David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 318: Grand Funk (The Loco-Motion)

January 17, 2024

One of the great mysteries of rock and roll is why Grand Funk Railroad released their cover of Little Eva's "The Loco-Motion," off of Shinin' On, during a period when they dropped the Railroad from their name. 

What's up with that? 

Atlanta Rhythm Section didn't drop the Atlanta from the name when they released "Georgia Rhythm." Would The Cars record "Cruiser" for Shake It Up, but then drop Cars from their name so that the album and song is credited to The? How did the Columbia Records Board Of Directors not explode when some CEO heard that a song about a dance associated with a train came from the band in his stable that had dropped the Railroad? "Are the inmates running the asylum?" they might scream. ("Well, they're actually Asylum/Elektra now, boss," utters the foolhardy new guy.)

Grand Funk had already begun liquidation of their transportation division on the previous album, We're An American Band. Grand Funk Railroad may have been forced on that album to jump the track. Given America's (certainly the U.S.'s) indifference to trains, maybe the decision was very conscious. You can't be an American Band and suggest we have any kind of real railway system, especially since "We're An American Band" was already pretty cocky in that "we're coming to your town/we'll help you party down." We just ain't coming on a train. Look for the corporate jet!

This uncoupling on the previous album makes me worry how drug-addled all of us were in the early 1970s, to agree to "do a brand new dance now" including "make a chain now" from a band that had abandoned the very train providing the "chugga chugga motion" they implored us to do. The real problem is that that the song reverberated from every Middle-School gymnasium, us guys against one wall, the girls against the other, providing a rather safe way to dance without actually asking anybody to dance.  These are impressionable young teenagers.

When Little Eva sang the song (written by the famous song-writing team of Goffin & King), she didn't even have the dance. At least she had to figure out how to do that "chugga chugga motion like a train now." She might have been able to look out her Brooklyn window and see a damn train. Grand Funk was from Michigan. We Michiganders don't believe in mass transportation. For shame!  We all must buy a car and support our local automotive industry. 

And, really, what was it with these damn coordinated dance songs? "The Twist." "The Hustle." "The Hokey Pokey." "The Chicken Dance." "Macarena." "The Time Warp." Why did our Grand friends feel the need to rerecord one of these? Apparently, the song was stuck in Mark Farner's head while Grand Funk was recording, and Todd Rundgren decided the group should record it. Yeah, Rundgren, whose most famous hit is "Hello, It's Me," a song closer to Loggins & Messina than Baltimore & Ohio.

Little Eva's rendition is a poppy little number, maybe an N version of a train; Grand Funk's is S gauge, big and noisy and hard to ignore. The background vocals pierce through the smoke, the plaintive sound a big train makes in the night. And while Eva uses the saxophone for the musical interlude, Grand Funk employs a good, old, sloppy guitar. It's what rock and roll should be. It's also what rail travel should be, the comfort provided by the clackety-clack of the rails.

So, everything keeps coming back to begging the question: why did you drop the railroad, you clowns? They chose the name, good old Michigan boys that they were, in honor of the Grand Trunk Western Railroad, a local carrier in their home state, even if Grand Trunk wasn't honored and made them go from Grand Trunk Railroad to Grand Funk Railroad. Over the course of their dozen or so releases, Mark Farner and company played pretty loose with the Railroad in their name, sometimes allowing the word to appear on the album covers, sometimes not, even if they expected to still be called Grand Funk Railroad. In addition, because these kinds of legal disputes are the mythology of rock and roll, in a battle with their original management, the band "won" ownership of the Grand Funk Railroad name. Then, proceeded to not use it, formally or informally. Grand Funk Railroad were the little Engine that could, but then didn't.

In the end, by abandoning their engine, their name transforms from something regal and majestic to something mostly negative, given that "funk" can be more than a style of music; a state of depression, at best, a foul odor at worst. And no amount of "chugga, chugga" is going to resolve that problem.

Grand Funk. "The Loco-Motion." Shinin' On. Columbia, 1974. Link here.

Day 317: Poe "Trigger Happy Jack"

Day 319: The Black Crowes "Remedy"

See complete list here.