Album: Vanilla Fudge, Vanilla Fudge
Price: 97 cents
Place: Salvation Army (145 Robertsville Road, Oak Ridge)
On several occasions in my life I have been forced to respond to people lambasting me for my ridiculous ideas or behavior with a weak, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” As such, I am more sympathetic than most to people who make mistakes and float profoundly stupid ideas. For example, I am very patient with people who continue to say “absolutely” in response to every question that requires nothing more than a simple “Yes,” and I have forgiven the Knoxville city patriarchs who decided the Sunsphere was a good idea for the World’s Fair. (Before you get defensive, remember that Paris got the Eiffel Tower out of its World’s Fair, Seattle got the Space Needle, and the Chicago’s World’s Fair gave us spray painting.)
So how does this idea sound: Let’s take bona fide pop-rock classics such as “Ticket to Ride,” “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” and “She’s Not There,” and play them at half-speed. This will make the songs longer, weirder, and more suitable for psychedelic jamming. Are you intrigued? Well, the members of Vanilla Fudge were, and they took this idea and made a (relatively fleeting) career out of it. Vanilla Fudge is their first effort, and I have seen it several times over the years lurking in thrift-store bins. This copy is beat up pretty bad, probably because, when the owners started listening to it in 1967, the drugs they were taking rendered them incapable of the simple yet delicate task of softly and accurately placing a small needle on a fragile piece of vinyl. Yet somehow the hisses and buzzes and snaps seem apt, as they contribute to the general atmosphere of psychedelia.
The band is anchored by drummer Carmine Appice, who has the toughest job in the band—laying down a beat that the others can follow. This is not easy, because the cover songs Vanilla Fudge plays are iconic and close to perfect the way they are. But Appice bangs away wildly, and clearly he is the class of the band. His playing is monstrous, and the extended jam sessions at the end of each song give Appice the opportunity to show his stuff. And boy, does he. I don’t know anything about drumming, but I know remarkable drum work when I hear it.
In addition to the feverish drum work, virtually every song here contains the elaborate organ stylings of keyboardist Mark Stein. Clearly, the guy can play, but there are times—especially when an organ blast comes out of nowhere very loudly—when his keyboards overwhelm everything else, somewhat like organ music did in cheesy ’50s sci-fi movies. When the drums are turned up, however, the organ sounds pretty cool.
Bassist Tim Bogert completes a formidable rhythm section, and his playing is solid throughout. In my opinion, aside from the one-note formula, it is the vocals and the guitar work that make Vanilla Fudge less interesting than they could be. Vocalist Vince Martell tries hard to sound soulful, but very seldom in these proceedings do we forget that we are listening to a serviceable vocalist trying to sound like either Eric Burdon of the Animals or an actual bluesman. And sadly, while the guy can play guitar, his contributions to the extended jam sessions suffer in comparison to the truly awe-inspiring drumming and the thumping, innovative bass lines.
It’s hard to say much about each of the individual songs, because in concept and execution they are all very similar—slow jam first, loud organ-noodling plus singing in the middle, and long, faster jam at the end. If this formula sounds good to you, try to find a copy of Vanilla Fudge.