Grand Funk Railroad
To find long-term success, groups have to change or evolve. For Grand Funk Railroad it's almost like two different bands except they were exactly the same people: Mel Schacher (bass), Mark Farner (guitar/vocals) & Don Brewer (drums). Craig Frost joined on keyboards after the change.
GFR were just a bunch of Michigan Rock wannabes when Terry Knight took over as their manager. Knight had released records as a solo artist, without much success, when he realized, correctly, that there was more money in managing Rock acts than being in one. He landed a client when a couple of guys from his old backing band, Terry Knight & The Pack, found a third member and GFR was born taking their name, in part, from the Canadian Grand Trunk Railroad.
Not since Elvis and the Col. had a manager so completely called the shots. GFR was to be simple, straight-ahead, riff-driven hard Rock targeting the lowest common denominator. "Are You Ready," "Got This Thing On The Move," and "Paranoid" are riff feasts. But they weren't hits. That was OK. In the late '60s having hit records was for teenyboppers. The laughable implication that GFR was too Rock or cool or threatening or something for pop worked perfectly. By not being successful on the pop charts they were hugely successful with the Rock audience.
They made a big splash at the Atlanta Pop Festival in '69 which also featured Jimi Hendrix (it was not one of Jimi's better performances which may have helped GFR). They sold out stadiums and sold tons of albums-which was still cool. Oh yeah, the critics hated them. Thought it was all useless hype. This caused GFR to change.
First, Terry Knight was out which led to lot of embarrassing public bitterness between the former manager and the band. Just when it looked like the wheels were going to come off GFR took a turn for commercial pop rock. Mark Farner started playing more keyboards, eventually leading to Frost's hiring. They became an "American Band." They even resurrected the Goffin-King war-horse "Locomotion" and drove it around the block.
If you asked a long time fan about GFR they might mention the hits but it's the bare bones riff-rock of their earlier LPs, with the swagger and gall, that made them an every man's power trio. Those records are the best, most fun and the ones that count.
Grand Funk Railroad did what no one thought possible. They simplified the power trio concept. "On Time" doesn't have the sonic blast of its successors but it has "Are You Ready?" which was the first song to get noticed. At this juncture, GFR was proud they didn't have hits. Or the critics approval. And the more they got trashed, the more their manager Terry Knight was able to turn it into an "Us vs. Them" situation. "The critics don't count, the kids do." The next two albums "Grand Funk Railroad" and "Closer To Home" are the group's best. The former has the kicking "Got This Thing On The Move" and their best Rocker "Paranoid." They also manage a Hard Rock cover of the Animals' chestnut "Inside Looking Out." "Closer To Home" has "I'm Your Captain." It's one of the few Rock songs with strings that still has some grit. It also stands well apart from anything else the band attempted.
Grand Funk Railroad played some of the largest venues available including NY 's Shea Stadium. But "Live Album" illustrates the group's limitations. GFR continued to record commercially successful albums but "Survival" and "E Pluribus Funk" are lackluster though the latter does have the keyboard drenched "Footstompin' Music." "Mark, Don and Mel" is a "Best Of" collection drawing from the group's early work.
"Phoenix" represents a change. Organist Craig Frost is added to the line-up. More important GFR makes a hard turn toward being a singles band. They had split, acrimoniously, from manager Knight (who publicly predicted the group would disappear without his leadership) and probably felt the need to move in that direction. So GFR albums from this period feature at least one pop hit. It ranges from the solid "Rock 'n' Roll Soul," to the mildly embarrassing "American Band," to the what-were-you-thinking "Locomotion." If these and other semi-hits are prized "Grand Funk Hits" nails it.