Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Vanilla Fudge -- "You Keep Me Hangin' On" (1967)

Let me get over you 
The way you've gotten over me

Why is it so hard to do a cover version of a good song that is an improvement on the original?

I think it's mostly a matter of familiarity.  When you are used to the original version of a song, a different version just doesn't sound right.  The more popular the original version was and the more familiar it is, the less likely people will cotton to a cover version.

The covers that I think work the best are the ones that deconstruct the song and put it back together in a completely different way.  No one was better doing that than Vanilla Fudge, who took simple little three-minute top-40 songs and turned them inside out and upside down to such an extent that their own mothers wouldn't have known them.   

"You Keep Me Hangin' On" was a classic Motown song that was a #1 hit for the Supremes.  It was written and produced by Motown's legendary Holland-Dozier-Holland production team, and I think it's the best song the Supremes ever did.  It has a little more punch than most of their songs.

Just in case you've forgotten what the song sounds like, here it is:

That is a really good performance of a really good song -- don't you agree?

If you had been living in Long Island in 1966 and playing in a psychedelic band with a bunch of other white guys, why in the world would you have picked that song to cover and release as your first single just a few months after it had been a big hit for the Supremes?  What would have made you think you could do it better?

I certainly wouldn't have chosen it as a song to cover.  And I would have been wrong.  It just goes to show you.

The Vanilla Fudge version of "You Keep Me Hangin' On" only made it to #67 on the Billboard "Hot 100" when it was initially released in 1967.  But somehow it made it to #6 the next year.  Go figure.

I recently stumbled across a video of Vanilla Fudge performing this song on The Ed Sullivan Show in January 1968.  (Sullivan's other guests that night included Duke Ellington and his band, Flip Wilson -- he did a bit as "Geraldine" -- and the famous mouse puppet and Sullivan favorite, Topo Gigio.)

Make sure you're sitting down before you watch this Vanilla Fudge video -- and if you have a bad heart, have those nitroglycerin tablets handy.

I'm not kidding.  This performance is the damnedest thing you've ever seen.  The boys are just relentless, and it is almost as exhausting to watch as it must have been to perform.  When it ends, you may feel like lying down in a dark, quiet room with a cool washcloth on your forehead.  Or maybe you'll be so jacked up you'll run outside, grab a baseball bat, and start taking out your neighbors' mailboxes.

Each of the band members appear to be completely spastic (to use a word that was one of our favorites back in 1968).   I'm not sure which one is the most over the top, but I'm voting for drummer Carmen Appice.  

Appice's demented performance puts even fellow nutjob/genius drummer Keith Moon to shame, and that is saying something.  (Check out how Appice twirls his drumsticks between beats, and literally hugs his cymbals to silence them.)

I wish I knew what Ed Sullivan was thinking as he witnessed the performance.  It probably scared the bejesus out of him.

OK, enough yakety-yak -- here's the Sullivan show performance.  Drop your socks and grab your you-know-whats.  Hit the "full screen" button and set your volume control to 11 on a 10 scale.

Here's a link to Vanilla Fudge's performance of this song on Jimmy Fallon's show in March of this year.  It's pretty good, all things considered -- but there's no comparison with the Sullivan video.  (I'm sorry, but Carmen Appice was 64 when he appeared on the Fallon show, and not quite 21 when he appeared on the Sullivan show.)

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from Amazon:

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