Sunday, October 15, 2006

Vinyl Tap: Vanilla Fudge

I get a new turntable and dust off some old records. Vinyl Tap #28: 

The few seconds of technical gibberish at the start of Vanilla Fudge ends with a promise: “Ultra-Sonic Operating Level - Set Pleasance Control.”

In “All You Need Is Pretension” ‘67 that could mean just about anything. With Vanilla Fudge it mostly meant slowed-down psychedelic-sludge cover songs sustained at times beyond endurance and identification. The group first got notice and radio airplay with their 7:20 minute version of the Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hanging On,” and with their self-titled debut album they also take a similar diversionary tack with the Beatles, Curtis Mayfield, Sonny and Cher, and the Zombies.

Sandwiched in between tracks of ham-fisted and heavy-icious style -- if not necessarily substance -- are Fudge’s original cacophonic-calliope of confections, “Illusions Of My Childhood,” that total slightly over a dispensable minute of out-dated freak-out filler.

The Beatles songs that open and close Vanilla Fudge, “Ticket To Ride” and “Eleanor Rigby” respectively, comprise a different and contrasting kind of filler that won‘t make you forget the Carpenters or Ray Charles - let alone the fab four themselves. Except for the brown-acidic and bloodcurdling flying-monkey screams at the end, "Ticket" sounds not unlike the Rascals on lithium (or as you might imagine that would sound). This relatively straightforward approach is refreshingly put to better blue-eyed soulful use on the Impressions’ “People Get Ready” and the Jackie Ross/Evie Sand hit “Take Me For A Little While.”

The stoned-out eight-minute “Eleanor Rigby,” on the other hand, is too fragmented and disjointed to be effective, especially when it verges in earnest on William “Golden Throats” Shatner-style histrionics and melodrama, such as in the highly-wrought and sibilantly whispered aside, “No… one… wasss… savedddd…”

Maybe it is “nothing to get hung about” -- as Fudge sneak in a little “Strawberry Fields” snippet -- but the same kind of fussy elaboration mars Sonny Bono’s “Bang Bang” just as the In-A-Gadda-Da-Hammond-heavy noodling of “She’s Not There” takes all the fun out of a great pop tune.

Even so, “You Keep Me Hanging On” still sounds pretty tantalizing all these years later - but in a little-goes-a-long-way manner. Though the group began to merge some original material into their hit-and-miss work, there seemed little need to belabor the long-drawn-out covers-conceit over the course of a few more albums.

Vanilla Fudge can, however, be cited as a precursor to heavy metal and they went on to other career highlights, including touring with Jimi Hendrix and also headlining with an early-on Led Zeppelin as their opening act. A couple members also formed a short-lived power trio with Jeff Beck -- Beck, Bogert, and Appice -- in the early '70s. 

But Vanilla Fudge's time-lag miasma of sonic molasses just keeps me hanging on and on a little too much.



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