itting in a Baton Rouge bar late one night in 1973, the three guys in Grand Funk Railroad, at the time America's most popular and despised (by nonfans and critics) group, were lapping up the suds with the boys from Humble Pie, a voguish blues-boogie group featuring Steve Marriott (Peter Frampton had already departed). Neither group's career had long to run but they were young and full of themselves, and the future undoubtedly seemed a long way off.
The belligerence began with an argument over the relative merits of British versus American rock. Drummer Don Brewer, Grand Funk's champion, roared out of his chair and in a style of classic argumentation familiar to anyone with experience around the Michigan auto factories from which his band sprung, declaimed the virtues of Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Little Richard, and -- clinching it pretty well for a guy who couldn't play a simple shuffle to save his ass -- ELVIS PRESLEY! Then he gave the assembled Brits a bleary gimlet glare and proudly announced, "We're an American band!"
So eager was Capitol, in the wake of the Beatles' breakup, for some Top 40 action that the label issued a press release about "We're An American Band" before the song was even recorded, and released it before the mix was even finished.
Maybe they were wise to do so, because further polishing could only have detracted from a band that produced what Rod Stewart called "the all-time loud white noise." "We're An American Band" thundered onto the chart at Number 83 on July 28, 1973 and by the end of September it topped the lists, more than pretty good for a group whose previous best-selling single was "Closer to Home," which peaked at Number 22 three years earlier.
Actually, the biggest difference in the music probably wasn't Rundgren's production, though he certainly lent them an unaccustomed sense of song shape, or even the fact that Brewer had, for once, given them a lyric that defined their boys'-night-out sensibility, with its references to playing poker til dawn with Freddy King, living it up with a Little Rock groupie, and hotel destruction. No, the biggest change was the addition of piano player Craig Frost, who plays an insanely repetitious treble riff that runs through the chorus like the Morse code designation for Motor City high energy. It's this added coloration that hooks you by lending an undercurrent of excitement to Farner's prototypically cheesy garage rock guitar breaks and Brewer's powerful, if unfunky, drumming.
- Dave Marsh, The Heart of Rock & Soul, Plume, 1989.
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