Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Vanilla Fudge -- "Season of the Witch" (1968)

Beatniks are out to make it rich,
Oh no, must be the season of the witch
In 1965, three young musicians left a Long Island band called Rick Martin & the Showmen to form a group with one of the worst names I've ever heard -- the Electric Pigeons.

Vanilla Fudge's
first album
The Pigeons, who specialized in performing very complicated cover versions of familiar top 40 songs, developed a strong local following.  A local producer heard the band perform live and was very impressed by their version of the Supremes' hit, "You Keep Me Hangin' On."  He recorded the song (in one take) and that recording impressed Ahmet Ertegun, the founder of Atlantic Records, enough that he signed them to a recording contract (as Vanilla Fudge) and released it both as a single and as a track of the band's eponymous debut album.

Vanilla Fudge
I'm not aware of any band that took the approach that Vanilla Fudge took.  That first album included long, baroque/psychedelic cover versions of seven hit singles -- including "Ticket to Ride" and "Eleanor Rigby" by the Beatles, "She's Not There" by the Zombies, "Bang Bang" by Sonny and Cher, and several others.

Vanilla Fudge's versions of these songs were very different from the originals -- they were much longer, performed at slower tempos, and often used minor keys.  I loved them all, but they are not necessarily to everyone's taste.

Carl Wiser of Songfacts was kind enough to contribute some very interesting tidbits he gleaned from a 2004 conversation with Carmen Appice, Vanilla Fudge's drummer:

Carmine Appice is an interesting character. Among other things, he's the drummer for Vanilla Fudge and co-wrote the Rod Stewart hit "D'ya Think I'm Sexy."  He also played on the Pink Floyd song "Dogs Of War" because Nick Mason's calluses were soft.

Led Zeppelin opened for Vanilla Fudge on their first American tour, and legend has it that Zep blew them away, leaving the headliners cowering in fear. I gently addressed this when I spoke with Carmine in 2004, and he explained that on that tour, fans were there to see the Fudge, and while Zeppelin made an impact, they certainly didn't blow them away. Said Carmine: "Their first date with us was Vanilla Fudge and Spirit, and we were already sold out when they were added to the show. When they went on, the audience was yelling, 'Bring on The Fudge.' It was hilarious. I remember telling Robert Plant he should move around more on the stage."

As for the Fudge and their crazy cover songs, here's how it happened in Carmine's words: "In 1966, when I joined the band, there was a thing going around the New York area and Long Island that was basically slowing songs down, making production numbers out of them and putting emotion into them. The Vagrants were doing it, they had Leslie West in the band. The Rich Kids were doing it, they had this writer named Richard Supa. The Hassles were doing it, they had Billy Joel. It all started from The Rascals, I think. We were all looking for songs that were hits and could be slowed down with emotion put into them."

Here's a video of Vanilla Fudge performing "You Keep Me Hangin' On" live on television.  It is one of the most unbelievable things you will ever see.  The arrangement of this song on the LP is crazy enough, but the band goes even more over the top in this live (not lip-synched) performance.  The go-go dancers -- who don't have a clue how to dance to this -- add a truly surreal element.

Does everyone recognize our old friend, the Hammond B-3 organ?  (Vanilla Fudge's organist, Mark Stein, was a master -- Deep Purple's organist, Jon Lord, cites him as a major influence.)

The band's second album, The Beat Goes On, is sort of a collage of bits and pieces of familiar music (by the Beatles, Cole Porter, Mozart, and others) and original material.  It mystified everyone and the band later blamed it on their producer, who put this album together without much input from the band.

Vanilla Fudge's third album, Renaissance, consists mostly of original music, but the last track on the LP is a version of "Season of the Witch" that is almost nine minutes long.  It's very weird, but very good.

Here's the Vanilla Fudge cover of "Season of the Witch":

Here's a link to use if you'd like to buy it from iTunes:

Season of the Witch - Renaissance (2006 Remastered)

Here's a link to use if you prefer Amazon:

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