I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple

Posted: March 27, 2014 in music, Record reviews
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The power trio of guitar, bass, and drums emerged in rock ’n’ roll in the late 1960s. The pioneers were The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, and Grand Funk Railroad. Their guitarists, Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Mark Farner, were like the great New York centerfielders of the 1950s. Hendrix was Willie Mays. Clapton was Mickey Mantle. And Farner was – Duke Snyder?

No, sorry, that’s where the comparison breaks down. The Duke’s talents were pitched below Mantle’s and Mays’, but he was still an exceptional ballplayer for many years. You can compare his best years to his colleagues and his stats suffer only because they were gods and he wasn’t. No way does Mark Farner belong in the same league as Hendrix and Clapton. (To be fair, that’s a league you can fit in one bus.)

But Farner performed a vital function the other two couldn’t. If you formed a band in 1967 or 1971, how could you hope to grow up to be Hendrix or Clapton? But Mark Farner – he made it sound easy, or at least he made it sound as if anyone could do that. (And they did. Bad Company, Mountain, Foghat, AC/DC, Bon Jovi…there’s a long list.)

Grand Funk Railroad (they shortened the name later in the ’70s, then re-enlarged it) started out playing hard, heavy, messy rock with really stupid lyrics. Their first two albums are like ’60s garage rock recorded 100 times louder. Grand Funk never rose to the level of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, or Van Halen, but they filled auditoriums for years – particularly in Omaha, where they met those “four young chiquitas” they poignantly describe in their super explosive smash hit explosion, “We’re An American Band.”

The album I liked was Closer to Home (1970), with their signature song, “I’m Your Captain.” Playing the record this evening after all these decades makes me realize that by 1970 they were losing their way. This is the album where they abandoned their basic formula and brought in keyboards, strings, and ocean noises. Artists should be free to experiment but these boys weren’t artists, they were making party music – sort of a smash-mouth equivalent of K.C. & The Sunshine Band.

Yes, Closer to Home sold a bunch of copies, and We’re An American Band (1973) sold even more. They deserved the money – they were sincere and they toured constantly. But their true selves were back there in the beginning: On Time (1969) and Grand Funk (1970). The songs were mostly crud (“Heartbreaker” is a phenomenal hard-blues workout) and I can barely bring myself to pay attention to the lyrics, but just listen to a track or two. Anybody could do that.

Bonus: I give Grand Funk points for the first known use of “dudes” in a pop song, in “We’re An American Band”:
They said, ‘Come on dudes, let’s get it on!’
And we proceeded to tear that hotel down

Psych! No bonus: I’m deducting those points for recording the lite-rock hit “Some Kind of Wonderful” and for covering Little Eva’s “The Loco-Motion.” Yes, I know that “loco” is train-related but did we really need our heavy-metal forefathers recording songs you could skip rope to?

Thus ends “Sins of the ’70s Week”
I considered putting The Bee-Gees on trial, but I will never apologize for disco.

A railroad runs through it
After all the steam I’ve generated in this blog about my novel, you may be wondering why I haven’t issued any bulletins in awhile. I had some derailments this winter but I believe I’m almost right on the rails. That’s enough transportation metaphors. I’ll report back when I’ve hit my next milestone, and thank you for your patience…or indifference…or maybe you were just enjoying the silence!

Meanwhile: Here’s my latest video. That makes two, and that means I have a channel.


  1. Mr. Seaside says:

    Steven-I very much enjoyed your new video. However, you should be aware that when postcards become the new currency of the U.S.A. (and possibly of the expanding Russian empire), at first merely replacing Bitcoins as the leading alternative means of valuing ‘stuff,’ then: THIS KIND OF RECKLESS DEFACING OF NATIONAL ICONS WILL NOT BE TOLERATED!!. In the meantime…Enjoy!!, and pen a nice note to comrade Putin (perhaps send him one of your adulterated iceberg images and simply tell him to “chill-out”).

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      Thank you for your kind words, sir, but I can’t envision your science-fictional scenario of postcards becoming the new currency. Postcards are more likely going to end up like dinosaurs trapped in a tar pit. But we can still dream!

  2. Accused of Lurking says:

    Thanks for reminding me of Grand Funk Railroad. In my youth I loved them and it’s been way too long since I listened to them. You didn’t mention “Bad Time”, which meant a lot to me back then, but doesn’t seem to mean very much at all today.

    On lyrics:
    I always thought the line in “We’re An American Band” was “And we proceeded to turn that hotel on.” A few years ago, I revised my thinking as the line started to sound like “And we proceeded to turn that hotel down,” which I found to be much more clever wordplay than I had come to expect from Grand Funk.

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      That’s hilarious! I can imagine the scene:

      Mark Farner: Where are we staying in Seattle?
      Roadie: The Sheraton put in a bid for our tour.
      Farner: What’s the chiquita situation?
      Roadie: They can’t guarantee chiquitas.
      Farner: Turn them down.

  3. If Hendrix and Clapton are in a bus, surely Jaco Pastorius is the driver.

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