A few days ago, Martin issued the challenge, and I always accept challenges. Applying a few criteria – I have to own them, they have to have influenced music in general, and they have to have influenced me – here’s the first. (Probably the first of two.)
Vanilla Fudge: Vanilla Fudge (Atco 7567-90390-2) 1967
The Fudge were later, in my view wrongly, branded as the fathers of heavy metal. Although some of their later efforts could justify this categorisation, this first album certainly doesn’t. If it can be classified at all, it would be as the bridge between psychedelia and prog rock. Except that it’s a covers album. Although plagiarism was rife, neither of those genres was noted for consciously choosing other people’s material over their own – egomania was a driving force behind most late sixties music, but Vanilla Fudge weren’t interested in that. They were interested in drama and emotion.
The track list starts with ‘Ticket to Ride’ and ends with ‘Eleanor Rigby’ (with a sneaky little cross-reference right at the end), but touches a good few non-Beatles bases in between. Curtis Mayfield, the Zombies, Motown … These basic pop songs are extended (some might say bloated, but I disagree) into eight minute Wagnerian epics, slowed right down and embellished with classical quotes, melodic squibs, and tantalising links between songs, of which there are just seven. (Consider that earlier that year, ‘Pepper’ had been regarded as revolutionary in containing only eleven as against the industry-standard twelve.)
The album was produced by Shadow Morton, who’d previously given us the Shangri-Las’ musical novellas (‘Leader of the Pack’, ‘Remember (Walking in the Sand)’). As far as I can tell, it was recorded live, that is with no instrumental overdubs (though some of the vocals probably were added later), on four-track. Shadow rightly judged that studio trickery wasn’t necessary or appropriate, because he was working with consummate musicianship.
Just listen, if you can (it’s on Spotify). You will hear the best bubbling, gurgling Hammond organ sweeps and swishes ever; high tuneful virtuoso bass lines to make a Macca swoon; vibrato-laden angelic four part harmonies; some genuinely moving moments as well as some still challenging noise … and above all, sheer smile-triggering entertainment! Play it LOUD!