Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Grand Funk


Released 1969 on Capitol
The Seth Man, September 2000ce
“Grand Funk” is an album starkly barren and with absolutely no frills whatsoever: reflected in the equally minimal, high-contrast red and white cover art. Even the ‘Railroad’ suffix was now dropped from their name, economically resigning the title of both album and group to the level of Grand Funk’s playing (and some would add ‘ability’ but when did that ever matter in rock’n’roll, I ask you?), which is so unashamedly rudimentary, that when Farner sings on the rousing opener, “Get This Thing On The Move” -- ‘Ain’t no way to deny it /if it’s in your soul’ -- you know it’s not a put on. No, Grand Funk really play like this AND people LOVED IT. More people nowadays should, too, as it’s got soul, class and power to boot. Plus, the album itself is programmed neatly between side one’s crowd-pleasin’ / wimmen-craving themes in direct contrast with side two’s three themes of late night doper alienation.

Side one is where they start up with the aptly-entitled thumper pumper “Get This Thing On The Move”, the pace slowing down with “Please Don’t Worry” whose simple chorus riff oddly predates “Tumblin’ Dice” by a couple years and winds up getting fired up with two instrumental breaks that simmer all too soon. The remaining three numbers (“High Falootin’ Woman,” “Mr. Limousine Driver” and “In Need”) are cut from the simplest boogie and shot through with brief, uncalled for lumpen fuzz guitar solos and whose subject matter are women, and all kinds, at that: upper class, younger groupies, older groupies and teenyboppers, which resigns the rest of this LP side to a sex jonesing thang that Deep Purple always messed up perfectly good album sides with. But if you were a handsome, bare-chested, longhair with sideburns to next Sunday playing a custom made Sears Country Gentleman guitar (a fictitious guitar I just made up to describe its uniquely cheap, static-y qualities the above-described guitarist in question, Mark Farner, gives off as he romps around this album at high volume through the cheapest fuzz-wah wah pedal) you’d be swimming in a sea of adoring womanhood yourself. And with that bicep bracelet strapped around his plectrum-challenged arm, you would be doubly inundated further with all THEIR sisters! Because after all, he was cute and it was 1969, and who the hell else thought Grand Funk were worth swooning over? Sure: all the young, surly male potheads with long, unwashed greasy locks not nearly reaching Farner’s length, comprising the majority of their downer-ripped fan base. And helping along their already aforementioned morose state because they all secretly wished it was THEY who were up onstage bare-chested and in striped flair trousers letting loose with a racket at top volume through Marshall stacks, instead of being crushed down by the foot of the stage with security and sweaty everybody-elses.

Side two sees bassist Mel Schacher wield his huge Fender bass (made proportionately huger by his small frame) like a halberd as Don Brewer beats logs against skins and beaten metal (no wait: that was on “Survival”) as “Winter And My Soul” opens, Farner alone in his room bemoaning the desolate, cold months of Flint to come. After a few instrumental jams, he’s at peace, cosy and warm in mental mittens. That is, until a distant and nightmarish collage from the next room telegraphs through the wall and into his dreams as TV commercials, snatches of classical music and late night news fade into air raid sirens. All is swamped by a hissing wind until:

BRAAANGGG! Bom bom bom bom bom
BRAAANGGG! Bom bom bom bom bom
BRAAANGGG! Bom bom bom bom bom
BRAAANGGG! Bom bom bom bom bom
BRAAANGGG! Bom bom bom bom bom
WAAAUWO WAAAUWO WAAAUWO WAAAUWO WAAAUWO WAAAUWO WAAAUWO
WAAAUWO WAAAUWO WAAAUWO WAAAUWO WAAAUWO WAAAUWO WAAAUWO
WAAAUWOOOOOOOOOOO! WAAA -- WAAAUWO! (etc.)

This is the beginning of the head-trip/ -splitting “Paranoid,” the above two sentences about as close an approximation to Farner’s completely disturbing, cranked up and lead-footed wah-wah patterning as is possible to describe with words. It’s overkill even by today’s standards, so what did teenage kids think of that back in 1969 when it came out? That it was groovy?! What the fuck. There’s a bass line, but only if you consider a loud and consistent bass frequency hum only sporadically interrupted by brief silences a bass line. And while Schacher’s ever-wooferisin’, Farner starts to alternate the vocals between devil’s advocatin’ and angelic consultin’ until when it finally seems to simmer down. But a shattering attack coda ensues, Farner catching his ugly, ugly depth plunging wah-wah’ed hem on the edge of every drum fill and -- BOOM -- it ends: fading with the disturbing sound effect of a baby’s wailing echoing into the darkness.

Audible amplifier hum opens the closing epic, a cover of The Animals’ “Inside Looking Out”, but here their original “Parchment Farm” styled-scenario has been refashioned lyrically (slightly) and musically (extremely) into a stripped down power anthem with bowel-loosening bass that blur the definitions between doing time in jail with time at a soul-crushing factory job, weaving the discontents of both into a burlap / nickel bag and torching it on fire with the heat from their Marshall stacks. The unfaltering, steady rhythm never exceeds its self-imposed speed limit, and Schacher’s bass exclamation points are stop signs that the lumbering Grand Funk King Tiger tank mows down over and over again. By the time Farner’s wailing “FEEEEEEL ALLLLLLLRIIIIIIGHT” by song’s end, the now wall-shaking bass and Don Brewer’s poundings have throttled for long enough, crescendo-ing it all with white noise bombast. The coolest.

Oh, you’ll be scorned two times over for even mentioning Grand Funk’s name in mixed company nowadays. But forget mixed company: even at record shops you’ll raise an eyebrow quicker than playing a Blowfly album at a debutante ball, and that in itself is worth the ridiculously scant admission fare.