Grand Funk Railroad: Grand Funk (1969)
There were a few bands in the late 1960's who were probably responsible for the creation of heavy metal music. Led Zeppelin, Cream, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and Mountain all come to mind, but one that is just as much a part of the early stages of this music form, and a band that immediately took the world by storm, was Grand Funk Railroad. Three working class young bucks from Michigan put together one of the most raw and energetic power trios of all time, and with the aggressive management and marketing tactics of Terry Knight, guitarist/vocalist Mark Farner, drummer/vocalist Don Brewer, and bassist Mel Schacher took over the world.
Grand Funk was the band's sophomore album, and was their second release in 1969 (back in the days when it was not unusual for a group to release more than one LP in a year.) Fueled by the distorted and gritty guitar work of Farner and a furious yet funky rhythm section, Grand Funk Railroad were a band to be reckoned with, and Grand Funk contains some of the bands most lethal songs. Kicking off with perhaps one of the most startling and heavy songs yet recorded at that time is "Got This Thing on the Move", an angry early metal tune with slabs of distorted guitar from Farner, busy bass lines and powerful vocals. It's almost jarring, even today, to pop a CD in and immediately get hit with the crushing noise that eminates from the speakers when this tune gets started.
The band settles in for a more straight rock/blues tone on the melodic "Please Don't Worry", a song about the perils of leading a criminal liefestyle and whether the judicial system will catch up with you. This song is perhaps best representative of the truly American sound that Grand Funk Railroad had, hard rock with hints of the blues and a lotta' soul. "High Falootin' Woman" follows a similar path, although this tune is more of a standard blues shuffle with chugging guitars and the wailing vocals from Farner. At this point in his career Farner might not have been the most talented guitar player in the world, but he no doubt had "the sound", which made up for his lack of technical skill on the instrument. His dirty tone is all over "Mr.Limousine Driver", a driving rocker with manic drum fills and scorching lead guitar lines that are just dripping with distortion. Schacher deserves credit here as well, as his booming yet melodic bass work really complements the playing of his bandmates and adds the right amount of funk to the hard rock landscape of this song. The band goes for a kicked-up Rolling Stone flavor on the guitar heavy "In Need", featuring great bluesy vocals from Farner and huge bass lines from Schacher, while "Winter and My Soul" is heavy blues all the way, led by Farner's best Johnny Winter impersonation.
The last two songs on the album really is what has the most impact, that being the brutal "Paranoid" and the cover of the Animal's "Inside Looking Out." It's been quoted from Farner that the band was so consumed with recording and touring back then that they didn't even realize that Black Sabbath had a song also called "Paranoid", which was all over the radio at the time. GFR's song however, is a much different animal altogether. Clocking in at over 6 minutes in length, "Paranoid" is a story of a schizophrenic living in a nightmare world, and is equally heavy and chilling to listen to. Kicking off with the most fuzzed out guitar tone ever recorded, Farner adds wah-wah as well for a truly evil sound. Combined with the pounding bass of Schacher and lots of screams, this is truly early heavy metal in its infancy. "Inside Looking Out" is another lengthy metal anthem, with intricate guitar and bass lines complemented by the raging vocals of Brewer and Farner. At times funky, at others heavy as hell, this will make you forget that Eric Burdon even wrote this song. Farner performs his best lead guitar work on the album, as his extended solo in the middle of the song utilizes speedy hammer-ons and pull-offs, with a thick fuzz tone that sounds like it would rip apart your speakers. The word ominous comes to mind when describing these two tunes, as lethal as anything Zeppelin or Sabbath were creating in 1969.
Grand Funk Railroad went on to record a long string of classic albums in the same mold, but it is this LP, dubbed "the red album" by the fans, that is most remembered as being one of the band's strongest. Take a listen, and feel the power of the band that outsold The Beatles at New York's Shea Stadium a few short years later.