Monday 11 February 2013

1969 Grand Funk Railroad - Grand Funk

Grand Funk Railroad, 'Inside Looking Out', 1969

Info: Grand Funk Railroad hailed from Flint in Michigan and consisted of Mark Farner on vocals and guitar, Don Brewer on drums and Mel Schacher on bass in their original line-up in 1968. The group were seen by music critics as the antithesis of what a rock group should be in the late-sixties / early-seventies, maybe reflected in one of their lyrics; 'Please don't worry, 'bout no jury, there's so many, of us anyway'. This derision came mainly as a result of the bands simplistic lyrics and straight-forward playing style, at a time when the music scene was rife with innovators such as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, GFR were seen as lacking substance, but music fans, it seemed, were not following the script. A combination of having a great publicist and manager in Terry Wright (who took out a giant billboard of the band in Times Square) and appealing to the American blue-collar worker, led to Grand Funk Railroad selling 4 certified golden albums and finding themselves in massive demand on the touring circuit. As Sara Farr notes in 'The Little Black Book of Music', the band's 1971 concert in Shea Stadium broke The Beatles record by selling out the venue in 71 hours, a record that still stands today. The group seemed to appeal to those who liked hard rock while having a few beers in a dark and dingy bar 'way out west'. I picture a scene of sawdust on the floor and bearded Hell's Angels kicking back to Grand Funk, every song contains thumping drums, thumping bass, howling vocals and long guitar solos. Named after the Grand Trunk Western Railroad near their home town, the band have mainly been described as a poor man's Cream, but I would go closer to a poor man's Blue Oyster Cult, that by no means should take away from the enjoyment of listening to this album and also their debut from the same year, On Time.

While they may have been considered naff back in the day, I think Grand Funk have gained slightly more credibility with the passage of time, musically anyway. I'm personally very fond of this album, I can't even remember how I first came across the band a couple of years ago, it's almost as if they magically appeared in my Music folder, but I find myself regularly in the mood for their heavy hitting tunes and long guitar solos, in the above video if you skip to 3:51, you'll know what I mean. The album can be split into two halves in a way, short and snappy for the first 4 tracks, followed by 4 tracks each over 6 and a half minutes long that feel like a very enjoyable improvised jam at times. It's hard for me to pick favourites because I think as an album each song very much runs into the next as a whole, but pushed to choose I would go for opener, 'Got This Thing On The Move', the groovy 'High Falootin' Woman', 'Mr. Limousine Driver' and the above video, 'Inside Looking Out'. Although they were hugely successful during their hey-day and sold over a million copies of their debut and this album, Grand Funk, Grand Funk Railroad seem to be largely forgotten and overlooked nowadays, which is a pity. A quote by a music fan on colourfully sums things up when he says; 'I could eat the bass on this album. There's no physical way to do it, of course, but if I could - I would. I'd eat the whole fucking thing'.

Track Listing:

1. Got This Thing On The Move
2. Please Don't Worry
3. High Falootin' Woman
4. Mr. Limousine Driver
5. In Need
6. Winter and My Soul
7. Paranoid
8. Inside Looking Out

1968 Jeff Beck Group - Truth

Jeff Beck Group, Shape Of Things, 1968

Info: The Jeff Beck Group was formed in 1969 and disbanded in July, 1972, in that short space of time Beck's line-ups changed very frequently, but this debut album, Truth, contained two heavyweights, Rod Stewart on vocals (before he joined The Faces) and Ron Wood on guitar and bass, pre-Rolling Stones. Born in Surrey, England in 1944 his career as a musician began with small Croydon band The Rumbles, following which he became a session guitarist before replacing some guy called Jimmy Page in The Yardbirds in 1965 (Beck himself was subsequently replaced by Eric Clapton in the same band). The Jeff Beck Group released four albums in total, the best known being Truth and Beck-ola in 1969. Beck had been wanted by Pink Floyd as a replacement for Syd Barrett in 1969 and also turned down the chance to replace Brian Jones following his death, in The Rolling Stones, such was the high esteem he was held in by his contemporaries. His mix of styles ranged from hard-rock, to incredible blues guitar, reflected in much of his solo work in the mid-seventies (see albums, Blow By Blow and Wired in particular). Ranked at number 5 in Rolling Stone Magazine's '100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time' ( behind only Keith Richards, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton & Jimi Hendrix, Beck's virtuoso style justifies this ranking, while not a bad vocalist it was definitely his ability as a lead-guitarist which absorbed most of his talent.

And so to the album itself, which is a wonderful mix of solo guitar playing, frantic rock and acoustic interludes (see the strangely medieval track 'Greensleeves'). The album contains a mix of originals (attributed to Jeffrey Rod - a pseudonym for Beck & Stewart) and covers by American blues artist, Willie Dixon ('You Shook Me', 'I Ain't Superstitious') and folk singer Bonnie Dobson's 'Morning Dew'. Quite interestingly Jimmy Page appears on the song he wrote, my favourite track, 'Beck's Bolero' along with The Who's Keith Moon on drums and Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones on bass (the latter two also appear on 'Ol Man River', a nice showcase for Rod!). The album was quite successful commercially and reached the U.S. Top 20 in the album charts where it stayed for 8 months, while bizarrely never charting in the U.K.. English music journalist John Tobler states in '1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die that; 'Later Beck albums have won Grammy awards, but this is his best ever...', personally I'm more of a fan of his mid-seventies solo efforts but Truth is a great album, chilled-out and rocking out all on one record.

Track Listing:

1. Shapes of Things
2. Let Me Love You
3. Morning Dew
4. You Shook Me
5. Ol' Man River
6. Greensleeves
7. Rock My Plimsoul
8. Beck's Bolero
9. Blues De Luxe
10. I Ain't Superstitious