Bob Lefsetz: Welcome To My World - "Some Kind Of Wonderful"
How many ways did we hate Grand Funk Railroad?
Overpromoted by their manager/producer, former artist Terry Knight, they could not possibly live up to the hype. And they didn't. Supposedly they stole the show at the Atlanta Pop Festival, in the wake of Woodstock, and this message was blasted into the hinterlands where no one ever heard any good music, and their initial album succeeded.
Only to be followed up by something worse, the second album, "Grand Funk," with the cheesiest red cover of all time. That's what Capitol Records was famous for back then. Spending no money.
But then, when the band had finally reached critical mass, they delivered something...listenable. Come on, admit it, you like "I'm Your Captain (Closer To Home)." Especially when it slows down and gets moody.
But Grand Funk (they dropped "Railroad") still sucked. Every album worse, especially the double live one. Yes, as the seventies wore on, Grand Funk receded into irrelevance. And then they hooked up with Todd Rundgren.
Todd'd had his hit. Still almost no one knew his work with his first band Nazz, but some had noticed he engineered the Band and was a wunderkind like McCartney, able to both play and record and produce everything. And that became his new career, producing albums. For a flat fee. Quickly. Todd didn't labor over it, he just wanted to get it right, and get paid.
And no matter how big a star you once were, the smart ones realize when the whole enterprise is going in the wrong direction something's got to give. And sure, some make mistakes, the Beach Boys even went disco, but Grand Funk executed a masterstroke, they gave in to Rundgren and had the biggest hit of their career, "We're An American Band." And we LIKED IT! Yes, we were sick of hating the Detroit band, they'd been around long enough to have a sense of humor about themselves. And Todd delivered a killer track that sounded so right emanating from the car speaker. Hell, I don't know if anybody ever bought the single, never mind the album, "We're An American Band" was a radio track. And we loved hearing it! Come on, Sweet Connie became a legend, she single-handedly put Little Rock on the map, way before Bill Clinton. And this was the first time most white listeners had ever heard of Freddie King. But it was the cowbell, the drumming, the riff and Don Brewer's vocal exhortations. Wanna be remembered, forever? Capture magic in three minutes. Make no mistakes, leave no fat, just make people want to hear it again and again and again. Yes, "We're An American Band" was simple and dumb and that's what was so great about it! Furthermore, this was back before tech titans ruled the world, before we could watch our favorites on YouTube, the height of success was the rock and roll lifestyle, getting high, getting laid, and you went to the show to be close to the action, and try to score yourself.
But where do you go from here? Lightning rarely strikes twice. What are the odds Grand Funk could write another hit song?
Which is why on the next album, Todd went for a cover. "The Loco-Motion." Huh?
Little Eva's original was one of the very first singles I ever bought. Definitive in execution it was heresy to remake it. But somehow Grand Funk's rendition worked. I'm not saying I loved it, but it did go to number 1.
And then Todd was done.
But the formula was established. And if something works in rock and roll, you do it again. Especially if you're lucky enough to get a second wind, like Grand Funk.
They switched producers to Jimmy Ienner. Who knew how to make three minute hits from his tenure with the Raspberries. And he dug deep to find a track almost no one knew.
Yes, this is not the Goffin/King "Some Kind Of Wonderful," made famous by the Drifters, but a little known song written by John Ellison for his group the Soul Brothers Six.
That's right. A band that reached the whopping number of 91 on the Hot 100 back in 1967. Which means most people in America never heard it.
The Fantastic Johnny C, of "Boogaloo Down Broadway" fame, cut it the next year and had about the same level of success, which was not much, his version made it to #87.
But back before the chart was based on beats, when songs were everything, producers knew their history, they knew great numbers, they kept them in their hip pocked to rerecord at just the right time with just the right band.
At least I think it was Jimmy Ienner's idea to record it. I'm not sure. But looking at the history of Grand Funk, I doubt the band would have come up with it. But what they ended up with was a number 3 on the Hot 100.
"I don't need a whole lots 'a money
I don't need a big fine car"
Imagine a rapper singing this today! Absolutely impossible. Today it's how much better you are than everybody else, you've got everything and they've got nothing. But the truth is life is not about possessions, but experiences. And the right significant other exceeds any Mercedes-Benz or private jet trip.
"I got everything that a man could want I got more than I could ask for"
Isn't that what we're all looking for? That someone special, made just for us, that makes our life complete?
"I don't have to run around
I don't have to stay out all night
'Cause I got me a sweet, a sweet lovin' woman
And she knows just how to treat me right"
It's mutual! He's got her on a pedestal, but it's not a one way street, they meet in the middle, he and she both give.
"Well my baby, she's all right
Well my baby, she's clean out of sight
Don't you know that..."
"She's some kind 'a wonderful
She's some kind 'a wonderful
Yes she is"
Oh, the way everybody's singing together, it's like the a cappella groups Ienner grew up with. And at this point, you've closed your eyes, you're shaking your head from side to side, you're enraptured.
But really, it's all about the bass. It's in the pocket, anchoring the track, pushing it forward and hooking you all at the same time. When it dips, you do too.
And then when Mark Farner starts calling for a witness and Craig Frost's organ starts to play, there's molasses all over the floor, and you're positively stuck, hooked to this dumb track that feels so right.
Not that the band could follow this one up. Not with Jimmy, not with Frank Zappa, who succeeded him in the producer's chair. In 1976, they expired. Which was fine with us, we never liked 'em anyway. Oh, they reunited, but there's no way they could get traction in the era of MTV. And now there are two acts, Grand Funk with and without Farner and I haven't seen them live in forever. But I'm sure, absolutely positive, when they go into this handful of hit numbers, the crowd becomes exuberant. And although not the best, the one everybody claps along to is "Some Kind Of Wonderful."
CAN I GET A WITNESS?
P.S. I've included the 2002 remaster, which is positively powerful. Along with the 1975 take from their second live album, "Caught In The Act." Also included are the Soul Brothers Six original as well as Fantastic Johnny C's iteration. And for your entertainment, Mark Farner's solo remake from 1991, wherein his love for the Lord substitutes for his love for that one special woman...hell, whatever gets you through the night!