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Grander Than Ever: Grand Funk Outdo The Beatles At Shea Stadium

In June 1971, even media types who had never liked GFR’s populist hard rock style had to concede that they’d become one of the biggest bands of their generation.

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Grand Funk Live 1971 album

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 onwards. 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.

Numbers didn’t lie

But on June 5, 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: they sold out their forthcoming appearance at Shea Stadium in New York, breaking the box office record held by The Beatles.

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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 10 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.

From Hyde Park to Shea Stadium

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. The Shea Stadium version, featured below, became available much later on Grand Funk’s Live: The 1971 Tour album, recorded at various stops on the tour but not released until 2002.

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.

Listen to the best of Grand Funk Railroad on Apple Music and Spotify.

“George
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13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Steve Pokorny

    June 5, 2016 at 10:36 pm

    Love your site, also can’t get enough of “I don’t need no doctor” live

  2. Kirk Stuart

    June 6, 2016 at 2:40 am

    All time favorite for sure. Mark Farner is a genius.

  3. chris olsen

    June 6, 2016 at 5:51 pm

    This is the very first rock concert i went to. it was so rowdy-i thought they were going to collapse the stands. i was 17-young and innocent

  4. Juan Ruiz

    June 19, 2016 at 1:33 am

    Is Mark back in the Band >

    • Elise Barthalow

      July 31, 2016 at 2:49 am

      No Mark Farner is not back with the band.He tours on his own,and worth checking out.He still is a dynamite performer.

  5. JEFFREY DAVID

    June 5, 2017 at 8:29 pm

    GET TERRY KNIGHT TO RELEASE THE VIDEO OF THE WHOLE CONCERT !

    • Lee Ottman

      June 5, 2018 at 8:44 pm

      Terry Knight has been dead for years, from what I understand, Don Brewer owns the rights to the film

    • Ronnie Acerra

      September 3, 2020 at 6:05 pm

      Terry has been dead for a long time. The film belongs to Grand Funk as does the ABC IN Concert film and the San Diego Show from 1974.[Jap bootleg]They never released the movie citing bad playing from their viewpoint. Next summer will be the 50 year anniversary of the event. Look for them to release it then. If they don’t then, we may never see it. I was there too my friend. Got my picture in READ magazine.

  6. Allen Cuttler

    June 7, 2018 at 11:54 pm

    GFR one of the very best bands of all time!

  7. smitty

    February 24, 2020 at 5:38 pm

    I was at GFR at Shea Stadium. Great show, but the ticket sell-out faster than the Beatles, is a pure bull-shit story. Sid Bernstein, produced both the Beatles and GFR at Shea Stadium. GFR tickets were sold at the box office. Tickets for the Beatles were a mail-in lottery. Measuring the speed of sales between the two events in pure crap. False PR by the Sid Bernstein camp.

  8. Ronnie Acerra

    September 3, 2020 at 6:18 pm

    WRONG! Terry Night hype. But whatever the case, They sold out faster than the Beatles. The Beatles second shea show was half full, Remember?? Semantics at play. Read between the lines. Besides that Why would you want to rain on Grand Funks parade? It was a historic night. I was in that hot June sun, Dying from the heat, People were passing out. News choppers were spraying water on us to keep us going. My buddy got to about 25 feet away from the box offices and he gave me his money, He couldn’t make it. I got the tickets for everyone in our group. Dude, I have seen everyone that I cared to in the 70’s I was in the city 3 nights out of seven sometimes. I never had an adventure as the day we went to get tickets for the BIGGEST SELLING rock group of 1970. What group were you in?? How many records have you made. Go listen to your Hip Hop or evev worse Classic Rock.

  9. James J. Kelly

    March 5, 2021 at 2:50 pm

    I really hope they do something to commemorate the 50th Anniversary this summer.

  10. Bear

    May 19, 2021 at 7:56 pm

    There were also more tickets available as their was less press and cameras taking up room.

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