What’s purple and goes buzz, buzz, buzz?
Beginning in 1965 and continuing to the present, the answer remains The Electric Prunes.
Back then, it was producer Dave Hassinger who suggested the group change their name (originally The Sanctions, then Jim and the Lords) to The Electric Prunes while he helmed their first LP. In 1966, they had the hits “I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)” and “Get Me to the World on Time.” The 1968 album Mass in F Minor (produced by David Axelrod) is credited to the Prunes, as was the song “Kyrie Eleison,” used on the Easy Rider soundtrack. But the then-disintegrating lineup of the group was only marginally involved with the Axelrod project.
After a long dormant period, the actual band reformed after Swedish Broadcasting released a recording of a 1967 concert in Stockholm. The new ensemble included three original members: James Lowe (vocals, guitar, harmonica, autoharp), Ken Williams (guitar), and Mark Tulin (bass). New members have included Steve Kara (guitar, vocals), Jay Dean (guitar, vocals), and Walter Garces (drums). Among the various 21st century Prune projects, so far, was the criminally unappreciated 2007 Feedback and a 2011 version of Sky Saxon’s “Pushin’ Too Hard” recorded as a tribute to the late lead singer of The Seeds.
Sadly, “Pushin’” was apparently the last studio work for Tulin who died very unexpectedly on February 26, 2011. The Prunes again went into hiatus. Tapes were then discovered of an October 10, 2004 Swedish concert which has now been given a limited release as Return to Stockholm. Appropriately, it is dedicated to Tulin who, no doubt, would feel honored by this package. It was a good show that night, well recorded, and the cover and eight-panel foldout present the 16 song event as something special. If you’re into true ‘60s psychedelia, acid rock, or garage rock—whatever you want to call it—special it is.
As we used to say, the program is quite a trip. For example, the opener, “49 Songs,” is where Beat poetry meets Haight-Ashbury feedback. Swirling keyboards and percussion make “Big Stick” truly mind-blowing.
Songs like 1968’s “You Never Had it Better” and “Rewire” are reminders the seeds of punk can be found in recordings from long before the Sex Pistols. Speaking of protopunk, there’s a bit of Van Morrison’s “Gloria” in “I Happen to Love You/Mojo,” which starts off rather gentle before segueing into a brief Muddy Waters tribute. The long and spacy guitar solo in “Wind Up Toys” is as close as the Prunes come to sounding like a post-’60s band with the electronic sounds of a Kraftwerk or Tangerine Dream. However, the song was originally released in 1967, as was “Hideaway,” another strobe light-flavored flight, and the extended jams in “Great Banana Hoax.”
It’s fun to hear “Too Much to Dream” live, even if it’s not the best cut on this album. For the band, “World of Darkness” really took them back to 1967 as it was recorded that year, but never released and forgotten until the tapes were discovered in 1990. Two of the songs really point out the presence of Tulin, as in “Rosy Made Me Crazy” and “Tidal Wave” where the bassist drives the riff. Vocally and instrumentally, “Tidal Wave” sounds like a song close to what the Prunes recorded in Feedback. Ironically, Lowe sings “Seventeen will never come again.” True enough, but this is an album that is a sonic injection of what we heard and felt in the old days.
It’s all summed up in “Lost Dreams,” where Lowe looks at old pictures and realizes memories will be his epitaph. If you hadn’t turned the stereo up by now, you will. You’ll be just in time for the encore, “Get Me to the World on Time” which, to my ears, works much better live than it did in the original echo chamber studio version.
What Return to Stockholm demonstrates is that there are musicians who were there when this breed of music was created and are playing it much better than they did when they were teenagers. The Prunes are a tighter outfit these days, more accomplished instrumentally, and know how to be an onstage time capsule that is the real thing. If you too were part of the scene in ’66, this is an evening as close as you can ask for to revive the glory days in your memories. (Assuming you can remember them.) If you weren’t, this is what it was all about. Poetic lyrics, searing guitar leads and interplay, experimental sounds. Among those sounds, for sure, is a very musical buzz, buzz, buzz.