My Grandpa Simpson letter to rock and rollers would go something like this:
“Dear musicians. There are too many songs called ‘Heartbreaker.’ Please eliminate three.”
Pat Benatar and “Heartbreaker” are synonymous. Same for Led Zeppelin (always served with a “Living Loving Maid” chaser.) The final Free album featured a standout track called “Heartbreaker.” And who can forget Dionne Warwick’s entry, donated by the Bee Gees?
My favorite rock and roll “Heartbreaker” is the creation of three guys named Mark, Don and Mel, aka Grand Funk Railroad. I don’t “shuffle” my tunes nearly as much as I used to around the house, but this killer cut from Grand Funk Railroad’s much maligned debut popped up for me this morning, and is perhaps the preeminent ear-grabber of their first handful of albums.
Hearing the song made me think of a radio jock I enjoyed listening to growing up in Massachusetts, a guy named Patrick Murray who sadly passed away just weeks ago. He was always more of a role-player than a marquee talent at WBCN and WZLX, but his unorthodox style, benevolent-stoner humor and penchant for the random always made him a must-listen. We never met in person, but thankfully were able to connect as social media pals over the years. The first time I ever heard Grand Funk’s “Heartbreaker” was in the 1990s, driving in the 1987 Pontiac Bonneville that my dad handed down to me. I was somewhere on I-190 in my native Worcester County, and at first I thought I was hearing Vanilla Fudge (hold the Hammond). When I realized this was indeed Grand Funk, I made sure the next album I bought was “On Time,” their 1969 debut. While they made stronger albums, “On Time” still occupies a special spot in my brain space.
I don’t know if the playing of that song was the doing of “Murray the Fish” or WZLX’s esteemed music director Carter Alan, but I still remember how the song grabbed me. You get a bit more jaded with age, and though I still stumble upon music that newly strikes a chord with me, it never quite conks me upside the head the same way Grand Funk’s “Heartbreaker” did at that moment… and I used to have a number of moments like that in my formative years.
Thanks for the inspiration, Patrick.