Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Song of the Day: Billy Sedlmayr on Watching Someone Roll His First Kid Joint to Grand Funk, and 'We're An American Band!'

Posted By on Wed, Feb 22, 2017 at 10:15 AM

The first marijuana cigarette I ever saw rolled was in the inner fold of a terrible Grand Funk compilation called Mark, Mel & Don, or was it Mark, Don, Mel? They were Flint, Michigan’s finest, and had nothing to do with Detroit's Motown or The MC5/Stooges trip. Nope, these three hooked up with manager, singer, producer, Beatles hanger-on, moneyman Terry Knight who did get them a deal with Capitol Records in late ’69, where they began making a bunch of fairly shitty records with a redeeming single now and again, including "Footstompin' Music" and "I'm Your Captain," and even had a great album cover for 1971’s Survival, that showed them shirtless, chewin' on some dinosaur bones. (That same year they sold out Shea Stadium faster than The Beatles, with no press, only "underground" FM radio play and word of mouth.)

It was arena-rock in its infancy, but so plodding and a feel like the engineer had swallowed his weight in Seconal and Hamm's beer. But their fans were not as picky and followed them down the road to stardom. Grand Funk were always a fave for critics to bash.

Well, as the wheels of both rock ’n’ roll turned, in ’72 Mark, Don, Mel fired Mr. Knight and lawsuits ensued. But then something very smart happened. Todd Rundgren was the flavor of the year for his mad studio skills and songwriting acumen, plus he was hip, young, eccentric, and, as some would sa y, a maverick. They gave the status quo to him for a new way of getting things done. The end result? The We're An American Band LP.

The album came in kickass yellow vinyl, and gnarly quadraphonic 8-track tapes. A brand! It sported a shiny golden cover, with just the name in black letters. The inner fold showed long-haired rock group nude (now a four-piece with an added keyboard player Craig Frost), laying in a barn of straw—red, white and blue stickers with their finger logo.

The title song (written and sung by drummer Don Brewer) managed to preserve the old guard while reaching a whole new audience. With dangerous whacks of a cowbell, and that wicked drum-fill of a perfect rock ’n’ roll hit, and guitars sending age-old chills up the neck—what unfolds is a little singsong diary of a debauched dream few will ever know. But the song invites us in for a taste, no irony at all. And that’s what makes it an incredible time piece—no irony.

Lear jets, hotel rooms, groupies, adulation, a sonic moment on every radio station: Up all night with Freddy King/I got to tell you/Poker’s his thing/Booze and ladies keep me right/As long as we can make it to the show tonight … Were an American Band Yeah, what lyrics! Every vocal strong, the lead guitar sounds like Rundgren took a pass, all the while the organ just filling the cocktail up.
This wasn't a washed-up hippie band, this was the most accessible, creative record they’d ever done, or would do. The single topped out the American pop charts at numero uno.

Back in the day I bought that record and loved it, I think now how in '73 at some roller-rink anywhere in the U.S. of A ... Two kids must a been skating, hands held, backwards, mouthing the chorus and forgetting where they were for four minuets.


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