They’re an American band, and this was their first album. Grand Funk Railroad played their first gig in March 1969 and On Time came out five months later on August 25. The LP was recorded in the immediate aftermath of the first Atlanta Pop Festival, which had taken place on the 4th of July weekend. The band had gone over a storm with the 50,000 audience, prompting Capitol Records to sign them.
GFR had their origins in a group called Terry Knight and the Pack that included Mark Farner and Don Brewer, who were joined by bass player Mel Schacher. (Schacher had previously been in ? & the Mysterians, of “96 Tears” fame.) Farner sang, played guitar and harmonica, and was very much the on-stage leader of the band, while Brewer was the drummer and second vocalist. In the mold created by Cream, their powerhouse blues rock was undeniable in the live setting.
Indeed, it was GFR’s relentless gigging that drove the sales of the album. Wherever the band played, their album sold. According to one reviewer, “Grand Funk played at the Fillmore East when their first album had only been out for three weeks. But, regardless of this, the audience was screaming out their favorite songs for the group to play.”
Creating a template
One of those songs was “Heartbreaker,” the band’s third single, which was released in early 1970 and also made the lower reaches of the Billboard Hot 100. With Farner’s bluesy guitar and his and Brewer’s harmony vocals, it set a template for so many rock and metal bands that would break through as the 1970s progressed.
Other standout tracks include “Into The Sun” which starts off in a mellow mood and transforms itself into hard-rock heaven over the course of six and half minutes. Along with “Are You Ready,” it remained a staple part of Grand Funk’s live set for many years. (You can hear why on the band’s Live album from a year later.)
Chart-wise, their debut single, the bluesy “Time Machine,” came out at the same time as the album. A month later the single made the Billboard charts making a slow steady climb up to No.48. A few weeks later, on October 11, On Time made the Billboard album chart and it too made steady progress, eventually peaking at No. 27 in late November.
On Time is not without its flaws, but like so many debut albums it was pointing the way forward. GFR would become one of the biggest bands in America over the first half of the 1970s, and this is where it all started.