I confidently proclaimed my preference for British bands to Matt from backstagepresspublishing the other day – then I thought, wait a minute….what about Hendrix…Neil Young…the Allman Brothers…you get the picture. Although I’m unquestionably a passionate Anglophile, and I do wholeheartedly agree that a great deal of the best rock and blues in the world came straight from that other Eden, it’s not accurate to say that I have a geographical preference as far as music – great music has been created all over the world.
Thinking about all this led, quite naturally, to Grand Funk Railroad. Taken aback, are you? Thinking, “how could that even be possible”, are you? Allow me to explain in my own convoluted way. Back in the fabled days of my youth, there was a song by the Canadian band, the Guess Who, called “American Woman”.
This song created quite a controversy. Old Tricky Dick* (remember him?) refused to allow it to be played at the White House, for instance, because it was thought to contain anti-American sentiments. There were two camps among American youth: those that agreed with the song and dug it mightily, and those that didn’t. On top of that, it infuriated a whole bunch of macho young American dudes that didn’t care about the politics; they simply didn’t like it that aspersions were apparently being cast upon “their women”.
Hang on, though, before I go acting all superior, (remember that I promised to be painfully honest in this blog) I have to admit that although I thought it was a super-cool song and understood its message, it still hurt my feelings a little bit. Ha! Ridiculous of me. As if they were talking about me personally. As if it really had anything to do with individual women, even.
The message was to think for yourself and not be influenced by America’s “mainstream political and social thought” – which at the time, as we know, was horrible. Tricky Dick, for example. Vietnam, for another example. Despite (or perhaps because of) this controversy, the song reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Let’s give it a listen…it’s a great song…this is the full version, with the intro. Don’t worry, it’ll rock out like you expect it to.
American woman, gonna mess your mind…[Not me though. I won’t mess your mind, I promise. Said with a slightly hurt look on my face.]…
So for a long time, I thought that Grand Funk’s “We’re An American Band” was a response, albeit a lame one, to this song. That’s what everybody I know thought. I understood that it was common knowledge. But as is so often the case with common knowledge, it was wrong. “We’re An American Band” was a result of an argument between the Grand Funk boys and the Humble Pie boys that took place in a bar in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
The whole argument was about who had better bands, United Kingdom v. America. Sad. Plus Humble Pie was about a thousand times better than Grand Funk**, in my opinion, and I feel a wave of embarrassment for G.F. just thinking about them arguing about this with H.P. Oh, the shame. Which they should have felt but didn’t. How do I know they didn’t feel the shame? Because of “We’re An American Band”.
I may as well come right out and say it – I really dislike this song. If they were trying to prove their superiority over Humble Pie with this song, I’ve got one thing to say – HA HA HA! Waves of embarrassment again. You already know how I feel about Steve Marriott and the boys. But we’ve got to listen to it so that today’s lesson (oops, sorry, slipping into professorial mode again) will be complete. Note the cringe-worthy inclusion of all-American (said with dripping sarcasm) activities that young men used to do in those days (I don’t know what they do now; probably cruise YouTube like me, only for terrible music) – the motorcycles, horses, cars, sports – they pretty much tried to throw it all in there. Okay, get ready, here we go, but my face is so red***…
Anyway, the point is, and I do have one, of sorts – the world of music has no borders. Any and every country produces its share of pearls and bilge slime.
*”Tricky Dick” was a nickname for President Richard Nixon, in case you don’t remember or weren’t alive then.
**No offense, Grand Funk. I rocked out heavily to a lot of your songs, I owned your album that had the “nude in the haystacks” picture inside, and I didn’t care what the critics said about you. But, c’mon, you were no match for Humble Pie. It’s time to face the ugly, painful truth.
***Did you catch it? That was a tough one. Unfair, really. Here’s “Golden Country”, from REO Speedwagon (from the seventies, when they were still good, before the nauseating, overused-keyboards, commercialism-run-amok eighties started destroying bands one by one. A topic for another day). This song, along with “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” from the Hollies, definitely nurtured my budding social conscience as a kid.
If all you know of REO is the wimpy stuff from the eighties, trust me and give it a listen. It’s a totally different sound. This is the Gary Richrath sound of the 70s as opposed to the Kevin Cronin sound of the 80s. Listen closely at the very end and you’ll hear a few bars of a well-known national anthem.Golden country, your face is so red…
I love the Hollies, I love this song, and I still believe in its message about the brotherhood of man. I used to listen to it with tears in my eyes, imprinting it deeply in my heart. Oh wait, that was just last week. He ain’t heavy – he’s my brother…
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