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Vanilla Fudge - Vanilla Fudge [Aka:You Keep Me Hanging On] CD (album) cover


Vanilla Fudge



3.64 | 104 ratings

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4 stars Rising up and out of the competitive New York bar circuits, Vanilla Fudge made their concert debut in July of '67 when they opened for the Byrds. They must have made quite an impression because they were immediately signed to Atco Records and rushed into the studio in order to get their fresh sound out to the public by the end of the year. From the looks of these four guys (as they appear in the photo on the back of the cover) they'd be the last group you'd think would have a mind-blowing influence on modern music. One appears to be a Wall Street stock broker in a double-breasted suit, one could pass for a slick real estate salesman in suburban New Jersey, another seems like the type that moonlights as a loan collector for his made-man Uncle Tony and the dude with glasses looks like a geek who could kick your ass sideways in a slide rule contest. Yet these were highly talented musicians that literally changed the course of rock and roll history.

A few facts: This album was the first EVER to climb into Billboard's top ten without the benefit of a chart-busting single. (The edited "You Keep Me Hanging On" wasn't a hit record until nearly two years later.) And, as far as my research indicates, they are tied with Keith Emerson's "The Nice" as being the first progressive band to feature the versatile Hammond organ as the centerpiece of their sound. Releasing their initial albums in 1967, both groups were at ground zero of an evolving revolution. Psychedelic music was expanding exponentially with "Sgt. Peppers," "Disraeli Gears," "Are You Experienced" and "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" coming out that same year but none of those LPs focused on the growling, room-filling roar of that classic keyboard behemoth as the dominant instrument. And I don't have to tell you how essential the Hammond sound was to be for bands like Yes, Genesis and Deep Purple, just to name a few.

What knocked everybody out right off the bat was the fact that this group was dismantling well-known songs and reconstructing them in ways no one had ever thought to do. The opening number is a great example. "Ticket to Ride" is as familiar a tune as you can imagine but in the hands of these four it becomes a whole new song. Gone is the signature guitar riff and oddly accented downbeat. Instead you get a heavy drum and organ-dominated intro that shifts into a driving gear more hard rock than psychedelic fueled by emotive, over-the-top vocals. Tim Bogert's hyperactive bass lines in particular are a definite departure from the norm of the time. Curtis Mayfield's classic "People Get Ready" is the next tune to get the Fudge treatment and, despite the flowery beginning, it's a pretty straightforward version that has a very noticeable Rascals R&B feel to it. Organist Mark Stein's passionate vocal as well as the full three-part backing harmonies shine here as their cabaret roots are put to good use. Their remake of The Zombies' "She's Not There" has a very dynamic arrangement that puts the spotlight on drummer Carmine Appice and guitarist Vince Martell. It also features a highly theatrical, pompous finale that will bring a smile to your face. While Sonny Bono's "Bang Bang" inclusion was a real surprise, the way they mix in different music styles makes it almost unrecognizable when compared to the pop rendition. Utilizing a stately theme from "The King and I" as the introduction and having an eerie snippet of "Ring Around the Rosy" drifting about (varied nursery rhyme melodies come and go throughout the album), the song takes on a very trippy atmosphere as Vince plays quasi-raga lines on his guitar and inventive harmonies circle the melody.

But it is their great revamp of The Supremes' "You Keep Me Hanging On" that caused rock musicians and producers to realize that there was now a whole new direction to go in. The band's attitude is very aggressive and bombastic, Bogert's bass and Appice's drums redefine what a rhythm track should be and Stein's overwrought vocal gives you goosebumps galore. It also emphasizes (again) the expansive sounds of the Hammond organ as Mark injects what sounds like white noise during the mysterious beginning and middle sections. Suffice it to say that no one had heard anything quite like it before. Perhaps thinking that they may have taken the listener too far to the edge, "Take Me For a Little While" is a return to safe Caucasian soul territory with another Rascal-like performance. They saved the best for last, however, and their take on the timeless "Eleanor Rigby" is nothing short of fantastic. It has incredible dynamics and more drama than a daytime soap opera as it builds steadily to the end where they sing "All the lonely people/where do they all belong?" as if it were a children's round (like "Row, row, row your boat") and create intensity that appeals directly to your prog sensibilities. It gets my vote as the best cut on the album.

To those who find this 40-year-old recording extremely dated I have to agree with a resounding "Duh!" Yet I remind you to consider that if you go back four decades earlier from the release of this album you'll be looking at the period in music history when the transition from cylinders to vinyl discs was the cutting edge of technology. (The big records in 1927 were "Stardust" by Hoagy Carmichael and "Potato Head Blues" by Louis Armstrong.) So please, a little perspective is in order. Vanilla Fudge was a pioneering group that helped to steer radio away from the limited three-minute single and towards the concept of playing longer, deep album cuts which, in turn, opened the door for symphonic progressive rock in general. You've certainly got to give them credit for creatively thinking outside of the box and for that alone this recording should have a historical marker sticking out of it. Thank you, Vanilla Fudge, from all of us.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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