Certainly mentioning this name in the company of idiots, like any great band, will raise a questioning eyebrow; and in informed company of metalheads, psychedelics and rock fans alike will almost certainly get you laughed out of the room. Unfortunately the only life for Grand Funk Railroad records now outside of those whose minds are truly open to any great music no matter from whence it came is the ‘cheesepodding’ scene. Brief history for those not indoctrinated, ‘cheesepodders’ make it their aim to enjoy the kind of bubblegum hits and guilty pleasure records that previously you couldn’t be seen to own, but now thanks to the advent of digital, your embarrassing music taste need not be the butt of jokes or even known at all. Certainly later Grand Funk songs fit into that guilty pleasure mould perfectly (Some Kinda Wonderful, I’m looking at you), but for those who never let the opinions of retards and snobs get in the way of sonic bliss, step inside. Certainly Grand Funk have never been the most technically expert band (since when was that the price of rock and roll hall of fame admittance?) and their songs have tended towards the crowd-pleasing even after receiving a critical paddling; but none of this matters once you set that evil black hole a’spinnin’.
This is the Red album. Not just for the cover, but for the sound. The guitar tone most reminiscent of the much later Fu Manchu [incidentally, a band a little too light on discussable subtext to justify one of these to itself, but a wholehearted two thumbs up on any Fu Manchu record from me], that kind of plastic-saturated over-tuned after effects distortion that works so well was first debuted on this record and it’s one of the coolest sounds ever pressed into vinyl. The nickname ‘Red album’ came about because of this post-production overworking of Mark Farner’s guitar (the ‘red’ track, if you work in a studio in 1969) so it could compete on the same sonic plane as Mel Schacher’s crushing bass. That’s the kind of production I like, on their debut, rightly so; Grand Funk kicked godlike ass but the low end was so immense that it totally dominated the record. Instead of trying to shackle that beast down, they decided to unleash the full force of the guitar tone! Right the fuck on! Terry Knight was a man who understood rock and roll. Y’know what this guy did after a few post-Railroad projects went sour? Announced he was through with show business, hung around with then ‘it’ girl Twiggy and raced cars with Paul Newman. If only more of the world could see that this sort of shit is exactly what living a life of perpetual adolescence is all about.
Having said that, he did fail. The low end on this album is filling-loosening, like the way old ships used to tug several whole dead whales behind them into South Georgia, trailing blood and blubber and oil into the sea like a snail; like that gory geographically specific sight, on several listens, the album becomes pure bass and you completely forget about anything else except that sound. The low end is immense, the bass often overpowering everything in the song, but the guitar does a good job of being more than just a David for the Goliath to do battle with. For a start, when the bass relents and steps back into line as a backing instrument, the Mark Farner puts onto this record three solos that simply defy belief, throughout the album, whenever there is a spare second the guitar finds time for a esoteric little warble to tickle the interest, and on In Need, Winter and My Soul and Paranoid the band take rock and roll guitar hero worship to the most indulgent heights; at the end of the Animals cover, Inside Looking Out, we even get an extended bass solo. This is pure rock indulgence and it’s so refreshing to witness it unabashed and unveiled. You can imagine campy music videos with badly rendered guitarists put to the background of a nondescript Tokyo skyline appearing 50 feet tall and riffing away like a sonic Godzilla, maybe some cartoon music waves being made like in Scott Pilgrim, and a couple of shots of bad Japanese actors looking shocked to complete the look.
So what if it isn’t high art. I get to listen to a lot of music and for that I’m grateful, I love the music of Earth and Sunn O))), but so much of their musical peers are pretentious and dull. And when we’re discussing something one does in one’s free time, boring becomes the biggest insult. Music, first and foremost ought to be enjoyable. And preferably heavy. Grand Funk on their red album score a double bull’s-eye in that regard. Find this record and listen to it. Heavy as hell and with an honest and brazen approach to campy rock excesses you might just start appreciating that perpetual adolescence is the only way of life. And it requires a perpetually adolescent soundtrack.
Written under duress by Steven