Friday, July 03, 2009

A Return To: Grand Funk Railroad

The Millennial generation probably knows the name Grand Funk Railroad solely as a result of the Hullabalooza episode of The Simpsons (or Homerpalooza, for the Simpsons nerds). But most of us haven’t actually heard Grand Funk’s music. “Nobody knows the band Grand Funk? The wild, shirtless lyrics of Mark Farner? The bong-rattling bass of Mel Schacher?? The competent drum work of Don Brewer??? … Oh mannn.” Homer moans the lack of rock and roll knowledge amidst the generation X-ers.

But since the depiction of Homer’s music taste was significantly less than hip in that particular episode, we didn’t rush out to the record store in search of Grand Funk after watching it. We rushed out for the cool bands like Nine Inch Nails and Sonic Youth. Like Bart and Lisa, we had no idea who that old, boring Grand Funk band was, and we didn’t care. We just figured that Homer had old-fashioned taste, so we never decided to give it a chance.

But that’s when we were kids. We liked Cypress Hill and Smashing Pumpkins back then. We didn’t even really know who Peter Frampton was. Once we grew a little older, we saw Frampton Comes Alive! on vinyl for 5 bucks, and in the stack beside it, Grand Funk… for three. Our curiosity got the better of us, and we shelled out 8 bucks in honor of Hullabalooza.

Ironically, so many of the “cool” bands in that episode have become laughable today (save Sonic Youth). Billy Corgan is pathetic now, nobody crowdsurfs anymore and Apple Computers is a pretty recognizable name nowadays. A decade and a half later, Homer was right about rock and roll. He may have seemed old fashioned in the mid 90s’, but he was right all along. Grand Funk does rock.

Upon first listen, the fuzzy bass and driving beats sound like a precursor to Rage Against the Machine. And sure enough, there are alarming similarities, even an alarm sound effect. The first two minutes of Paranoid almost sound exactly like a Rage song. It's the same formula of a slow, ominous opening for 30 seconds, cue a tornado alarm sound, and scratch the guitar strings like Tom Morello before dropping the beat with a bass line and an awesome riff. Homer wasn’t giving Don Brewer enough credit either, his drumming isn’t just competent, it’s great. There's intense energy in both Grand Funk and Rage, but Grand Funk did it first.

Unfortunately, the lyrics are ridiculous. Try your best to tune those out. It shouldn’t be too hard, because there are plenty of jam sessions to get caught up in. There are sounds on this record that don’t sound like 1968, and I can only imagine how people must have felt when they first heard this music. They’re definitely not virtuosos like Led Zeppelin, but Grand Funk set a lot of important stages in the progression of rock and roll. Said band included.

It’s a great time to revisit Grand Funk Railroad. Or if you’ve been avoiding them your entire life assuming they’re another Starland Vocal Band, check them out now. They can rock the blues, the prog and the funk. Don’t let what you’ve heard from The Simpsons keep you away from Grand Funk. They’re a solid rock-out band who should never be forgotten.

And you’ll never pay more than a few bucks for their record. Add it to your collection and get your needle grooving on the Grand Funk Railroad tracks. It’s a lot better than the new Smashing Pumpkins album.

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