Released during the famous 'summer of love' in 1967, Vanilla Fudge's debut offering was undoubtedly one of the more seminal psychedelic albums coming from America during the late sixties'. The heavy, jam-oriented atmosphere combined with Mark Stein's prominent organs were rather unique given the time period, and the group's original twist on well-known compositions grabbed the attention of fans and critics alike. Consisting solely of cover tunes and a few short interludes thrown in for good measure, Vanilla Fudge did not captivate listeners with original works of their own, but instead showed what they could do within the limits of famous pop songs from years past. While this formula certainly allowed lots of creativity and solid musicianship to shine through, I don't think that Vanilla Fudge stands as a particularly bold artistic statement or ageless classic.
Musically, we're dealing with psychedelic rock that isn't too far away from what most bands in the genre were doing in 1966 and 1967. Although sidelong jams and increased experimentation hadn't yet become the norm, heavy use of the Hammond organ and Beatles-influenced vocal melodies are plentiful here; Vanilla Fudge were also at the forefront of early hard rock, and some of the organ sections here clearly paved the way for heavy acts like Deep Purple and Uriah Heep. Though I would not call Vanilla Fudge a terribly groundbreaking observation, it's easy to understand why this record was so influential as it solidified everything that early psychedelic rock was about.
As mentioned previously, all of the tracks on Vanilla Fudge are cover tunes. This is a bit of a turn-off for me (I typically like bands to write their own material), but it's clear that these guys put a lot of thought into the arrangements. Though the songs may be the same, Vanilla Fudge's renditions of these tracks sound entirely their own. Their take on The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" is a fine example of this, as is their interpretation of the Motown classic "You Keep Me Hangin' On". It's certainly interesting to hear all of these songs re-imagined in a psychedelic setting, but that's arguably all that it remains - a re-imagining. Especially over forty five years after its release, Vanilla Fudge doesn't sound terribly exciting or artistically ambitious. Unlike some other 1967 landmarks like Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band or Absolutely Free that have grown with each passing year, Vanilla Fudge feels more like a relic from the psychedelic era than a truly timeless classic.
Of course, fans of psychedelic rock have probably owned this album decades before I wrote this review, but newer listeners of the genre are still advised to check it out. It may not strike me as anything terribly essential, but Vanilla Fudge is an influential release that encapsulates everything that one should expect from late sixties' psych. As a listener, however, I must admit that I was more than a little disappointed.