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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Grand Funk Railroad

Live The 1971 Tour

Review by Gary Hill

Grand Funk Railroad was a band on which I, and many others cut my teeth. They were called the worst band of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine, but that didn't bother us. Other critics also treated them poorly, but we didn't care. They knew how to rock. They were the American band. Well, now the press, with the exception of Rolling Stone, has learned to treat them with more respect. Perhaps that is because many of "us" are now the press. Or perhaps it is because saner minds now rule. In any event, this release, along with the new series of reissues will, hopefully, be treated better in the media. Were Grand Funk Railroad the worst band of all time? Definitely not. We're the best? Probably not. What they were, and still are, is a darn entertaining group that mixes hard rock sounds with that of R & B. This disc documents three concerts from 1971 - one in Chicago, one in Detroit and one in New York. It tends to show the many sides of this band, even though this was still from an early point in their career. There are some stellar pieces, and there are those that fall nearly into obscurity. There are definitely some excesses. The thing is, this ain't rocket science, it's rock and roll. It is supposed to have excesses and blemishes. That's what makes it fun. The recording itself sounds not bad, but only so good. Still considering the age of the tapes it could have been a lot worse. Although many think that Mark Farner's voice and guitar sound were what made GFR what they were, to this report it was the driving bass of Mel Schacher. To me that sound was what made the band unique. It also was the one constant in a changing landscape. Well, make your own decisions, but for me Grand Funk will always be one of the quintessential rock bands of the 1970's, and I am glad to have this new release in my collection.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2002 Year Book Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Intro
Well, I guess they wanted to make sure no one accused them of subtlety. Yes had "Firebird Suite" and GFR had "Also Sprach Zarathustra".
Are You Ready
Recorded in Chicago, this is a fast paced, frantic rocker a bit in the style of Sly and the Family Stone. That bass sound really cut through it all and drove the piece. This is just a great R & B tinged party rocker, and the quintessential Grand Funk opener.
Footstompin' Music
Drums start this, and bass joins to get your foot stompin'. As the keys enter it feels like "Good Lovin'", but the vocals really make this one. The chorus is definitely all Grand Funk. Musically the bass and keys dominate the track, but the guitar screams out from time to time. This is a killer party rock number. It was recorded in Detroit.
Paranoid
Another GFR classic, this one comes in hard and heavy and Farner has definitely found his Wah Pedal. It drops off, and a cool, slightly bluesy riff enters. Once again the bass line drives this number. Farner does find the time for another screaming solo on the track, another from the Detroit show.
I'm Your Captain/Closer To Home
The first song on the disc that comes from the New York show, they start this one in a funky jam that breaks from the album version. As a burst of guitar crescendos, they begin to play it like the record. This one varies a bit from the studio version in terms of sound, but is quite a solid interpretation of a cut that really is one of the quintessential rock epics. It seems to have been quite influential. It's two pieces building one coherent theme. Even when you ignore the musical significance, it holds up very well as an arena rock ballad type of number. It is a highlight of GFR's live show today, and this great recording of it shows that it always has been. They segue it straight into the next number.
Hooked On Love
This one has a pretty straightforward rock and roll sound. Listening to portions of this piece one has to wonder if Grand Funk had any influence on the punk movement, as sections of the track really sound that way. This is definitely not one of GFR's finest moments, but the song does have a strong chorus. It also hooks directly into the next song.
Get It Together
The Hammond B3 truly steals the show on the early segments of this track. It also has some pretty unintelligible vocals, but the music drives well enough that it doesn't matter. Besides, all that is sung is a repetitive chorus.
T.N.U.C.
This one is all fired up, hard hitting and fast paced. The cut does include a very long drum solo that gets quite tedious. Of course, in the interest of fairness, I must admit that I have never really "gotten" the whole drum solo thing, anyway. I suppose as long as this one was, it made for a good opportunity to make a refreshment run. When the instruments finally do come back in it is in the form of a fast and furious crescendo.
Inside Looking Out
These guys were big into marijuana law reform way back when, and this song was one their big placards for the cause. All that said, it is a considerably strong cut with thoughtful lyrics. The bass line provides a lot of the true magic of the cut.
Gimme Shelter
Covering this Rolling Stones number, the band put in a so-so attempt. The vocals are a bit weak, and they seem a little lost at times. Still, it is listenable.
Into The Sun
This is one of the lesser-known GFR classics, but a strong rocker nonetheless. It's a frantic hard-edged cut that truly jams. There is one section of this that feels a bit like Zeppelin's "How Many More Times". The jam late in the piece really steals the show. It becomes a bit spacey and Hendrixish, but really works, making this a great album closer.
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