It’s hard to believe that Real Gone Music’s The Complete Atco Singles (RGM-0239, 2014) is the first such overview for Vanilla Fudge. Between 1966 and 1970, the Long Island quartet delivered heavy riff-rock that bridged the gap between psychedelia and the nascent hard rock form that would come to be known as heavy metal, transforming popular songs with a raw, visceral, punch-in-the-gut sound. This tasty, single-disc collection brings together every one of the 18 sides released on the Atco label during the first reign of Fudge and the band’s brief eighties comeback, plus one bonus track. Atco made a specialty of editing the lengthy recordings by Mark Stein (vocals/organ), Carmine Appice (drums), Tim Bogert (bass) and Vinny Martell (guitar) for 45 RPM release. So these palatable, radio-friendly singles have a very different character than the album versions which frequently bookended the core melodies with heavy, bluesy (and deliciously indulgent) jams. Every track here except the two sides from 1984 is heard in its original mono single mix.
Vanilla Fudge announced itself in 1967 with the forceful but deliberate attack that opens the searing reinvention of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” from debut album Vanilla Fudge. Light years away from The Supremes’ urgent but smoothly crystalline original from just one year earlier, the Fudge’s dark take on the Holland/Dozier/Holland song wasn’t right for the Summer of Love. Its initial release stalled at No. 67 Pop. But much could, and did, change in one year. When Atco reissued the single in 1968, it reached No. 6. “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” naturally opens Real Gone’s anthology, and if it’s hard to top, the band kept its singles varied with a blend of rearranged covers and psychedelic originals.
The B-side of “Hangin’ On,” “Take Me for a Little While,” is far less radical blue-eyed soul with a powerful punch thanks to the rumble of Appice’s thunderous drums. Its thick, dark sound was brightened by the group’s capable harmony vocals, and you’ll hear frequently hear echoes here of the group’s Long Island brethren like The Rascals and The Hassles. With producers including George “Shadow” Morton, Vanilla Fudge curated quite a collection of diverse material. Their stark, ethereal reading of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “The Look of Love” was played straightforward but featured minor lyric changes; more radical was a lengthy version (split into two parts for single release) of Donovan’s “The Season of the Witch.” Morton, no stranger to musical drama thanks to his work with groups such as The Shangri-Las, suggested the song, intuiting that it was a natural for the slow, eerie, and trippy treatment. (Part II of the single features Morton melodramatically intoning “We Never Learn,” a poem by the cult favorite singer-songwriter Essra Mohawk.)
“Season of the Witch” from 1968’s Renaissance is the final single here produced by Morton, who helmed the band’s first three long-players. The group members picked up the production slack for 1969’s From the Beginning, which spawned a fast and furious, amped-up reworking of Jr. Walker and the All-Stars’ “Shotgun.” Especially as edited from over six minutes in length to just two-and-a-half, it’s a pure blast of adrenaline. Lee Hazlewood’s cryptic opus “Some Velvet Morning” followed “Shotgun” on Near the Beginning – and indeed it was back to basics for the group with this slowed-down take on Lee and Nancy’s haunting tale of Phaedra. Though it was unedited for its commercial single release, a promotional DJ single cut “Velvet Morning” down to three minutes, and it’s included here as a bonus track.
There's more Fudge to chew on after the jump!
The final cover versions released on singles were Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s “I Can’t Make It Alone” and Michel Legrand and Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s “The Windmills of Your Mind,” both of which were B-sides to original songs. The former song was also sublimely tackled by Dusty Springfield, P.J. Proby and Bill Medley; with its built-in drama and building tension, it was another unsurprising but effective choice. The latter, introduced by Noel Harrison, benefits from Mark Stein’s full-throated vocal and the band’s muscular approach to the delicate, hypnotic Legrand melody.
From the beginning (pun intended), however, original songs were a part of the Fudge formula. Stein’s non-LP “Where Is My Mind” was the A-side of “The Look of Love,” and the non-LP “Come by Day, Come by Night” supported the reissue of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” Vinnie Martell came into his own with the admittedly druggy “Thoughts,” the B-side to a reissue of “Take Me for a Little While.” Better yet was the group composition “Good, Good Lovin’” which supported “Shotgun” in 1969. This defiant, urgent youth anthem (I want to be able to love who I want/And I want to be able to do what I please...”) hits like a freight train, with tough, frenetic riffage. “People,” the group-penned flipside of “Some Velvet Morning,” was free-flowing and cacophonic; in Martell’s own words extracted from the liner notes here, “it tells of humanity evolving in time through the prisms of my own personal altered state of consciousness.” ‘Nuff said.
Vanilla Fudge’s final original studio album of the 1960s (and last until 1984), Rock and Roll, yielded the single “Need Love,” the LP’s opening track. This pounding piece of hard rock found the group moving farther away from its R&B/soul influences, but Vanilla Fudge wasn't just a one-note band. Mark Stein’s “Lord in the Country,” the A-side of the next single from Rock and Roll, is a rousing riff on gospel. Two 1984 reunion tracks, also for Atco, can’t help but feel tacked-on at the conclusion of the disc, with the band seeking their inspiration, per Stein, from Phil Collins and Sting. If the glossy, Spencer Proffer-produced “Mystery” and “The Stranger” are hardly recognizable as the music of Vanilla Fudge, they’re both welcome inclusions. The latter is the “heavier” and more arena rock-ready of the two tracks, though both are as inextricably linked to their electronic-dominated era as the Fudge’s late-sixties recordings were to theirs.
The Complete Atco Singles, produced by Gordon Anderson and compiled by Ed Osborne, features a booklet with four fantastic full-color photos of the band and entertaining track-by-track comments on every song from Appice, Martell and Stein. It’s been crisply remastered by Sonic Vision’s Mike Milchner. No other band has ever quite synthesized pop, R&B, psychedelia and hard rock as Vanilla Fudge did, and this anthology captures the band at its pulse-pounding, bombastic best.