Looking Back At Grand Funk Railroad’s Debut Album ‘On Time’

Grand Funk On Time Album Review

Album Cover used for review purposes qualifies as fair use under the copyright law of the United States.

In the 1970s, Grand Funk Railroad had become one of the most popular bands in the world. You don’t get to sell out Shea Stadium faster than the Beatles did without having such a massive loyal following. All of that love began in 1968 when Grand Funk released their debut album, On Time. It was a clever title for a band that was using the term Railroad in its name. Nonetheless, the band’s debut album was not a smash hit when it was first released. It became more popular when their second album took off as fans went exploring the band’s small catalog at the time. Still, with any band that becomes one of the most important bands in rock and roll history, such as Grand Funk, it’s always interesting to look back at the group’s debut album.

Grand Funk Railroad was signed by Capitol Records in 1969 because of the band’s success playing at the Atlanta Pop Festival in front of a massive audience. This was a festival that featured so many legendary rock artists such as Led Zeppelin, Chicago Transit Authority, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and many more. When I spoke with Grand Funk founding member Don Brewer, he mentioned that after the band played the festival, there was such an exciting buzz that it was only a matter of time before they would get the chance to release their debut album.

Capitol Records released Grand Funk’s debut album on August 25, 1969. The album cover featured the three band members Mark Farner on guitar, piano, harmonica and vocals, Mel Schacher on bass, and  Don Brewer on drums, and vocals. The power trio format was very popular at the time with the success of bands like Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Grand Funk’s power trio was set to continue the tradition, but as we would soon see, it would be on their own terms.

The album opened with the rocking song “Are You Ready.” The song was written by Mark Farner. In fact, every song on the band’s debut album was penned by Mark Farner. It’s a smoking tune with a very sparse arrangement. The drums are really high in the mix and primarily centered in the left channel, while Farner’s rhythm guitar is mixed on the right side. The song is driven by Mark Farner’s high tenor, which would become a hallmark of the Grand Funk sound that everyone fell in love with. Farner lays out some really hot guitar solos through the song, supported by Don’s straight-ahead energetic drumming and Mel’s soulful tight bass playing.

The follow-up song opens with a slow baroque-style guitar lick that eventually morphs into another smooth rocker called “Anybody’s Answer.” It is a very different sounding track from the album opener and fits perfectly in the number two spot on the album’s opening side. The song’s anti-war message was perfect for the time. This is probably one of the most underrated songs in the band’s catalog. The song’s changing themes and time changes are reminiscent of the band’s “I’m Your Captain/ Closer To Home” epic piece.

The third track on the album, entitled “Time Machine, was released as the band’s debut single. It’s a mid-tempo blues number. It’s not exactly the type of song that would have been a hit on AM radio, but that’s not what the band was about at that point in their career. Still, the song did break into the top half of the Billboard Hot 100 peaking at number forty eight. The following track on the album, “High on a Horse,” was placed as the single’s B-side. I actually think the B-side “High on a Horse” was a more interesting song. The fast grooving song “T.N.U.C.” closed out the album’s first side.

Side two of the album opened up with a track that would become a fan favorite. The song “Into The Sun” would further the argument that Grand Funk was more of a progressive rock band at the start of their career than just a basic power trio. Many of their compositions were complex pieces of music as opposed to just straight-ahead rockers. This was also a point that Don Brewer made in my first interview with him.

Following the track “Into The Sun” was the slow-rocking ballad “Heartbreaker.” This would become the band’s most memorable song on the album and a concert staple for years. The live version released on Caught In The Act is just mind-blowing. Ask any hardcore Grand Funk fan to name their favorite track on the band’s debut album, and they will probably mention “Heartbreaker.” The song was released as the second single from the album.

Following “Heartbreaker” was the track “Call Yourself a Man,” which features a nice dueling guitar and bass lick between Mel and Mark that repeats itself a few times through the song. It’s just another Grand Funk tune that has gotten lost over the years. Up next on the album was the tune “Can’t Be Too Long.” This was another long progressive rock piece coming in at over six minutes. There are some points in the song where you can hear Mark Farner sing a little flat, which is really interesting to hear because the man has one of the greatest voices in rock and roll history. I probably would have left this song off the album because the band sounds really tired on this one. The album closes with a much better tune called “Ups and Downs,” which features a weird version of Row Row Your Boat in the middle of the song.  This one featured some great Don Brewer drum solos.

Grand Funk’s debut album On Time defined how much promise the band had. It is a far better album than most critics have written about it. Side one is spectacular, and the first half of side two is mind-blowing. There is a slight drop-off with the album’s last two tracks, but there are still fun songs to listen to. Overall, Grand Funk’s debut album was a real winner, and many of the songs on the album, like “Heartbreaker” “Are You Ready?” “Time Machine” and “Into The Sun” remain some of Grand Funk fan’s favorite songs of all time.

Don’t Forget to check out our interviews with Grand Funk’s Don Brewer

Don Brewer Video Interview

Don Brewer Interview Part II

Looking Back At Grand Funk’s Debut Album ‘On Time’ article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2024

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