We—and by “we,” I mean the people who frequent this blog and others like it—tend to idolize (idealize?) the songs we grew up with. Not that we don’t listen to new music, or haven’t appreciated anything we’ve heard since college—only that the songs that mean the most to us tend to be from our intense years of musical discovery, which usually are in late childhood and young adulthood.
Sometimes as the years go by, we rediscover songs, albums, or performers we ignored or neglected back in the day, or re-evaluate some we disliked. Honesty compels me to report that during most of the 1970s, I actively disliked Creedence Clearwater Revival—probably not an entirely unexpected development from somebody whose first favorites were Dawn and the Partridge Family—and it wasn’t until college that I began to appreciate them. More often, though, what happens now is rediscovery.
I’ve known Grand Funk Railroad’s “Closer to Home” as long I’ve known any rock song—it ran the Billboard Hot 100 from August through October in 1970, so it was on the radio in my very first days as a listener. I encountered it again in college, and then again from time to time as years went by, on the radio. But it’s only over the last couple of years that “Closer to Home” has become a favorite. Not Desert Island-worthy, but when it comes on in the car, I’ll sit in the garage or the parking lot and listen until it’s over. And that often requires a substantial time commitment. The album version of the song runs almost exactly 10 minutes, although the single is edited to 5:30.
The album version and the single version also have different names. On the Closer to Home album, the song is called “I’m Your Captain (Closer to Home),” while the single is most frequently known as “Closer to Home.” The hilariously detailed Wikipedia entry about the song suggests that the full album title encompasses the song’s “two distinct but closely related movements,” which is a fair-enough observation, although it’s hard to imagine Mark Farner, Don Brewer, and Mel Schacher debating the implications of various titles, or stopping to consider that the song “is composed in the compound binary form.” A footnote says that Farner’s publisher has registered the title with BMI as “Closer to Home,” but the Wiki-author adds, “the song is best known by the formulation that captures both movements.”
(The entry reads like an unedited chapter from somebody’s dissertation—Grand Funk Railroad and the Modalities of the Boogie, or something like that—which should give the author a leg up whenever he graduates from high school.)
But anyway: There was something in the air in 1970 that made rock bands reach for big statements. Even Grand Funk Railroad, known primarily for playing hard and heavy (and earning critical disrespect in the process), were bitten by the bug on Closer to Home. And they chose to make the album closer more ornate—and sedate—than anything they’d ever attempted. Is that acoustic guitar? A string section? Bird sounds? “I’m Your Captain” is clearly not the Grand Funk of one year before—and it’s a Grand Funk they wouldn’t resemble again until years later.
I don’t know whether the song is a Vietnam allegory, as Wikipedia claims. I’ve never heard it that way, but I can see how someone could. To me, it’s a seafaring story, which climaxes when the embattled captain sinks into delirium and escapes the dangerous present by dreaming of home.
Hmm. Wonder why I’d hear it like that.