Sunday, August 15, 2010

Bad Time (To Be In Love), Grand Funk Railroad (1974)

Can I get a witness? Yeah!

Two bits of trivia for all y'all: First, 45 years ago today, the Beatles played Shea Stadium, the first-ever concert to be held in that type of venue, the original arena rock gig. Check out Ed Sullivan's elated smile while he's shaking hands with the lads as they took the stage - what a snapshot of history this 1:58 of video is! 

Tickets sold like hotcakes, of course, which in those days meant in 80 days!  But 6 years later, another group broke the Beatles' record for attendance and revenue generation at a Shea Stadium concert that sold out in 72 hours, and their Shea record has never been broken, nor ever will be.  The group: Grand Funk Railroad. 

Who knew? Grand Funk was, to me, the quintessential high-energy garage band of the early 70s. They hadn't crossed my mind for decades, probably, until a week or so ago when I was listening to a Jayhawks song on an old compilation CD I found.  It was Bad Time, and it elicited a flood of memories. For the life of me I couldn't remember who had sung the original power ballad at first, but I knew I'd always belted it out whenever I heard that first killer verse. And of course, the person I was belting it out with was Mark Farner, he of the open - or no - shirt and beautiful voice. (He has been called "a great communicator" by one of his protégés, Peter Frampton.)

As a live act, they had no peer in the minds of many (see this testimonial about the Shea concert from one who probably represents the consensus on this topic), and their music carried what is generally thought to have been a positive message. Read any interview with Mark Farner, old or new, and it's clear he always intended to be a change agent in society, not just a frontman, by encouraging young people to recognize their power and influence, albeit not violently.  It appears a lot of that ethos was misunderstood by The Establishment, and they were often marginalized and feared, including by the suits who ran American radio, even as the fans were welcoming them with open arms.

The group formed in blue collar Flint, Michigan, and its original members were Farner, drummer Don Brewer and Mel Schacher, who had played bass for Question Mark and the Mysterians. They had a publicity-savvy producer/manager in the early days, and after a rollicking show at the Atlanta International Pop Festival in 1969, were signed by Capitol Records (the Beatles' U.S. label). 

They achieved a meaningful chart position the next year with I'm Your Captain/Closer To Home. In 1972, they became a four-part band with the addition of a keyboardist, Craig Frost.  Their attempt to lure Peter Frampton for that fourth position failed due to his other contractual obligations. Frampton was well known to them; his earlier band Humble Pie had been a regular opening act for Grand Funk, including at Shea, and Frampton has credited the two bands' association with Humble Pie's ability to gain traction with audiences on both sides of the pond. 

Not until Todd Rundgren became their producer did they see a true hit, with 1973's We're An American Band, followed by The Loco-Motion, the Little Eva number written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin.

I hadn't realized how interesting their story was, frankly; I've been reading stuff all afternoon, and I could write a lot more. Unfortunately, this is another bad break-up story, where the original members of the group fight in court over the right to use the group name after a split.  But they had a very good ride indeed.

1 comment:

Norrin2 said...

They were some kind of wonderful, all right. Even though some of their lyrics were pretty dumb ("We've got to ban the man / with the aerosol can")