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Grand Funk Railroad

Capitol 764
Released: April 1971
Chart Peak: #6
Weeks Charted: 40
Certified Gold: 4/30/71

Mel SchacherDon BrewerMark FarnerIt seems that we are all going to have to come to terms with Grand Funk. They may well be the most popular band in the world, in spite of the fact that they've been almost universally panned by the rock press and other supposed molders of taste. And the group is apparently so sensitive about that that they now refuse to see writers.

It would be too easy to say that Grand Funk's stupefying ascendence is the direct result of their unacceptability to the elite (or elitists), but it's clear that the band does have a very special relationship. People once said that the Rolling Stones were great not only for their music, but because they were representative of the initial audience of working-class mods they came from and spoke to and for. Or, as a friend put it at one of their first American concerts, "The Beatles are so Olympian, but you could really imagine sitting down and blowing pot with the Stones." That was never really strictly true for them, of course, though it could have been for forebears the likes of Eddie Cochran and Richie Valens, who never forgot his Pachuko roots.

Grand Funk Railroad - Survival
Original album advertising art.
Click image for larger view.
Grand Funk are one of the very few groups rising recently that do reflect the aspirations and attitudes of their audience in the most basic way. And they've achieved that vast consensus not only through hype but because they are that audience, are the rallying point for any sense of mass identity and community in Teenage America circa 1971 (and Black Sabbath that community's freaked out flip side).

In spite of all that (and if there is one thing that would make you yearn to like Grand Funk it is that), the fact remains that their first four albums were almost uniformly awful. It was not just that they were simplistic and unmelodic -- the sound was plain muddy, and with a few notable exceptions like "I'm Your Captain" it was a real challenge to remember most of the songs even after the third or fourth hearing.

Survival is something else again. All of the songs, visceral urgency aside, are interesting as compositions and performances. The playing and singing is remarkably free of past sloppiness, and even if the pace drags a bit at times, the singing at least has definition and resonance, and the guitar work is a real surprise: clean and clear and even subtle at times.

Another interesting thing about it is that it is the first Grand Funk album to be structured around a sort of theme. Just look at the song titles: "Comfort Me," "I Want Freedom," and even "Gimme Shelter."

That theme in all of its several variations has a great deal to do both with Grand Funk's rejection by the pop culture "establishment" and their sense of unity with their audience. If Black Sabbath's music is about disjuncture and disorientation, Grand Funk's is a direct expression of warmth, reaching for the vast befuddled teen audience and saying: "Look, our confusions and yearnings are the same, and we need you as much as you need us." They do it by invoking the specter of the draft in "Country Road," by direct appeal in the beautiful "Comfort Me" ("I was lost in a world of madness/Please take me from all of this sadness/ Comfort me/ In whatever I do/Comfort me/And I'll comfort you too...") And in "All You've Got Is Money," Grand Funk, millionaires all, even manage to invoke their audience's sympathy over the attenuated personal relationships that come with vast fortunes. This is one band whose success sparks not the slightest trace of envious resentment in their fans.

Like them or not, and with this album I do very much, it's been a long time since anybody has won that kind of devotion.

- Lester Bangs, Rolling Stone, 6-10-71.

Bonus Reviews!

Capitol has made an issue of the endless string of unfavorable reviews of Grand Funk recordings, saying, in effect, that the critics have come to bury Grand Funk, not to appraise them. The same ads that quote the bad reviews also quote the prodigious sales figures.

One is tempted to say the critics didn't bury Grand Funk deep enough; they can still be heard. But a more accurate reaction is to quote from one of the Grand Funk songs: "All you've got is money." To be more than fair, the three Grand Funk Railroaders are better vocalists than those who holler for some other bands considered heavy by some easily pleased youngsters -- but, Lordy, they do make a godawful racket with those instruments. They also write some monotonous songs, "I Can Feel Him in the Morning" is the best Grand Funk original in this batch, and it doesn't have much substance. It's groups like Grand Funk that have given loud noises a bad name.

- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 8/71.

Ever wonder what became of Dullsville? Well, the Strawberry Alarm Clock goes off, get up and take the Grand Funk Railroad across the Brooklyn Bridge to a piece of Rare Earth where the Rhinoceros forages among the Grass Roots. Dullsville by any of a dozen other (mostly metaphoric) names is still as dull as ever. Show-biz people get away with a lot, but nobody claiming to be an enterainer should be allowed to get away with being dull. If I had a kid swooning over Grand Funk, what would bother me most is that my own child had such a high threshold of boredom.

- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 11/71.

The Railroad has apparently been dropped, but the group still trundles on with its instant-appeal rock music broken down into simplicity and played with drive and sincerity. Most of the titles are from Mark Farner, although Dave Mason's "Feelin' Alright" and the Stones' "Gimme Shelter" are included. Some rehearsal chatter and children discussing God are inserted, but in the main it's Funk's rock. Color photos are included in the set.

- Billboard, 1971.

Last year, Grand Funk Railroad earned over $5,000,000. This year, manager-producer Terry Knight predicts they may earn two or three times that amount. And the rock critics, record execs and disc jockeys have never been able to stand them for their loud, banal music and frantic stage act. Survival, their fifth album, may change all that. Beyond the fact that it became a 1,000,000 seller the day it was released, the disc demonstrates a far greater concern for musical values than the group has shown in the past. And, as some reviewers have already noted, the basis for Grand Funk's deep appeal to their massive teenage audience is easier to see. Songs such as "Comfort Me," "Country Road" and "Gimme Shelter" are saying, as Knight puts it, "We are part of you. We are your voice." Yes, the new album is saying that lound and clear -- and, for a change, musically.

- Playboy, 9/71.

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