Vanilla Fudge – The Complete Atco Singles (review)

Vanilla Fudge – The Complete Atco Singles (Real Gone/Rhino/Atlantic) revie

Vanilla Fudge did it first.

We typically give the English guys credit for inventing heavy metal.  Yet, America’s Vanilla Fudge arrived a year before Deep Purple, and two years before the mighty Led Zeppelin.  Their extremely high volume, menacing tempos, and frenetic drumming pretty much wrote the blueprint for everything that came after.  The Complete Atco Singles sums up this band’s history in a unique way, by focusing on the shorter, hit single versions of their songs.

Many of the tracks on the band’s albums were well over six minutes – perfect for the burgeoning underground FM format of the late Sixties, but not conducive to Top 40, AM radio, which was still looking for 2-minute pop songs.  The group’s record label shortened their debut single from over seven minutes to a leaner, 2:57.  “You Keep Me Hanging On” still stands as one of the greatest re-interpretations in all of rock; turning the chugging Motown classic into a dark, psychedelic freak-out, which comes much closer to the true despair of the lyrics.  When released a second time, the single hit the Top Ten.

While the band released five albums during their heyday, most of them lack focus, or try too hard for a “concept.”  That’s why their singles are really the way to go, and capture the true essence of the band better.  While they never again achieved the monumental success of “Hanging On,” they did release some killer 45’s.  The Goffin/King nugget “I Can’t Make it Alone” features some fine soulful vocals from Mark Stein and stunning drumming from Carmine Appice – it should’ve been a hit.

The band did try their hand at originals, of which, “Good Good Lovin’” is excellent, and sounds like what Deep Purple would copy for their arrangement of “Hush.”  But, their real gift was taking covers and making them their own.  “Shotgun,” sounds like Cream meets the Who, complete with wah wah guitar, while “Some Velvet Morning” takes a Nancy Sinatra track, starts out slow and builds into searing acid rock.

Not everything works – Donovan’s “Season of the Witch” opens with promise before producer Shadow Morton begins reciting poetry in part two.  It sounds dangerously close “Stonehenge” from Spinal Tap and is laughable for how serious they were taking this.

After breaking up in the late Sixties, the band reformed in 1984.  The set grabs two songs from that reunion album, which aren’t bad – they just suffer from very dated Eighties’ production.

A real bonus is that the Complete Atco Singles features these songs in their original, hard to find mono mix, many making their debut in the digital format.  The classic Shadow Morton production sounds fantastic in this environment.  There’s also extensive liner notes, and track by track annotations from the original band members.

Although rarely receiving the respect they deserve, The Complete Atco Singles shows just how potent and influential Vanilla Fudge really was.  —Tony Peters