Aside from their countless hit singles and albums, Grand Funk Railroad were proving their immense popularity as a live act from the end of the 1960s. In the final month of the decade, for example, they were playing at the Fillmore East in New York; in 1970, they starred at the Cincinnati Pop Festival, then the New York equivalent, sharing the bill with Jimi Hendrix.
But on 5 June 1971, even the media representatives who had never liked their populist hard rock style had to concede that GFR had become one of the biggest bands of their generation. The numbers didn’t lie, as they sold out their forthcoming appearance at Shea Stadium in New York, breaking the box office record held by The Beatles.
The Liverpool idols first appeared at the stadium in August 1965, to a record audience of 55,600, and then again a year later. The impending Grand Funk concert — with support by Humble Pie — matched that attendance record, but sold out in a mere 72 hours, whereas The Beatles’ show took considerably longer. 55,000 tickets went on sale at 10am that Friday, priced at $4, $5 and $6, and by Monday morning they were gone.
As those tickets flew out of the door, Survival, Grand Funk’s fifth album release in the space of two years, reached No. 6 in the US. It was their third top ten LP in a row and another platinum disc; their cover of Dave Mason’s ‘Feelin’ Alright,’ which was first on Traffic’s self-titled 1968 debut, was a modest Hot 100 entry.
The Shea concert itself took place on July 9, after a huge North American tour and some European shows that included an appearance in Hyde Park in London six days earlier. The set included their own hits as well as covers of the Animals’ ‘Inside Looking Out’ and the Rolling Stones’ ‘Gimme Shelter,’ which GFR had recorded as the closing track on Survival.
Band manager Terry Knight, talking after a poorly-attended press conference to announce the Shea date, observed the media’s sniffy attitude to the band by saying: “Any person in the business knows that to announce you’re playing Shea Stadium is news…the fact of the matter is, it is news to announce that anybody is gonna play Shea Stadium. But it’s equally big news to announce that no American entertainer in history has ever attempted it before.”
Knight concluded: “It was never our goal to ‘sell out’ Shea Stadium; we just want to fill it with our people.” They got their wish.
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