Friday, January 20, 2017

Grand Funk - 1969 - On Time

Grand Funk 
On Time 

01. Are You Ready 3:25
02. Anybody's Answer 5:15
03. Time Machine 3:40
04. High On A Horse 2:35
05. T.N.U.C. 8:40
06. Into The Sun 6:25
07. Heartbreaker 6:30
08. Call Yourself A Man 3:00
09. Can't Be Too Long 6:30
10. Ups And Downs 4:50

11. High On A Horse (Original Version) 4:25
12. Heartbreaker (Original Version) 6:53

Bass – Mel Schacher
Guitar, Piano, Harmonica, Vocals – Mark Farner
Drums, Vocals – Don Brewer

One of the 1970s' most successful hard rock bands in spite of critical pans and somewhat reluctant radio airplay (at first), Grand Funk Railroad built a devoted fan base with constant touring, a loud, simple take on the blues-rock power trio sound, and strong working-class appeal. The band was formed by Flint, MI, guitarist/songwriter Mark Farner and drummer Don Brewer, both former members of a local band called Terry Knight & the Pack. They recruited former ? & the Mysterians bassist Mel Schacher in 1968, and Knight retired from performing to become their manager, naming the group after Michigan's well-known Grand Trunk Railroad.

They performed for free at the 1969 Atlanta Pop Festival, and their energetic, if not technically proficient, show led Capitol Records to sign them at once. While radio shied away from Grand Funk Railroad, the group's strong work ethic and commitment to touring produced a series of big-selling albums over the next few years; five of their eight releases from 1969 to 1972 went platinum, and the others all went gold. Meanwhile, Knight promoted the band aggressively, going so far as to rent a Times Square billboard to advertise Closer to Home, which turned out to be the band's first multi-platinum album in spite of a backlash from the rock press. However, Grand Funk Railroad fired Knight in March of 1972, who promptly sued; the band spent most of the year in a court battle that ended when they bought Knight out.

Keyboardist Craig Frost joined the group for the Phoenix LP at the end of 1972. Following that album, the band's name was officially shortened to Grand Funk, and the group finally scored a big hit single (number one, in fact) with the title track of the Todd Rundgren-produced We're an American Band. The follow-up, Shinin' On, contained another number one hit in a remake of Little Eva's "The Loco-Motion." However, following Grand Funk's next album, All the Girls in the World Beware!!, interest in the group began to wane. Reverting back to Grand Funk Railroad, they remained together in 1976 solely to work with producer Frank Zappa on Good Singin', Good Playin'. Farner left for a solo career, and the remainder of the band released an album as Flint with guitarist Billy Elworthy.

Grand Funk Railroad re-formed in 1981 with Dennis Bellinger on bass and released two albums; only Grand Funk Lives even managed to scrape the bottom of the charts. The group disbanded again, with Brewer and Frost joining Bob Seger's Silver Bullet Band and Farner embarking on a new career as a CCM artist; his "Isn't It Amazing" was a number two gospel hit in 1988. In 1997, Grand Funk Railroad reunited once again to record a benefit album titled Bosnia; two years later, Capitol issued a three-disc box set retrospective, Thirty Years of Funk: 1969-1999

Grand Funk Railroad's 1969 debut is a wildly uneven affair. Although the exuberant energy and power-trio theatrics that would fuel their 1970s hits are in place, the group's songwriting and arranging abilities are very much in their infancy. The biggest problems in terms of songwriting are the often-amateurish lyrics: "Anybody's Answer" is a sincere but muddled attempt at a message song that expends a lot of energy without ever focusing on a particular target and "Heartbreaker" is a love lament that is content to trot out a series of well-worn heartbreak clichés. In terms of arrangements, the band often places an aimless jam where a tight instrumental break should be. The standout example of this problem is "TNUC," a loose-limbed tune that wears out its welcome with an overlong and unstructured drum solo. Despite these problems, there are some strong tunes in the mix: "Are You Ready" is an exuberant rocker built on one of Mel Schacher's trademark walking basslines and "Into the Sun" is a clever tune that starts as a mellow mid-tempo jam before blossoming into a stomping rocker with a funky guitar riff. Both of these sturdy tunes appropriately became mainstays of Grand Funk Railroad's live show for many years to come. "Time Machine" is another highlight, a bluesy shuffle built on Mark Farner's wailing vocals and a catchy, stuttered guitar riff. All in all, On Time is way too patchy of an album to please the casual listener but provides a few hints of and contains enough worthwhile moments to please the group's fans.

It took a while, but Grand Funk Railroad‘s August 1969 debut ‘On Time’ found its way — slowly, but steadily, becoming a million seller. Of course, this band’s core members were used to taking the long route.
In fact, throughout the second half of the 1960s, Grand Funkers Mark Farner (vocals/guitar), Don Brewer (drums/vocals), and Mel Schacher (bass) had held down jobs with a series of hard-working but underpaid Michigan-based psych- and garage-rock bands: Schacher with one-hit-wonders ? and the Mysterians (of ‘96 Tears‘ fame), and Farner and Brewer backing up their future manager in Terry Knight and the Pack.
It was Knight who reportedly named the group after Michigan’s Grand Trunk Railroad line, and then helped them formulate a simple plan of attack: Why not apply themselves to creating a quintessentially American expression of the then-widely popular power trio format, in ways the Cream-inspired Mountain and even Jimi Hendrix’s anglicized Experience never could?
And that’s precisely what happened. The fledgling Grank Funk subsequently stole the show at the 1969 Atlanta Pop Festival, then found themselves immediately scooped up by Capitol Records and fast tracked into the studio. Knight would oversee production on the cheekily named ‘On Time.’
Unfortunately, the first single ‘Time Machine’ barely broke into the Top 50 and, with the exception of its rousing ‘Are You Ready’ and the hypnotic ‘Heartbreaker,’ the bulk of ‘On Time’ consisted of often-tentative blues rockers. None of it lingered for long in Grand Funk’s live repertoire. Meanwhile, radio stations generally turned a deaf ear, and critics panned the band.
It didn’t matter. Grand Funk Railroad’s album sales and career momentum were driven, then as now, by the fans they’d converted out on the touring trail. Within a couple of years, ‘On Time’ would achieve platinum status, anyway.

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