Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Grand, Yes. Funk? Maybe Not.

Coming to Your Town to Help You Party It Down.

I used to hear Grand Funk Railroad (later just Grand Funk) all the time on the radio. In the 70s, they were huge, filling arenas all around the country, having massive hits, working with producers like Todd Rundgren and Frank Zappa, and selling more than 25 million albums.

Their music is big, dumb rock 'n' roll: infectious, loud, and more than a little goofy.

In other words, it's hard to take them too seriously, but it's also hard not to love them.

And their song "Bad Time" is the first song I remember associating with a crush. We were maybe 8 or 9 and Linda had long brown hair, dark green eyes, and pigtails. She liked to play kickball and wore Keds sneakers every day (except for Wedenesdays, when she'd always wear brown leather shoes). One day she told me she liked me, then ran away. By the time I could tell her I liked her too, she'd already moved on to a guy named Larry who was the class Dodgeball star. This made me sad even though I wasn't quite sure why (and really didn't know what it meant to "like" someone anyway).

And then I heard this song on the radio. I'd heard it before, but I'd never really listened to it. And at the age of 8 or 9, I listened and nodded wisely (well, as wisely as you can nod at 8 or 9) and thought "yeah, this is exactly how I feel."

Anyone who loves vinyl will tell you how much better it sounds. It's warmer, deeper, and you feel like you can crawl inside the grooves of the record.

But people who love vinyl rarely tell you how precarious it is. You need to treat records right so they don't get warped. You need to clean them so you don't gather dust on the needle (and you need to make sure you have a good needle to begin with).

Still, sometimes, even though you care for records well, they still sound bad.

Now, thanks to YouTube, you can hear that for yourself. Among the many odd sub-genres on YouTube is a huge collection of people filming vinyl records playing. (I don't know why this is, certainly the craptastic camcorder microphone and sound negates any sound advantage the vinyl offers.) And that's where I found this video of Grand Funk:

The 45 is gold vinyl, which is pretty cool. But it sounds horrible. Watch the record spin around a few times and you'll notice the whole was cut off-center. So the record isn't quite centered and the tone arm is moving back and forth to compensate. Meanwhile, the platter is spinning at a constant 45 revolutions per minute, but since the record isn't centered, part of it spins a little too fast and the rest spins a little too slow.

This does no favors for Grand Funk Railroad, a band from Roger Moore's hometown of Flint, Michigan whose name was a pun on the "Grand Trunk Railroad" spur that ran through town (and in no way an indication of any actual funk going on in their music) or to the single best use of cowbell ever in rock 'n' roll (Will Ferrell, Conan, Beck, and the guy from ZZ Top notwithstanding).

Here's a cleaner and clearer version of the song:

What does this have to do with Linda?

Shortly after my "Bad Time" revelation, my family moved. I didn't go to school with Linda anymore and might have forgotten her altogether by now. Except that I did see her exactly once more.

I was on the street in New York City after college, visiting a friend who'd moved there. And suddenly, there was Linda, walking towards me, wearing a Grand Funk "We're an American Band" t-shirt. Although she'd certainly changed in the 15 years that had passed, I recognized her immediately. Unfortunately, she didn't remember me at all (she also didn't remember Larry, which made me feel better -- and childish for feeling better).

I nearly told her she was my first crush. I thought about telling her I always thought of her when I heard "Bad Time." I almost pointed out that "We're an American Band" is an ode to female groupies who screw around and how ironic it was for her to wear that shirt. But I did none of those things. Because she really had no idea who I was. And we were both in a hurry.

So we parted, each scurrying off to a different part of Manhattan, no longer joined tenuously by a song, each marching to the beat of our own cowbell.


iaremusic said...

All I can think of is the parody someone once told me about: "We're an All-Mannequin Band...We're an All-Mannequin Band...We come into your town, then we just stand around - We're an All-Mannequin Band."

Mister Pleasant said...

Alex - you posted one of my guiltiest guilty pleasures! We're An American Band is made of sonic awesome. I am about as far from a Grand Funk fan as one can get, but in this case I just plop on my stoopid hat and sing along at the top of my lungs.

Great story about the pig-tailed object of your pre-teen crush.

Alex said...

Mr. P, I think I've got that same hat!

Anonymous said...

What a great story. And I never knew that Grand Funk was a play on Grand Trunk. You give us a piece of your heart and educate us.

Connie said...

Can I get a witness?

(There's a WV connection in there.)

Connie, waving HI! to Alex

Alex said...

Connie, wait -- you're the legendary "sweet, sweet Connie"?! :)

Stay warm with the storms...

Connie said...

No, but I remember being thrilled about that line. It was the only song I ever heard that had my name in it.

I suspect the Banger Sisters (movie) was loosely based on that Connie (who was a real person famous for making plaster casts of rock star genitalia)

Unless I'm thinking sideways, a WV guy wrote the lyrics to Some Kind of Wonderful.

Alex said...

Hmmm... learn something new every day: John Ellison (from WV) wrote and sang "Some Kind of Wonderful," originally recorded by his band the Soul Brothers Six in 1967 (on Atlantic Records). It peaked at #91.

I'd never heard this version before just now -- you can hear it here for free if you're interested.

Sweet, Sweet Connie is Connie Hamzy from Little Rock... not to be confused with the Plaster Casters (last link is NSFW).

Connie said...

Hunh. I was lied to. I was told Connie was the Plastic Caster. Hmmm. I'll have to correct my trivia banks.

Alex said...

I'm the walking definition of a music geek -- I've got encyclopedic knowledge of groupies but wouldn't know what to do if I encountered one in real life! :)