heavy Music, and Native American Rights throughout the 1960s and ‘70s, Grand Funk too took up whatever ‘The Cause’ currently was and hammered it until no fucker gave a damn any longer. Which is why, like longhairs during Punk, Grand Funk have been virtually written out of the Detroit story for so long - because they wuz just too gauche, too in-yer-face and, moreover, because they petered out in a welter of mild-and-boogie So What releases. Which is why it’s time for me to shut the fuck up and tell y’all why LIVE ALBUM is the October Album of the Month.


So, watt’s it sound like?

LIVE ALBUM opens with your typically portentous ‘there’s too much chaos in this hall for the band to play’ jobsworth-type announcement, arena crowd drug’n’booze crazoids taking up the whole of the opening piece – which is the same length of a contemporary 45, ‘Are You Ready?’ then kicks in with some of the best MC5-ian soul a boy could wish for. Following in the great tradition of songs about how good the show’s gonna be, ‘Are You Ready?’ is up there with ‘Hullo There’ from Cheap Trick’s LIVE AT BUDOKAN for sheer heart attack. Originally the first track from their ON TIME debut LP, the soul on this overheated versh shines hard enough to seer through your undies to your boogieing butt.
The Mel Schacher bass at the end of the song is insanely compulsive (as it will remain for the entire duration of this disc) and the dual Don Brewer/Mark Farner vocal is just beautiful. Herein, this live ‘Paranoid’ kicks in far harder than its Cleveland-esque punk studio version from side two of the red jacketed second LP GRAND FUNK. That version has immense charm, it must be asserted, but this take has a grind that no studio could even hope to reach. Farner’s wah’d guitar sounds like a clavinet with ancient strings, occupying an underworld Dead Soul groove that leaves Mel Schacher’s finger-played Fender Jazz to provide all the melody, although before long even the bass becomes subsumed into the grunge as a fuzz pedal-from-hell kicks our collective dicks into the dust. ‘Paranoid’ is a great place for first time Grand Funk listeners, as it provides the stop-start over-and-over riff building that smoked my pole from the very beginning, and surely provided Sabbath with so much of their Butler-Iommi first-your-riff-then-my-riff attitude to songwriting.

As this type of performance is nowadays such a stand up show, it’s too weird – in these long past punk times - to hear Farner telling people to get off each other’s shoulders and stop spoiling it, but that was the way they wanted it because, unlike the Grand Ballroom and the other places such as the Five played, Grand Funk was out there in front of 50,000 every night. ‘In Need’ pisses all over the too-spikey studio version from GRAND FUNK, kicking in at over 10-minutes here and being almost as heavy on crowd participation as music. Farner’s harmonica-and-huffing’n’moaning over the bass and drums is just a joy and the excitement is a truly intense tidal wave – again they move seamlessly from riff-to-riff building endlessly. In this live situation, it’s Farner’s corralling of Everyriffs and generic Brotherly Love lyrics that makes the songs so massively appealing. The band is an effortless freight train that totally delivers the goods. The aforementioned raga solo at the end of this ‘soul catalogue’ is a kind of take on Dave Arbus’ amazing violin solo at the end of The Who’s ‘Baba O’Riley’, via the tail-out of ’Egyptian Gardens’ from Kaleidescope’s SIDE TRIPS. Farner’s achievement is that he provides peak-experience-by-rote entertainment worthy of both KISS ALIVE 1 and 2, and leave Deep Purple’s MADE IN JAPAN standing on the landing.

Side Two hefts in with a massive version the debut LP’s ‘Heartbreaker’, with its multi-parted ‘rock ballad’ structures and massive 6/8 introduction that creates a kind of barbarian Ottomans-at-the-walls-of-Vienna magnificence that is shockingly soulful for a so-called power trio. Even the cod-Spanish guitar solo is so undermined by the 150% refrain/coda that the sheer exhileration defies your intellectual and allows the moron to break free from the shackles of Earth’s gravity. Also, the end of ‘Heartbreaker’ is surely where Sabbath got the ‘Snowblind’ riff from (and don’t believe Geezer when he ingenuously claims that he din’t know what paranoid meant at the time – it was a commonly used heads term).

Next up comes Grand Funk’s cover version of The Animals’ 1966 doing-time classic 45 ‘Inside Looking Out’ from their red sleeved GRAND FUNK LP. Hard to beat that dry oppressive nigh-on-10-minutes-long studio version, but Farner & Co. do it with comparative ease, pushing the track into a hefty 14-minutes. Especially endearing herein are Farner’s crowd-pleasing tactics, which include changing the studio lyrics from the prisoner ‘sewing burlap bags’ to ‘nickel bags’. Now, although Grand Funk were real cunts for a too obvious cover version (‘Locomotion’, ‘Gimmie Shelter’ arguably being two mistakes) this fairly obscure Animals cover (number 12 in Britain but failed totally in the US) follows their beloved Eric Burdon’s lead, and the result is one of the greatest storming result for rock’n’roll that ever there was. It careers along at varying stop-start speeds of 90mph, 20 mph and 55 mph like a V8-powered cherry picker with the band playing at the highest the hydraulics will take it.

Side Three is the ‘work-out’ side with its grooves and open-ended ramalama being underpinned with only the ballad, ‘Mean Mistreater’. The side’s opener, ‘Words of Wisdom’, is Farner being his righteously almost self-righteous Rock Police self, which I happen to find endearing: ‘Brothers and sister, there are people like you who look just like you, but they’re not. And when they hand you something, don’t take it.’ Then it’s off into their CLOSER TO HOME-period single, the hot-hit No. 47 piano-based ‘Mean Mistreater’, in which a proto-Todd Rundgren blue-eyed soul ballad conjures up an overloaded fury that would be horribly undermined by future blandishments such as Hall & Oates (ABANDONED LUCHEONETTE? What the fuck?) but which is here just stupendous and insane and gimme more right now, ta very much. Then they’re off into the non-album B-side of the previous single in the shape of jungle-rhythm’d and burning geetar-mayhem of ‘Mark Say’s Alright’ (love the spurious apostrophe, punctuation freaks!). The artless and overtly-female putdown ‘T.N.U.C.’ is really just a vehicle for Don Brewer’s merely-achieving drums-solo, which ain’t a patch on Moby Dick and The Mule for boring muso shit. Indeed, this sucker has excellent crowd participation and is even a bit good… though not good enough to bear listing all the way through to, even once!

The final side is taken up by the debut LP’s massively brilliant (though cliché-ridden) soul galleon ‘Into the Sun’, whose themes include the soul standard riff on which The Doors based their L.A. WOMAN opener ‘The Changeling’, played here as frigging speedfreak fast and frantically any punk band. In some kind of cosmic energy exchange, the great main line was ‘interpreted’ by Wishbone Ash one year later for ‘Blowing Free’ on their ARGUS album. The weird thing is the song really does seem to be about Farner getting into being a Sunworshipper on a hippy level, and leaving behind the temporary problems of getting paid on time.

In conclusion, this is one hell of a raucous achievement from a time when the double-live LP was becoming almost essential to any rock’n’roll band that considered itself to have legs and a place in the future. The Grand Funk that played these shows was so big that the entire audience stormed the police cordon and broke on through to the other side, whereas the memory of today leaves them several leagues below contemporaries who were only at the time only a fraction of their size. This recording is, however, timeless and raging and snot-nosed enough to redeem Grand Funk’s situation if enough people relate to the incandescent grooves AND don’t feel duty bound to search through the Guess Who-like over release-schedule of ever-increasingly keyboard-led good time drivel with which they ultimately kicked their own golden asses into touch. Recorded way before the earnest pomp and added keyboard player Craig Frost turned Mel Schacher into just ‘the bass player’, listen herein and rage hard as you dig hard Messrs Mark Farner, Don Brewer and Mel Schacher. For on this disc especially, this American band got it totally right.

U-Know!




FOOTNOTES:
  1. How about this for an LP release schedule? Entitled simply THE MONKESS, their 1st LP came out in January 1967, followed by MORE OF THE MONKESS (April 1967), HEADQUARTERS (July 1967), PISCES, AQUARIUS, CAPRICORN AND JONES LTD (January 1968), THE BIRDS, THE BEES AND THE MONKEES (May 1968), INSTANT REPLAY (May 1969), HEAD (September 1969) and THE MONKEES PRESENT… (October 1969).
  2. Wrong! No-one comes close to appearing naked on their LP sleeves as Grand Funk Railroad. They are entirely naked on WE’RE AN AMERICAN BAND, and only loin-clothed on both SURVIVAL and PHOENIX, whilst elsewhere Farner is bare-chested always.
  3. Indeed, this album’s so fucking cosmically and hysterically great that the whole thing reminds me in places of that startlingly Sabbath-plays-Traffic euphoric bludgeon riffola served upon John McLaughlin’s 1970 platter DEVOTION (another future Album of the Month, for sure). Yup, I’ve lost my head and I ain’t gonna find it listening to this record.
  4. As a father of a thirteen-year-old daughter, it’s hard to accept that earnest Mark Farner had no problems writing the horribly unrighteous ‘She Got to Move Me’ from 1973’s PHOENIX, in which he’s fucking a 14-year-old. Weirder still is that the song is one of their most beautiful grooves, coming on like a precursor to The Black Crowes’ most soulfully syncopated AMORICA period.


Author’s Suggested Selected LP Discography

ON TIME (September 1969)
GRAND FUNK (January 1970)
CLOSER TO HOME (July 1970)
LIVE ALBUM (January 1971)
PHOENIX (September 1972)