VANILLA FUDGE — The Beat Goes On (review)

VANILLA FUDGE — The Beat Goes On album cover Album · 1968 · Hard Rock Buy this album from MMA partners
3/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
If there was ever an award for the most head scratching career moves of the entire 1960s, VANILLA FUDGE must would surely win first prize. After a surprise hit debut album of nothing more than cover songs reinterpreted into the world of psychedelic soulful rock laced with heavy organ fuzz and showcasing some of the earliest traces of progressive rock and what would become heavy metal, the band followed with one of the most avant-garde albums to come out in the year 1968. While the debut featured familiar catchy pop songs including the top 10 hit remake of The Supremes’ chart topping single “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” the band quickly shifted gears into a strange collage album in the form of THE BEAT GOES ON in early 1968.

The year 1967 was the Summer of Love and offered a last air of innocent hippie glee before the calendar year 1968 roared in full force. The idealism of perpetual peace and free love were interrupted by a turbulent world stage where everything seemed to go topsy turvy overnight. The music of the era reflected this by shifting from simpler musical forms that had only just evolved out of the straight forward approach of rock and roll to headier and ever bolder musical experiments. The Beatles’ classic “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band” deserves the lion’s share of credit for upping the ante in the world of simpler rock forms that focused on singles as a means of marketing to a full-fledged concept albums in an art rock style which hit the world with the subtlety of a lightning bolt.

While the world of psychedelic pop and rock would sally forth unscathed with many simpler forms of rock continuing to occupy the hit singles charts, some intrepid acts followed the cue of The Beatles and went for the concept album avant-garde jugular. VANILLA FUDGE was one such band having never even released a single song of their own making and then suddenly delivering a followup album that recklessly abandoned all the rules and engaged in a fearless exploration into the unknown musical possibilities that could result from just simply going for it. THE BEAT GOES ON was basically a meandering sampling of the entire history of music without any regard to how things connected or fit together in any way, shape or form. Based on the smashing success of the debut, the album still sold its share of copies but quickly alienated any fans who were expecting a continuation of the band’s soulful psychedelic rock playfulness that put VANILLA FUDGE on the map.

Broken into four phases with various short snippets called tracks, THE BEAT GOES ON meanders through a maze of crossover classical music (Mozart, Beethoven etc), medleys of famous pop hits by Elvis Presley and The Beatles as well spoken word speeches and one of the very first recordings of all time sampled by Thomas Edison. The band retains its psychedelic rock at key moments with the already established fuzzy organ heft and heavier rock combo effect of the guitar, bass and drum but in reality there are no actual songs on THE BEAT GOES ON and merely samplings strewn together into a psychedelic haze of consciousness shifting. Clearly the year 1968 was a traumatic one for the world and the methodologies of finding the proper musical escape hatch were becoming bolder and more ambitious with THE BEAT GOES ON being one of those albums that at first listen may seem completely pointless but also when placed into the context of the time fits in with how the world of musical exploration was panning out.

The album is compared with Frank Zappa’s “Lumpy Gravy” however VANILLA FUDGE beat Zappa to the punch by a few months with a nerdy concept album that engaged in the everything and the kitchen sink approach. The major difference of course that being that Frank Zappa was a gifted and brilliant composer of the avant-garde and VANILLA FUDGE being a naive quartet of youngsters who didn’t quite have the chops to bring their ambitions to a high level of competency. While many really hate this album including the band itself as they blame this unwise followup as a total career killer, as far as experimental avant-garde albums go it’s not that bad. While its hardly any milestone of creative fortitude, as a historical reference point and unorthodox art rock album from 1968 it’s a totally listenable experience.

Luckily the band would quickly follow up with a new album of mostly self-penned tracks titled “Renaissance” but momentum had been lost and THE BEAT GOES ON has been ridiculed by many ever since. Personally i admire VANILLA FUDGE’s audaciousness as the band clearly had no idea of how to keep an audience enthralled. One of those cases of moving too quickly into an arena where the artistry wasn’t up to snuff. It would’ve made a lot more sense to release “Renaissance” first and establishing the band as a bonafide creator of its own material and sound and only then after retaining its momentum by releasing something like this a year or two later. But when all is said and done, THE BEAT GOES ON exhibits a trend of a musical expedition into completely uncharted territory and that’s pretty remarkable for a band that could’ve simply put out another album of psychedelically tinged cover songs. Despite not crafting the next great art album of all time, VANILLA FUDGE earned its place as a bonafide proto-prog act that helped propel the spirit of the evolution of the rock music paradigm. While results were mixed, the spirit of the creative process excelled.
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