I first heard Vanilla Fudge some time in the mid 1980s, when I’d happened upon a copy of their debut album at Goodwill. I’d heard the name before, and had been told they were really trippy and psychedelic. When I put the record on the stereo, I wasn’t really prepared for what I heard. To my teenage ears, it wasn’t trippy, it was really, really…slow. In fact, the more I listened to it, the more convinced I became that the record I had was defective, and was, in fact, playing at the wrong speed. This theory caused massive chuckles when I shared this theory with a hippie record store owner.
So I listened to it a few more times, decided it wasn’t for me, and moved on. I just couldn’t get into eight minute cough-syrup sludgy covers of Beatles songs. It’s a shame, because the band’s sound would blossom into pretty, tender psychedelia, and would break free from the languidness of the debut. Their second album, Renaissance, found them offering their own original material, which would be their formula for the rest of their existence.
Though they made a name for themselves with their long renditions of popular songs, surprisingly, they were a pretty decent singles band, as Vanilla Fudge: The Complete ATCO Singles attests. Their debut single, their take on The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hanging On,” sounded nothing like the original; slowed to a sensual dirge, it is…different. This method might have seemed startling for such an upbeat number, but on slower numbers, like Bacharach’s “The Look of Love” and Lee Hazlewood’s “Some Velvet Morning,” the formula creates something otherworldly, something beautiful, something haunting.
As the band grew, so too did their creativity. “People” is a haunting yet jaunty psychedelic blues number, while “Need Love” is just straight up, balls-out blues rock. Also compelling is “Lord In The Country,” a Mark Stein composition, which is a fun Gospel number, complete with hand-clapping, choirs, tempos slowing down and then exploding in call and response. It’s unlike anything else on this compilation. This set closes with their 1983 comeback single, “Mystery” and “The Stranger,” both of which are drenched in 1980s production and an affinity towards heavy metal—not surprising, really when you consider where the band members went after Vanilla Fudge’s split.
Vanilla Fudge may be an acquired taste, but The Complete ATCO Singles covers the bases; it highlights their strengths as psychedelic interpreters, as well as their own creative predilections.