Graded on a Curve:
Grand Funk Railroad, Live Album

There was a time, believe it or not, when Grand Funk Railroad were the biggest live act in America. Your parents may have seen them–if you’re of a certain age, you may have seen them. Hell, had I been a bit older, I probably would have seen them. Which is why the band’s 1970 double LP Live Album is so important a historical document. It’s a testament to our bad taste.

Grand Funk Railroad were the American version of Led Zeppelin. Not insofar as their meat-and-potatoes-without-the-meat hard rock went–they weren’t fit to lick Jimmy Page’s double-neck Gibson. But they were amongst the first bands to appeal to a new generation of primarily working class teens who came of age at the receding tide of the hippie subculture. Bob Dylan didn’t mean jack shit to them, and The Beatles were ancient history–all they wanted to do was gobble Mandrax and fuck in the back seat of their Chevy Camaros.

Rebelling against the music of your older brother, who at 25 may as well be in a nursing home, is as natural as falling flat on your face after downing four ‘ludes–you have to take out puberty on somebody. But whereas Led Zeppelin raised the musical bar forever, Grand Funk’s sole claim to immortality is the iconic anthem “We’re an American Band.”

I count three, only three, keepers on Live Album, and one of them isn’t even a song. On the 52-second “Words of Wisdom,” vocalist/guitarist Mark Farner stops the music to say, apropos accepting strange drugs from other concert goers, “Brothers and sisters, there are people out there who look just like your brother. But they’re not!” But what if, in fact, said brother really is your brother, as in you share a bathroom and regularly pool your pennies to buy a bottle of Romilar? Are you supposed to turn him over to security? Whatever happened to come on people now?

The other keepers are LP opener “Are You Ready” and “Paranoid,” the first of which kicks out every bit as much jam as fellow Michiganers the MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams.” The Funk does the Detroit boogie, Mel Schacher’s bass shakes the walls of the Jacksonville Coliseum, and this is good time music at its best. As for “Paranoid,” it’s almost as heavy as the Black Sabbath song of the same name, and features more fat bottom bass by Schacher and a guitar solo worth a good 15 cents of your ticket price.

A few of the other songs show occasional flashes of medium quality uptempo hard rock; unfortunately, they’re embedded in plodding jams like fruit suspended in unflavored jello. The interminably dragged out and charmingly titled “T.N.U.C.” (a class act, our Grand Funk) even features a 6-minute Don Brewer drum solo, word of which led then President Richard Nixon to invoke a an emergency powers act making them a Class I felony. There’s a reason downers were so popular in the early seventies. Shit like this was better drooled through.

Other LP long-stemmers include “Inside Looking Out” (highlight: the part where Mark goes “Suck! Suck! Suck! Suck!”–because the song does!) and “Into the Sun,” which can only be described as a Journey to the End of Your Patience. “In Need” also exceeds the 10-minute mark. Its basic theme? Don’t ask Mark about his bread cuz he ain’t gonna give you none.

The shorter songs are no better. Instrumental jam “Mark Says’ Alright” is so much pointless paradiddle, but at least it boasts some get up and go, which is more than you can say about blooz bores “Heartbreaker” and “Mean Mistreater,” the latter of which is distinguished only by the line, “Mean mistreater, can’t you see I’m real?” Message to Mark: Are you sure? Is it possible you’re a figment of your own imagination?

I can’t say as I blame the kids of the early seventies for gravitating to the likes of Grand Funk Railroad, not when their options included such yawn care professionals as James Taylor, Chicago, and Three Dog Night. America’s teens wanted hard rock, not Jeremiah the Fucking Bullfrog. Sure, Grand Funk was a case study in mediocrity. But those were desperate times, and desperate times call for desperate measures.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
D

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