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This was written by Grand Funk drummer Don Brewer. He told us:
"We started out as a trio in 1969. Everybody calls it 'Heavy Metal,' but heavy metal didn't come around until the '80s, so we were just a hard rock trio. We were kind of riding along with the FM underground situation, so we were able to make 7 minute, 9 minute songs and we'd get the airplay because that was the in thing to do - we could get whole albums played. As we moved into 1972, FM underground radio was beginning to be very commercial, so they were looking for songs that were 3 minutes 30 seconds long. We needed to go that way. We left our former manager Terry Knight in 1972. We were going through lawsuits and all this crap and we came out with an album that was very different for Grand Funk Railroad called The Phoenix Album. We were lucky to have sort of a semi-hit off that record ('Rock 'N' Roll Soul'), but we knew that the next record had to be something big or the career was going to go down the toilet. We were touring, supporting The Phoenix Album, we were going from town to town, there were lawsuits flying all over the place, it was a very tumultuous time period. I remember lots of discussions in the back of cars going, 'What are we going to do next?' Our manager kept saying, 'Why don't you just write songs about what you do: you're out here on the road, you're going to this hotel, you go to different places, there's people, you come into town...' So the thought came into my mind, 'We're coming to your town, we'll help you party it down.' That's really what we were doing - we were coming into town and we were the party. That's where the line came from, and the next thought I had was, 'We're an American band.' It wasn't to wave the flag or anything, it was just simply what we were. It was a true description and it kind of rolled off my mind. I went home and worked on the concept for a while and picked up a guitar; I'm not really a great guitar player, I can play 2 finger chords and that kind of stuff. I worked out the chord structure and I brought it in to rehearsal one day and there you go - we just let it go from there. It had a mind of its own."
The lyrics are about little things that were going on on the road during the Phoenix tour. All of them are true. Don explains the line, "Up all night with Freddie King, I've got to tell you, poker's his thing":
"Freddie King was the opening act for us, the great Blues guitar player from Texas. It always struck me as funny that he would make his band play poker with him every night. We used to sit in on some of the poker games, and that's where that line came from. His band, he'd pay them, and then he'd go win all the money back so they were broke and they'd have to keep playing for him - it was a great deal. A lot of people don't understand the Freddie King part because they don't know who Freddie King is. Anybody who knows about Freddie King immediately picks it up. People who don't say, 'What are you saying, that Focus can't sing?'"
Brewer: "The '4 young chiquitas in Omaha,' that came from a situation where we checked into this hotel in Omaha, Nebraska, and there were 4 groupies in the lobby waiting to see the band. '4 young chiquitas' sounded a lot better than '4 young groupies' or '4 young girls.'"
The line "Sweet Sweet Connie was doing her act" is about Connie Hamzy, a famous groupie known as "Sweet Connie." Some of her rumored conquests include Brewer, John Bonham, Keith Moon, Huey Lewis, Peter Criss, and Bill Clinton when he was governor of Arkansas. This song made her famous, and in 2010 VH1 ran a special about her life. According to Hamzy, she didn't have "the whole band," as stated in the lyrics, but she came pretty close - Mark Farner was a holdout.
Brewer sang lead on this. Grand Funk guitarist Mark Farner sang most of their songs, but Don was the lead vocal on songs like "Shinin' On," "Walk Like A Man" and "Gimme Shelter." He and Mark shared vocals on "Some Kind Of Wonderful."
Brewer: "From the time when I brought the song in and we worked up an arrangement to it and we got it recorded, the song just had a life of its own after that. Nobody can just sit down and say, 'I'm going to write a song like this and it's going to be a major hit.' They just either have it, or they don't, and that one just had it."
Todd Rundgren produced this album. He is an accomplished musician who produced albums for Badfinger and The New York Dolls before working with Grand Funk. He has played on albums by Joan Jett, Cheap Trick and Hall And Oates, and had success as a solo artist with the hit "Hello It's Me." Brewer explains his production style:
"Working with Todd was very relaxed, he did the engineering himself as well as production. He would just kind of sit there and let us do our thing and work our way through all the arrangements - every now and then he'd drop in a suggestion. His real thing was the sound. He had a way of turning knobs that would make everything sound huge, even in the headphones. A lot of the engineers would come in and say, 'I've got to record everything flat, don't worry about what it sounds like in the headphones, I'll make it sound great later.' Todd was of the school that, 'I'm going to make it sound great right now, it's going to tape right now. I'm not going to screw around with it later and get a whole different sound. You guys are going to hear the way it's going to sound on the record in your headphones.' That was new to us and it just blew us away that we're hearing these great sounds in the headphones as we're playing. Back then, we used to do an entire album in a week, so you didn't have a lot of time for splicing and editing and changing arrangements after you got it done. It was done in a week and it was done with mistakes or without."
Grand Funk was one of the best-selling bands of the '70s, and this was their biggest hit. Critics were often very harsh, especially Rolling Stone magazine, but they had a huge fan base and got lots of radio play. Says Brewer, "The time was right, it was the summer heading for the 4th of July. We'd really come off of about a year of publicity in Rolling Stone and other music mags with publicity flying over our lawsuits with Terry Knight. There were a lot of things going on where as long as we came up with something that was very commercially viable, it was going to hit, and this came and really took it over the top. We enlisted Todd Rundgren to work on the album - we wanted that commercial appeal Todd could give us with FM radio - he really understood what the sound of the time was. When he came in, the magic was there. We recorded in Miami, one thing was leading to another and it was all snowballing and happening for us. The fact that the song was so good, and so commercially good just added to it."
This was the first of two #1 singles by Grand Funk -- the other was their remake of "The Locomotion" a year later.
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In the first pressing, all the copies of the 45 RPM records were pressed on gold vinyl. Says Brewer: "That was Capitol's idea. A couple of bands had done that prior to us. It's called virgin vinyl and it's expensive, so record companies didn't want to do virgin vinyl. You could see through it. Black vinyl, they can put all kinds of impurities in there that nobody cares about. Virgin vinyl, where you can see though it, if there were impurities and stuff there would be specks all through it, so they didn't like doing that, but we went to them and said, 'Look, we want to make a special statement,' so they agreed to print 100,000 units of both the single and the album on virgin gold vinyl to go along with the gold record situation we had going - we had about 6 gold records prior to that, and it was like, 'Let's give everybody a gold record.' They were rare, and they still go for a pretty good buck with collectors." (thanks to Don for speaking with us about this song)
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