When Zappa Met Grand Funk: The Good Singin’ Good Playin’ Album

Good Singin' Good Playin' Album

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Most classic rock fans would probably not put the names Frank Zappa and Grand Funk Railroad in the same sentence. These were two very different rock and roll musical artists who played a massive role in the story of Classic Rock. But were they really that different? Both musical artists often displayed humor in their music and album covers. Both musical artists enjoyed their greatest success during the 1970s. Perhaps the most significant similarity was both artists’ love for great guitar playing and top-notch musicianship.

Grand Funk Railroad had many more hits than Frank Zappa ever did, although any Frank Zappa fan would explain in caps that Frank Zappa’s music had nothing to do with hit singles. In retrospect, it is much easier to argue that Frank Zappa and Grand Funk Railroad had far more diversity in style than they had in common. Yet, they did come together briefly, sharing their love for great rock and roll music and brilliant guitar playing.

Many people in the present will argue that Grand Funk Railroad is one of the most underrated bands of all time. Their absence from the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame also supports that argument. Yet, in their heyday, they were one of the biggest bands in the world. They should have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame twenty years ago. Nonetheless, in the 1970s, Grand Funk Railroad had a huge cult following and extreme mass appeal. They released great rock and roll albums of substance but could also score big-time hits, especially in their early to mid-1970s period.

In 1976, the band pretty much ended due to what usually breaks up bands, they were not getting along anymore, or at least that’s the story. However, before their final break up, the band’s manager, Andy Cavaliere, had mentioned to the band that he thought Frank Zappa would be great to produce their next album. After contacting Frank Zappa, the band would find themselves working with a legend in the studio. Frank Zappa was a man who appreciated honest and genuine musicianship no matter what style. He understood what Grand Funk was all about.  The result of this collaboration was the release of Grand Funk’s eleventh studio album called Good Singin’ Good Playin’. It remains probably the band’s most underrated album of their career. This was a great one!

Good Singin’ Good Playin’ was released on August 2, 1976. It’s important to remember what was happening in the music business then, as early disco and pop dominated radio! Rock and Roll was at a crossroads in 1976. Punk and New Wave had not yet started to infiltrate the music scene. It was a period dominated by bands like the Bee Gees, KC and The Sunshine Band, Hall & Oates, and many other artists scoring huge success on the charts with sugary pop hits. In the album’s liner notes, Don Brewer explained that rather than compete with all that pop stuff; they just wanted to go into the studio and record a great rock and roll record. It’s precisely what they did. In my recent interview with Don Brewer, we talked a lot about that album.

Frank Zappa did not set out to change the band. It was the complete opposite. His goal was to present the real Grand Funk to the world in how they sounded, playing all together at once with no special effects or overdubs changing their sound. Frank Zappa was well known for his brilliant musical compositions and performances. However, what all Zappa fans also knew was how good his albums always sounded. The man knew how to mix and engineer in addition to all his other talents. That talent is apparent instantly on the album’s first track, “Just Coundn’t Wait.” Listen to the sound of the drums and bass. They are so sonically tight, making them sound almost like one instrument. The piano wraps around the chord changes, creating a sonic landscape that sets the table for the shine on vocals of Mark Farner.

Following up the album’s opening track is the first single that the band released from the album entitled “Can You Do It. ” Grand Funk had so much success covering old 60s songs like “Locomotion” and Some Kind of Wonderful. However, their cover of the Contours’ song “Can You Do” failed to become a hit. It wasn’t their fault. The recording of the song is killer. It should have been a big hit, but the radio didn’t play it. I could never understand how a track as good as this one had never become a big hit. It’s simply spectacular. They must have thought it was going to become so huge. I talked to Don Brewer about that, and he kind of just shook his head.

The song’s failure to become a hit did not help sales of the album, except for the ones sold to their loyal fans.  It’s so sad because the  Good Singin’ Good Playin’ album sold fewer than one hundred thousand copies. It wasn’t the band’s fault. Their record company did not promote the album at all.  Their previous album, also released in 1976, entitled Born To Die, also failed to yield a hit single for the band and did not do well either. The times had changed since 1974 when the album All The Girls In The World Beware spawned the huge hit singles “Some Kind of Wonderful,” and “Bad Time.”

One of the album’s highlights is the mostly instrumental track “Out To Get You.” This one was a real rocking barn burner that featured a scorching guitar solo by Frank Zappa. Originally, Mark Farner was supposed to do the guitar solo, but he was having a hard time figuring out what to play on the track and, according to Farner, was just not feeling it. Farner turned to Frank Zappa and said ” Frank, help me, brother, you got to play a lead.”(*) The rest is history as Frank Zappa, without hesitation, played that brilliant solo that made the album even more special. Some have argued that the solo was a combination of Farner and Zappa. I asked Don Brewer about that in our interview, and he replied that Frank performed the entire solo.

There are so many highlights on the album. From the mesmerizing vocals of “Miss My Baby,” to the funky rocking “Goin For The Pastor,” and the great bonus track “Rubberneck,” which was only released on the CD issue, the album hit a 10 on every track.  It was fitting that the band titled the album Good Singin’ Good Playing’ because that’s what it was really all about. When I asked Don Brewer if he had a favorite song on the album, he replied that he thought “Pass It Around” was a great track.  It was Frank Zappa’s vision to capture the true essence of what made Grand Funk such a fantastic band. These guys could sing and play as well as anyone else on the rock scene, and if there was ever a Grand Funk album that proved it, Good Singin’ Good Playing’  was the one.

Good Singin' Good Playin' Album

My Cd Copy

Good Singin' Good Playin' liner notes

*Liner Notes –  Pullen, Doug:  Good Singin Good Playin CD 1999 Universal Music, Univeral City California

Updated February 11, 2024

When Zappa Met Grand Funk: The Good Singin’ Good Playin’ Album article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2024

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