Grand Funk Railroad, Phoenix

Posted on January 11, 2012 by

Artist: Grand Funk Railroad
Title: Phoenix
Label: Capitol 11099
Purchased: January 9th, Cheapo Records, St. Paul, MN
Price: $3.60
Condition: Fine

The title Phoenix represents the band’s break with former manager, Terry Knight after a long year of litigation. It’s also the first LP that was self-produced. Although there is no mention of it on the cover or on the record, this is the last album where the band was known as Grand Funk Railroad. All future releases they would just be Grand Funk.

Bridging the past with the present, “Flight of the Phoenix” open their seventh album, riffing on their Top 40 hit, “Footstompin’ Music.” Craig Frost, listed as a guest on this album (but would later become a full-time member), pumps his keyboard, driving this boogie-rock number. About three-fourth the way through the song, what’s that? A fiddle? To my knowledge, neither Mark, Don, nor Mel was adept at the violin. It totally threw me off my boogie.

It’s not that it was uncommon at the time. Fiddler Papa John Creach, played with Jefferson Airplane / Starship as well as Hot Tuna. Don “Sugarcane” Harris performed with Zappa’s Mothers of Invention and the Pure Food & Drug Act. So if your funk is to be so grand, I can see augmenting your trio with Craig Frost’s keyboards, but a fiddle player? In one of the weirdest guest appearances, Doug Kershaw bows the strings to the boogie. The Louisiana Man showed them the Cajun Way and then went back off to the swamp, never to appear on another track on Phoenix.

“Trying To Get Away” and “Someone” are typical early heavy-rock fare, plodding along with a few tempo changes, something to ponder over a few tokes. “She Got to Move Me” provides a bit more energy with drummer Don Brewer adding spot harmonies to Mark Farner’s lead vocals. Both “Move Me,” and the closing track of side one, “Rain Keeps Fallin’” set the mood of a post-Woodstock hippie life, but the images conjured up in my head are trashy.

Side two opens with the socially aware “I Just Gotta Know,” with Farner providing a voice to the generation, “Hey people are you ready to get into the streets and be your own police?” This anti-war song never reached anthem status and was probably minimal fodder on underground FM stations back in ’72.

The album hits its lowest among lows with “So You Won’t Have To Die.” According to the lyrics, Farner claims that Jesus talked to him, telling him to write this song about the problem of overpopulation.

He said overpopulation is the problem of today.
There’s too many children on the earth, and more on the way.
If you don’t start some birth control, then you won’t last too much longer.
It’s best that we let it save our souls, so we can get much stronger.
Get much stronger.

…And get laid more often without worrying about paternity suits. Shine on you shirtless rock god. There is a future for you in Christian rock

The following track, “Freedom is for Children” is over six-minutes long (“Freedom is for children / ‘Cause they don’t understand what is wrong”). If you can get beyond that opening line, there’s more schlock to follow. The album has now been tainted and I no longer hear songs without pretense. “Gotta Find Me A Better Way” isn’t a bad song, but I think I’d like it better if it were by the James Gang.

The final track, “Rock & Roll Soul” is the song I was in pursuit of when purchasing this album. It has a certain idealism of the time; it’s arena rock that isn’t overplayed like “We’re An American Band.” This song and Craig Frost’s keyboard playing throughout the LP keep it from total failure. If you must purchase a Grand Funk LP, look to the Greatest Hits package. This Phoenix is not a resurrection of a power trio, rising from the ashes of previous rock triads like Cream. It’s more like a lame duck stuck in a grand funk, and not a good funk in the Sly Stone kind of way.

3 Responses to “Grand Funk Railroad, Phoenix”

  1. John King says:

    As far as the message to the song “So You Won’t Have To Die” , doesn’t that contradict where it says in the Bible:”Go Forth And Multiply”?

  2. Rosie the Record store dog says:

    Doug Kershaw playing that fiddle.

  3. DaveAMKrayoGuy says:

    This was recorded in Nashville (Bobby Goldsboro makes a mention of it in his liner notes in his TENTH ANNIVERSARY ALBUM: “so much for just Country music”) and I believe at Soundshop Studios… And nothing really coincidental about it recorded there either… Just really you run-of-the-mill Grand Funk! — Dave

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