Spirit of ‘67 is the intriguing title of first new Vanilla Fudge album in eight years. Their version of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” was one of the definitive songs of 1967, which was also the year the band began. As the group approaches their Golden Anniversary, it is heartening to note that three of the original four members are still together: Carmine Appice (drums, vocals), Mark Stein (lead vocals, keyboards), and Vince Martell (guitars, vocals). Pete Bremy (bass) has taken over the duties of the retired Tim Bogert. With Spirit of ‘67, the Fudge pay tribute to 10 songs from the year of The Summer of Love, plus one brand new tune.
The album opens with “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” which was originally a hit for Marvin Gaye. Creedence Clearwater Revival recorded an 11:05 version of the song on their 1970 album Cosmo’s Factory as well. Vanilla Fudge’s creativity in covering songs is one of their strongest attributes, and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” is no exception. Their version is in the Gaye vein, but with the psychedelic guitar solo they seem to acknowledge the later “jam” of CCR as well.
Martell’s crazed guitar is also one of the highlights of “I Can See For Miles.” The real star of this song though is Stein, whose organ work is key to the Vanilla Fudge sound. One of the most notable moods he creates is the “dirge.” This style dominates four of the tracks, “For What It’s Worth,” “Ruby Tuesday,” “The Letter,” and especially “Break On Through (To the Other Side).”
“Break On Through” was the first song on the first album by The Doors, and has been covered numerous times. This version is spectacular. The Fudge always seem to find the hidden element of a song, and they do so again with “Break On Through.” The same can be said for their take on “I’m A Believer,” which is my favorite track. They emphasize the bass line to such a degree that the song could be mistaken for Argent’s “Hold Your Head Up,” at least until the lyrics begin. This is definitely the most unusual version of “I’m A Believer” I have ever heard. They close the album with the lone original track, Stein’s “Let’s Pray for Peace.” It is a timeless sentiment, as valid today as it would have been during The Summer of Love.
After 48 years in the game, it is tempting to give a band extra points just for trying, but there is no need to do so with this album. Although one of the original four has retired, the Vanilla Fudge recipe remains intact. They have crafted an album that pays tribute to one of the finest years in music history, as well as being their first year together. The idea itself is brilliantly simple, and the execution is remarkable. There are “cover bands” galore, and huge television franchises based on it. Then there is Vanilla Fudge. And nobody covers a song the way Vanilla Fudge cover a song.
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