Grand Funk Railroad (also known as Grand Funk) is an American rock band that was highly popular during the 1970s. Grand Funk Railroad toured constantly, packed arenas worldwide, and received four RIAA gold albums during 1970—the most for any American group that year. The band's name is a play on words of the Grand Trunk Railroad, a railroad line that ran through the band's home town of Flint, Michigan.
The band was formed in 1968 by Mark Farner (guitars, keyboards, lead vocals) and Don Brewer (drums, lead vocals) from Terry Knight and the Pack, and Mel Schacher (bass guitar) from Question Mark & the Mysterians. Terry Knight, a former band-mate of Farner and Brewer, soon became the band's manager.
First achieving recognition at the 1969 Atlanta Pop Festival, the band was signed by Capitol Records. In 1969, the band released its first album titled “On Time,” which sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold certification in 1970. During the same year, a second album, “Grand Funk” (aka the Red Album), was awarded gold status. The hit single "I'm Your Captain (Closer to Home) ," from the album “Closer to Home,” was also released in 1970.
Despite critical pans and a lack of airplay, the group's first six albums (five studio releases and one live album) were quite successful. In 1970, Knight launched an intensive advertising campaign to promote the album “Closer To Home.” That album was certified multi-platinum. Following “Closer To Home,” “Live Album” was also released in 1970, and was another gold certification recipient. In 1970, they sold more albums than any other American band and became a major concert attraction. By 1971, Grand Funk broke The Beatles' Shea Stadium attendance record by selling out in just 72 hours.
“Survival” and “E Pluribus Funk” were both released in 1971. In 1972, Grand Funk Railroad added Craig Frost on keyboards as a full-time member. The addition of Frost, however, brought a stylistic shift from Grand Funk's original garage-band based rock & roll roots to a more rhythm & blues/pop-rock-oriented style. With the new lineup, Grand Funk released its sixth album of original music “Phoenix” in 1972.
To refine Grand Funk's sound, the band secured veteran musician Todd Rundgren as a producer. Two successful albums and two #1 hit singles resulted, the Don Brewer penned, "We're an American Band" (from “We're an American Band”) and "The Loco-Motion" (from “Shinin' On,” written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin and originally recorded by Little Eva). The album “We're an American Band” peaked at #2 on the charts, while the "We're an American Band" single, released during summer 1973, was Grand Funk's first #1 hit. "The Loco-Motion" followed in 1974 as Grand Funk's second chart topping single.
In 1975, Grand Funk switched to Jimmy Ienner as producer. The band released the album “All the Girls in the World Beware!!!,” which depicted the band member's heads superimposed on the bodies of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu. This album spawned the Top 10 hits "Some Kind of Wonderful" and "Bad Time."
Although highly successful in the mid 1970s, tensions mounted within the band due to personal issues, burn-out, and musical direction. Despite these issues, Grand Funk forged ahead. Needing two more albums to complete their record deal with Capitol, Grand Funk embarked on a major tour and decided to record a double live album, “Caught in the Act.” The double album should have fulfilled the contract with Capitol; however, because it contained previously released material, Capitol requested an additional album to complete Grand Funk's contractual obligation. While pressures between the band members still existed, the members agreed to move forward and complete one more album for Capitol to avoid legalities. The band recorded “Born to Die,” and agreed not to release any information regarding their impending breakup in 1976.
In 1976, the band reunited and joined forces with musician Frank Zappa, which renewed the band's spirits. Deciding to continue, Grand Funk signed with MCA Records. This reunion, however, was short-lived. Shortly after finishing 1976’s “Good Singin', Good Playin'” Grand Funk Railroad disbanded in 1977.
Grand Funk Railroad reunited in 1980 without Frost and with Dennis Bellinger replacing Schacher on bass. The new line-up released two albums on Irving Azoff's Full Moon label, which was distributed by Warner Bros. Records. These releases included 1980's “Grand Funk Lives” and 1983's “What's Funk?.” Neither album achieved much critical acclaim, however, a single "Queen Bee," was included on the “Heavy Metal” soundtrack album and movie. After disbanding a second time in 1983, Farner continued as a solo performer and became a Christian recording artist. Brewer and, former Grand Funk band-mate, Frost joined Bob Seger's Silver Bullet Band.
In 2005, Grand Funk Railroad was inducted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame. The band has had three of its recordings voted Legendary Michigan Songs, "We're an American Band" in 2008, and "Closer To Home/I'm Your Captain" and "Some Kind Of Wonderful" in 2009.
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