“Nobody knows the band Grand Funk? The wild, shirtless lyrics of Mark Farner? The bong-rattling bass of Mel Schacher? The competent drum work of Don Brewer? Oh, man!”—Homer Simpson (The Simpsons)
Even prior to the Simpson family patriarch’s craven retconning as being a fan of whatever radio bullshit was popular at least ten years previous to any given episode, and before the television series’ own reenactment of an archetypal classic rock band’s descent into diminished returns and grim self-parody, few public figures advocated for the music of Grand Funk Railroad with more vigor than Homer J. Simpson.
But as illustrated in season seven, episode 24, Homerpalooza, even that great man’s praise came with some caveats. By the airing of the 1996 episode, any media praise of the Flint, Michigan band (who had, just twenty years before, been awarded thirteen gold albums, ten of of which were certified platinum, and who had famously sold out Shea Stadium in less time than it took for the Beatles to do the same) was hard to come by.
Nowadays though, in a time when the most mediocre art has a revisionist fan base devoted to it and no single moment of cultural detritus is allowed to be forgotten, even a joke about Grand Funk’s obscurity requires an explainer. Under normal circumstances, the cliche of Andy Warhol’s dictum, regarding everyone being famous for fifteen minutes, would be avoided, but Grand Funk Railroad were not averse to cliche. So it’s fair to note that the band, in the end, averaged less than a minute an album, famewise.
So what happened? Why does Led Zeppelin still warrant six hundred page biographies? Why do the Stooges rate a legendary status that is wildly incommensurate to their success at the time, while the band that was, for nearly a decade, as big as (or arguably bigger than) any of 'em, consigned to the punchline junkheap of rock 'n' roll history? Why are the surviving members of Grand Funk currently touring, first of three, with Kid Rock? And playing before Foreigner?