VANILLA FUDGE — Vanilla Fudge (review)

VANILLA FUDGE — Vanilla Fudge album cover Album · 1967 · Proto-Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
VANILLA FUDGE was an unusual 1960s band in the fact that these New Yorkers that formed in 1966 successfully created an entirely new sound in the world of psychedelic soul rock all without writing a single song of their own on their debut release. Add to that the band somehow cemented itself into the history books as one of the earliest bands that forged the way for not only progressive rock but the world of heavy metal, both of which would become major dominant musical forces in the decade to come. Starting out as The Electric Pigeons and then truncating to just The Pigeons, the band changed its name to VANILLA FUDGE which referred to a group of white guys singing and playing music created by black singers and musicians.

VANILLA FUDGE was organist Mark Stein, bassist Tim Bogert, guitarist Vince Martelil and drummer Carmine Appice. While Stein handled lead vocals, the entire band engaged in intricate harmonies influenced by bands such as The Beatles and The Rascals only VANILLA FUDGE was a pioneering band in bridging the world of black soul music with the brave new world of psychedelic rock. The band’s eponymously titled debut emerged in 1967 and found instant gratification as it literally shot up to the #6 position on the Billboard album charts even before the release of the crafty cover of The Supreme’s 1966 smash hit “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” was released as a single and too shot up the charts. Graced with an impeccable sense of harmony and by playing cover songs at half the original speed, VANILLA FUDGE delivered an irresistible new perspective on well known songs on its self-titled 1967 debut.

This first album was unique in the band’s five album run that lasted only three years as it featured no original songs whatsoever however the band did contribute three very short self-made instrumental intros that were listed as separate tracks but in reality served as nothing more than short snippets that connected the cover songs. With no original songs to showcase VANILLA FUDGE made it count in their unique and original approach into how they interpreted each song. The band excelled at crafting a mix of top notch soulful harmonies with Mark Stein’s vocals showing a particularly engaging style that mixed traditional soul singing with bouts of wailing and extended vocal techniques. The use of acid rock organ runs, energetic drumming excursions and heavy guitar moments earned the band the reputation as one of the few American acts that bridged the gap between the world of 1960s psychedelic rock and the future worlds of prog and metal.

Following only a year after The Supremes hit #1 on the Billboard singles chart with “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” VANILLA FUDGE’s version shot up to the top 10 as well only stalling at the #6 position. The single was enough to keep the band’s album racing up the charts and propelling VANILLA FUDGE into the big time. The success allowed the band to tour with Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane and eventually the band would tour with Led Zeppelin as their opening act. The band was a major influence on Deep Purple with its emphasis on the use of bombastic organ heft and harder rocking moments of guitar and drumming. The album walked a delicate balance between beautifully delivered soulful harmonies laced with tender orchestrations and the contrasting hard rock, the likes of which had never been attempted.

To be honest i’m not a fan of cover albums for the most part and the mid-1960s found many newly established acts not ready for prime time releasing albums that relied too heavily on cover songs to fill up space but VANILLA FUDGE is the exception as they definitely reinterpreted a diverse set of covers all the while drenching them in the sounds of the organ-fueled excesses of acid rock and heavy psych. The album flows perfectly from beginning to end and the band members really did take full command of the cover songs and make them their own. VANILLA FUDGE’s debut is an excellent slice of traditional soulful pop songs transmogrified into proto-prog and proto-metal splendor. This one really is a unique moment in history since the band would follow with the avant-garde sophomore release “The Beat Goes On” before delivering an album of all original material on “Renaissance.” While i don’t want to love this one, i can’t help myself! It’s a brilliantly bold move from a band that masterfully crafted one of the most uncanny hybridization albums of the entire 1960s.
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