Grand Funk aka The Red Album was Grand Funk Railroad’s second studio album and was, according to bass player Mel Schacher, his favourite album. The band were also known as GFR or Grand Funk, the original name being taken from the Grand Trunk Western Railroad that passed through Michigan, the band’s home state.
The band started out as a power trio with Mark Farner and Don Brewer from Terry Knight And The Pack along with Mel Schacher from ? and the Mysterians and this setup was probably the best of the lot. Terry Knight quit his band to become Grand Funk’s manager. The band became known as one of the loudest bands in the world, claiming to be the first to hit the 100db level at a live gig. Not everything went smoothly at the start, one well documented incident involved the band upstaging Led Zeppelin when opening for Robert Plant & co and getting a better response from the crowd…twice. They never played on the same bill as Led Zeppelin again!
Grand Funk followed hot on the heels of the band’s first album, On Time, released earlier in 1969. On Time barely scraped into the US album charts, hitting an initial high of #48, however, after the release of Grand Funk later in the year On Time went on to achieve gold disc status. Grand Funk achieved the same status ahead of the first album.
All the songs except one on Grand Funk were written by guitarist/vocalist Mark Farner and in many ways reflected his blues roots. The odd song on the album was a cover of ‘Inside Looking Out’, originally released as a three minute song by the Animals but converted to a nine minute heavy rock anthem by Farner.
The album opens with ‘Got This Thing on the Move’ which gets under way with a heavily fuzzed guitar and thumping bass intro. This track sets the scene for most of the rest of the album.
The second track, ‘Please Don’t Worry’, is unexceptional but still carries the hallmarks of the band in the form of bass-heavy riffs and energetic guitar licks.
Song 3 is ‘High Falootin’ Woman’, a more blues-rock soundtrack over trademark forceful vocals by Farner. Like many of the bands tracks this one is heavy on the music and light on the vocal content.
‘Mr. Limousine Driver’ comes next and was released as a single at the end of 1969, barely bothering the BillBoard Top 100 as it crawled to a high of #98. The song, however, returns to the screaming, fuzzed guitar and solid bass backdrop heard in the opening song of the album.
Of the four tracks that remain on Grand Funk three have become anthems of sorts. The first of these is ‘In Need’, an eight minute melodic rock gem. ‘Winter and my Soul’ comes next but is another fairly unexceptional song which never really gets going. The final two tracks, ‘Paranoid’ and ‘Inside Looking Out’ were also released as a 33rpm ‘single’ which lasted almost 18minutes in total. ‘Paranoid’ (unrelated to the Black Sabbath song released as a single in 1970) starts off with a war siren and ‘documents’ the feelings and paranoia of Cold War era Americans during the late 1960’s. With screaming guitar and metronomic bass this is probably the best track on the album. The final song, ‘Inside Looking Out’, originally written by Eric Burden and the Lomax brothers of the Animals, started out as a 3 minute UK pop single but was converted into a 10 minute heavy rock epic by Farner with changes to the lyrics and vastly extended musical interludes! This is a belter of an album overall and is now almost 50 years old, the music is as relevant now as it was then – have a listen.
Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan once said “we are by no means the loudest band in the world as the Guinness Book of Records says. We may be the loudest they ever measured but compared to people like Grand Funk Railroad and Black Sabbath we’re quiet man!”