Friday, May 06, 2005
THE BONG-RATTLING BASS..., ETC.
In the last month (first batch April 12, second batch last night) I have bought six CDs by Grand Funk Railroad. I now own the 2002 remastered editions (w/bonus tracks) of On Time, Grand Funk, Closer To Home, Survival, E Pluribus Funk and We're An American Band, plus Live: The 1971 Tour, which I bought a couple of years ago. Unless someone can make a really convincing argument for Phoenix or anything post-WAAB, I think I'm done. But only because the discs I do own seem to contain a lifetime's worth of knuckle-dragging joy.
I'll step right off the ledge with my opening gambit: I prefer Grand Funk's version of "Gimme Shelter" to the Stones' original.
[waits as everyone leaves]
Seriously, that one track, contained on Survival, sort of encapsulates everything great about Grand Funk - the album as a whole is kind of their defining statement. (It's not their best album; I think Closer To Home is. But it's their most unadulteratedly Grand Funk-ian.)
On the Survival cover, the members of the band are clad in loincloths, covered in mud, clutching bones and huddling at the mouth of a cave they're clearly supposed to be living in. (This is a pretty fair approximation of the circumstances critics of the time would have wished upon these three lunks, had they their way. But anyhow.) They're running with the Nugent-ian noble-savage thing, a few years before Terrible Ted would put on his own loincloth, and swing across arena stages on a rope.
The music on Survival, as on every Grand Funk album I own, is as gloriously primitive as the artwork. The mix is crystal-clear, allowing the listener to wallow in the sheer...competence of every recorded moment. For a band no more talented than your average collection of sixteen-year-olds in a suburban garage, these guys sure liked to jam. The bonus tracks on most of these reissues contain extended versions of album cuts - and wow! did they bloat up in concert.
I think it's the dumbness of Grand Funk that makes me like them so much. They distilled American white teenaged Seventies-ness down into a thick, tar-like muck, and spread it everywhere. It's not the hostile dumbness found in, say, NYHC country or Toby Keith, though. It's unthinking fun, with occasional outbursts of semi-coherent philosophizing ("Save The Land").
Make no mistake, though: my newfound enthusiasm for GFR contains not a drop of contempt or irony. I have always preferred the music of 1970-75 (and even the late 1970s) to the music of 1964-69. The Beatles? Pre-Let It Bleed Stones? The Velvet Underground? No thanks; I'll take Black Sabbath, ZZ Top and Grand Funk. (And Blue Öyster Cult and Motörhead and Cactus and Montrose and Free and Bad Company and...and...and...)