Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Grand Funk Railroad
Grand Funk


Released 1970 on Capitol
Reviewed by Dog 3000, 21/01/2003ce


The bare-chested antics of Mark Farner!
The bong-rattling bass of Mel Schacher!
The competent drum work of Don Brewer!

The second Grand Funk Railroad album, "Grand Funk" (the one with the intensely red cover) is on the whole their finest work. The sound is heavier than their first LP "On Time" in fact it's just about the only record I can think of where the bass is the loudest instrument -- the guitars and drums are somewhat tinny, or maybe "bright" is a better word, which on the whole I like as it gives a nice separation between the higher and lower ranges (think Geezer Butler jamming with the Minutemen?) though Farner's singing is always pretty high in the mix too. This sophmore effort also doesn't suffer from the organ-driven filler and over-production that would begin to take over with their third LP "Closer To Home." But after these first three sub-Cream stompers? Fuhgeddaboutit. Once they added a keyboard player and became a quartet it was all downhill from there. The very definition of "sell out," the sad road followed by latter heavy proles who made the big time and forgot their roots (see: Metallica.)

"Grand Funk" kicks off with "Got This Thing On The Move", a high energy foot stompin' ode to THE MOVEMENT! As in People Power! Revolution, brothers and sisters! Well sort of! The comparisons to their Michigan neighbors the MC5 seem obvious: fuzzyheaded "radical" politics, shamelessly ripping off Black music (Farner's "sho nuffs" and "yessuhs" are downright embarassing), jaw-dropping macho posturing (but as Nigel Tufnel once put it "what's wrong with being sexy?"), and a preference for high volume and energy over talent and taste. But while the Five are often thought of as true-blue revolutionaries the Funkateers have always seemed more like blue collar boys from hicksville jumping on the bandwagon. But so what? In the end it turned out the MC5 may have been on the bandwagon first, but riding the bandwagon they were nonetheless. "Free Dope And Fucking In The Streets" never made much sense as a political stand anyway -- more like an excuse to bang chicks then dump them guilt free. So how can you blame the Funk for their skin-deep loyalties? Hell, that just makes 'em more honest is all. Anyway after a couple verses the leadoff track goes off on many vaguely jazzy tangents and tempo changes which keep the listener's interest quite well.

Next up "Please Don't Worry" is another hymn to the kids who are DOWN: "Please don't worry 'bout no jury / there's so many of us anyway." There's power in numbers, so grow your hair real long and smoke some mother nature. What they gon' do about it when we outnumber 'em? Some nice tempo changes in this one too, from galloping pseudo-jazz into the swaggering verse riff. Special mention for Mel's bass runs which are quite Geezerific.

Track three "High Falootin' Woman" has a great title, but it's just so-so sub-Zep "Hey Woman!" bloozrock.

Track four "Mr. Limousine Driver" ups the sleaze factor as Mark Farner implores his chauffuer to keep his nose out of the hijinks goin' on in the back seat. So is he smokin' doobs or bangin' groupies back there? Yes. One of their best bloozoid numbers and of course kinda like a contradiction with the REVOLUTION! songs that kick the album off. Who says you can't have your cake and eat it too? The piggishness continues with the next track . . .

Track five "In Need" is an 8 minute workout with lots more nifty riff change-ups, jazzy drum fills, thumpin bass and even an unaccompanied guitar solo ala Zep's "Heartbreaker" except it is four times longer and has about one-third as many musical ideas. But dat Farner sho' kicks up some fuss! Plenty of good sampling material here too, in fact all over this LP, but for some reason everyone seems to use the riff from "Nothing Is The Same" off their third album.

"In Need" also features the coolest lyric on the album:

"I saw an old high school friend just the other day
He didn't ask me how I was, asked me how was my pay!
Now do you call that a friendship, judging from what he said?
If you do have a real tip -- ain't nobody gonna know about my bread!
No, Nobody gonna know about my bread, no no!"

In other words, FUCK OFF YOU PROLES CAN'T YOU SEE I'M A ROCK STAR!

Right on?!?!

Side two begins on a slower note, with "Winter In My Soul" which is a midtempo modal thing which is probably intended to be trippy but it ain't by half. Seems to mostly be variations on one chord, with Farner playing a guitar line in unison with the vocal melody on the verses. Another patented sub-Cream psuedojazz bridge and it doesn't pick up the pace til the end, which also features some nice stereo panning effects. But the bottom line: I just don't care about what is in Mark Farner's soul! Next!

Side two, track two is "Paranoid" which bears no relation to the infinitely cooler Sab tune of the same name. Starts with some really bad musique concrete stuff (mumbling voices -- from a TV set?) Followed by the classic air raid siren sounds, ala War Pigs! Then the most thuggishly simple wah wah guitar since The Stooges! Then it keeps going! And going and going! More wackishly frenzied-but-going-nowhere-in-a-hurry lead guitar, some echoey screams. On the whole it sounds a bit like "Mr. Limousine Driver" at half speed. More thug wah wah and stereo panning effects at the end, then suddenly the sound of a crying baby and it's over! What is that supposed to mean? Who cares! I always skip over this track.

The final number is the album's "hit" -- their 10 minute workout on Eric Burdon's "Inside-Looking Out." Aside from the silly harmonica jam, this is the rare 10 minute jam that actually COOKS. My fave bit is Mel's one-note bass line in the middle section over the "competent funk" beat, while Farner wangs his dang doodle. After just slamming that one note a few dozen times, Mel starts to slam it then let his finger slide down the neck. BOWwwwwwww! BOWwwwwww! Econo jamming at it's finest. Dem bongs be rattlin' sho'nuff. In the later stages Farner kicks up some mean squall on the gee-tar too, he's not playing anything fancy just strumming fiendishly whilst screeching "make me feel allrii-ii-ii-ight! Yessuh! Yessuh!" and so on. Like Hank Rollins once said, the thing the "old bands" had that was lacking in the 80's was you could really hear those guys SWEAT. And here they are sweatin' like nobody's business.

Also bonus points for the inner sleeve on the gatefold version -- the dilated pupils of the three Funks stare intensely out at you from a head-and-shoulder photo montage like groovy busts in a museum. Mel has a rawkin' "Fu" stash and is wearing a leather jacket and a fancy scarf (which is actually much cooler than the polka-dot shirt and floppy hat he's wearin' on the cover!) Don sports a sub-Tyner afro and wears a workin' man's shirt such as you might have bought at Sears in 1970. And Mark is wearing nothing but his hairy chest!


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