Take Five: Grand Funk Lives! (And Covers Great Songs)

Grand Funk (also known as Grand Funk Railroad) were major hit makers of the 1970s. The Flint, Michigan band’s brand of straight-ahead rock won them a dedicated fan base. Critics weren’t as kind – in fact, many despised the group – but history has been kinder to the band, and today they’re recognized as exemplars of their era. Grand Funk’s original run was 1969-1976; starting out as a trio of Mark Farner, Mel Schacher and Don Brewer, they added keyboardist Craig Frost in 1973. The band’s eighth album, Shinin’ On was released 50 years ago, in March 1974. Farner went solo in 1998; today the founding rhythm section of Brewer and Schacher are still rocking as Grand Funk Railroad.

Most of the band’s songs were original compositions; guitarist Mark Farner was the sole writer in the group in its early days, and when drummer Don Brewer started writing, the band scored even more hits like “We’re an American Band.” But the choices of occasional covers in the group’s body of work provided a sense of the musical foundation upon which the band was built. Here are five rousing cover tunes from Grand Funk (Railroad).

“Inside Looking Out” from Grand Funk (1969)
Originally by The Animals, “Inside Looking Out” was their first hit on its release in 1966. Though the songwriting is credited to band members, the tune has its roots in a prison work chant collected decades earlier by musicologist/folklorist Alan Lomax. “Inside Looking Out” is notable as Grand Funk’s sole Top 40 hit in the U.K.

“Feelin’ Alright” from Survival (1971)
The original version of “Feelin’ Alright” was featured on the 1968 debut album by Traffic. Songwriter Dave Mason also recorded the song himself on a few occasions; among the most well-known covers of “Feelin’ Alright” is Joe Cocker’s 1969 recording. By the time Grand Funk Railroad covered it, the song had also been cut by Three Dog Night, Lulu, Lou Rawls, Hubert Laws, The 5th Dimension and others; more than two dozen other artists would also record versions of the tune. GFR’s single bubbled under in the U.S. at #54, but it went Top 20 in Canada.

“The Loco-Motion” from Shinin’ On (1974)
Written by the Brill Building hit songwriting team of Carole King and Gerry Goffin, this song was a 1962 smash for Little Eva, the couple’s babysitter. More than a decade later, Grand Funk Railroad revived the tune with a super-heavy arrangement full of foot stomps and hand claps. The song was a #1 hit for Grand Funk Railroad and their first-ever Platinum single (at least one million units sold in the U.S.). It was a highlight of the Shinin’ On album, the second in a row to be produced by Todd Rundgren.

“Some Kind of Wonderful” from All the Girls in the World Beware!!! (1974)
Originally waxed by r&b group Soul Brothers Six in 1967, this tune was written by John Ellison. Grand Funk Railroad’s version was released as a single in 1974, and it soared to the #3 spot on the U.S. Top 40 singles chart. The song earned the band its second Platinum Award for a single release. “Some Kind of Wonderful” would be the group’s next-to-last Top 40 single.

“Can You Do It” from Good Singin’, Good Playin’ (1976)
First recorded by The Contours in 1964, “Can You Do It” was written by Richard Street, then lead singer of little-known Motown group The Monitors (he’d later join The Temptations as lead singer). Co-credited as the song’s composer is Thelma Gordy, former wife of Motown head Berry Gordy. GFR’s spirited reading of “Can You Do It” was released as a single, and it nearly cracked the Top 40.