Grand Funk: Good Singin', Good Playin'

By Henry Edwards

High Fidelity, November 1976

GRAND FUNK: Good Singin', Good Playin'.
Mark Farner, guitar, vocals, and piano; Don Brewer, vocals, drums, and percussion; Mel Schacker, bass and vocals; Craig Frost, keyboards and vocals. Big Buns; Just Couldn't Wait; Miss My Baby; eight more. [Frank Zappa, prod.] MCA 2216, $6.98. Tape: E119 C 2216, $7.98; T 2216, $7.98.

Grand Funk's formula for its unique brand of drudge-rock wore thin about three years ago, so the group set out to find a producer to give its music a fresh kick.

Todd Rundgren was the first choice. His masterful, meticulous work did little more than highlight the band's glaring lack of technique, although his gimmicky remake of the Little Eva hit "The Locomotion" accounted for a solid Top 40 hit. Jimmy Ienner's approach was the antithesis of Rundgren's: Taking Funk's sparse four-piece instrumentation, he wove a dense patchwork of loosely defined sound for both "All the Girls in the World Beware" and "Born to Die." The resulting sound was a shock to many ardent Funkophiles. Gone was Farner's gangly guitar sound, and in its place was a timbre closely resembling an electrified harp; Don Brewer's tightly tuned drum kit resembled an orchestral percussion section; and Craig Frost's organ took on a cathedral elegance. What were once gritty, strained near-harmonies were transformed into technically enhanced vocal exercises that would do the Vienna Boys' Choir proud. Ienner's work was brilliant, commercially successful, and boring as hell. Enter Frank Zappa. Writer, arranger, musician, and producer, Zappa was the divine inspiration that made numerous Mothers of Invention albums sounds for sore ears. But pulling the same stunt with a plodding four-chord rock and roll band was something else again.

"Good Singin', Good Playin' " is not Grand Funk's best LP by a long shot, though it is certainly one of its most amusing. Instead of taking his corny pseudo-political stance for the umpteenth time, Zappa coaxes Farner into extolling the virtues of big buns. Not a producer to tamper with tradition, above-passable musicianship is nowhere to be found here, save for Zappa's maniacal guitar solo on "Out to Get You." The prevailing tone of lunacy throughout this album goes far toward energizing Funk's leaden sound, but Zappa would have an easier time trying to save a drowning elephant with a life preserver. The few tunes that have a hint of melody ("Crossfire"), however, do fare well.

Grand Funk can write no better and play no better now than a year ago, but Zappa must be credited with making it easier to swallow.

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