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Vanilla Fudge - The Beat Goes On CD (album) cover

THE BEAT GOES ON

Vanilla Fudge

 

Proto-Prog

1.49 | 37 ratings

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KingCrInuYasha
2 stars Oh boy, what did I get myself into?

Around the same time Vanilla Fudge was tinkering with the material that would end up becoming Renaissance, producer George "Shadow" Morton got the bright idea to create an avant-garde album that would detail the history of modern music as well as some other philosophical mumbo jumbo that was all the rage at the time. The Fudge was to provide the musical backdrop, as well as having their name stuck to the project. Not surprising, the band was not too thrilled with the project, but, for whatever reason, be it record company pressure or overall inexperience on the Fudge's part, Mark, Tim, Carmine and Vinnie went along for the ride. The result is widely considered by fans, critics, and even the band members themselves as the worst album of their classic period and, for those who know it exists, one of the most infamous records of 1968.

The bulk of the blame has to go to Morton. This is pure conjecture on my part, but this is probably another case of someone listening to the weirdest of the weird of Frank Zappa's material and thinking they could start a revolution by indulging in the same genre, when in reality, neither Morton nor the Fudge had even a tenth of the familiarity that Zappa had with avant-garde. As a result, instead of creating freaky masterpieces that musically pushed the envelope (e.g., the last third of Freak Out! and the whole of We're Only In It For The Money and Uncle Meat), they ended up with the aural equivalent of an Ed Wood film.

If you hadn't already guessed, the title of the album and the overall concept refers to the Sonny and Cher hit released the previous year, with the song serving as the leitmotif throughout the album. The opening number - which include clips from the title song - is your typical dramatic affair from the Fudge, sounding like something Emerson, Lake & Palmer would eventually do on their first album, before concluding with a clip of Thomas Edison and his famous "Mary had a little lamb" speech from his phonograph demonstration in 1877. We then enter Phase One of the concept, which is the aforementioned musical history lesson. The piece runs through Mozart, parlor music of the 19th and early 20th centuries, rag time, big bands, Elvis and finally the Beatles. On the one hand, the concept is nowhere as deep as it claims to be, being something Disney probably would have done had they managed to get the rights to use the songs. On the other hand, the idea of a musical history lesson presented by a over the top psychedelic band sounds kind of quirky to my ears, with the potential to delight both pop music deconstructionists and kids who want to get into music. Yes, I know it's cheesy, but I like it.

The overall problem with this phase is that the execution kind of leaves a lot to be desired. The popping up of the dramatic "Beat Goes On" theme throughout the suite, played in the exact same way, is too distracting for me. The Moody Blues' "House Of Four Doors" sequence did something similar, but at least that was better integrated, with its theme having a similar vibe as the interludes in that piece. Hearing a dramatic, Hammond organ drenched fanfare right between two ragtime pieces throws me out of the experience. Probably the biggest distraction is when they uses the theme in between "In The Mood" and "Hound Dog" , when they should have played those songs back to back uninterrupted to show the similarities between the songs, which would have fit the theme that "the beat goes on" perfectly. I also wish they added some more songs to the suite in order to flesh out the concept. As it is, I put the suite in the "could have been worse, could have been better" pile; and that's not getting into how The Residents managed to do the concept better when they made Third Reich 'N Roll.

Phase Two involves the Fudge covering Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata and Fur Elsie and is the best moment on the album, if only because it's the only phase that isn't based on a really bad idea and it's also the only one where it's fully fleshed out to its potential. It's nothing special, just the boys covering Beethoven in a cheesy, late 1960s fashion, but this type of arrangement was what Fudge did best and they pull it off with aplomb. The tune ends with a chord sequence that sounds a lot like the one near the start of their cover of "Eleanor Rigby" and I wouldn't be surprised if they put the two together in their live shows at the time.

If the first side was a pretentious, yet harmless, affair, then the second half is where the whole concept goes completely of the deep end. Phase Three consists of voice clips of historical figures between the onset of World War Two and John F. Kennedy being inaugurated as president of the United States, with Fudge providing some sparse, average sounding, musical background. I assume this was another piece that protested the Vietnam War, given the war and peace themes, and said cycle of war and peace being another beat that goes on. Some call it art, I call it self-indulgent. This is Vanilla Fudge's equivalent of The Beatles' "Revolution 9", but has nowhere near the amount of unintentional comedy that made it entertaining to listen to. I don't care if it's an anti-war message; there are plenty of (actual) songs out there that make the point better than this mess.

The fourth and final Phase does little to stop this train wreck in progress. The main theme, The Game Is Over, is yet another cover, this time taken from the soundtrack of a 1966 film starring Jane Fonda, IIRC. The music is actually pretty good and quite possibly the saddest sounding piece in the Fudge's output. At least it would be if they hadn't butchered it by a) splitting the piece with some Indian flavored music that would become badly outdated two years later and b) having the band members speak over the music itself, with Vinnie reciting some poetry, Mark quoting Bible verses about the death of Moses, Tim bluntly answering questions in an interview and Carmine just telling the audience to just listen to the music.

And there's your record. I give Morton an A for effort in wanting to tackle a genre he had no experience in as well as dragging Vanilla Fudge, kicking and screaming, into this mess, but I still give it 2/5, and a very, very weak 2/5 at that. The second half is every bit as pointless as its detractors make it out to be and if it wasn't for the novelty and somewhat wasted potential of the first half, it would have gotten a 1/5. If you want to hear what the fuss is all about or have a thing for postmodernism, I suggest either borrowing from a friend or buying the record cheap.

Final rating: 2/5

Personal favorites: "Sketch", the music suite and the Beethoven covers

Personal dislikes: Everything from side two

P.S.: In writing this review, I almost forgot the two bonus tracks attached to some CD versions. Their straightforward cover of The Beatles' " You Can't Do That" isn't too impressive, but it's pleasant when on. The pile driving ballad, "Come By Day, Come By Night", on the other hand, is a nice surprise. It's one of the first songs penned by the Fudge themselves and manages to successfully incorporate their sound in an original setting. The vocals are sublime and I like the cricket chirps Mark gets out of his organ at the beginning. The bonus tracks' presence on this version of the album is enough to make this rating a solid 2/5 instead of a shaky one.

KingCrInuYasha | 2/5 |

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