Vanilla Fudge: Sludge from a Rhino box set

Vanilla_Fudge_Hits_CollectionRhino Handmade, the specialty label hidden deep within Warner Music, appears to have located the bottom of the reissues well.

Stand by for “Box of Fudge,” a four-disc collection from the psychedelic-era cover band from hell, Vanilla Fudge.

Those with a sweet tooth for psychedelia will be forking over $80 for the set, which packs in 41 “psychedelic gems,” including 15 unreleased tracks and a 1969 concert from the Fillmore.

Fudge fanciers will savor “an elaborate, foil-wrapped hardcover book.” As with other Rhino Handmade projects, the set is not available in stores.

Today, the Fudge are remembered for their name, their one hit — “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” — and not much else. For Boomers, Vanilla Fudge lurk in the memory as guilty pleasures or downright embarrassments, much like Iron Butterfly and Grand Funk Railroad (both superior bands).

In 1967, however, Vanilla Fudge were hot shit, playing with Janis Joplin, Cream, and the Mamas and the Papas.

The Fudge’s signature move was to slow down and freak out the upbeat hit songs of the day.

The Vanilla Fudge name still seems appropriate, as they were white boys specializing in thick and sticky covers of R&B/Motown hits — “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” “Take Me for a Little While,” “People Get Ready,” “Shotgun,” “My World Is Empty Without You” and so on.

The act was defined by Mark Stein’s B-3 organ and the explosive drum work of Carmine Appice, usually applied with the light & heavy dynamics that found favor in hard rock over the coming decade.

“You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” with its funeral church organ and bursts of hard rock chops, played like a novelty song at the time. Hippie nation embraced the odd mix of the familiar — the Supremes’ already classic hit — with the heady-spooky vibes of the day. Promoters called it symphonic psychedelic rock. Critics called it crap.

The “Hangin’ On” single (3 minutes or so) reached No. 6 on the charts. The version of choice came on the self-titled debut album, clocking in at almost 7 minutes.

(“You Keep Me Hangin’ On” lands near the bottom of this web site’s roundup of the top 100 psychedelic songs, the Fudge’s only nod here.)

Further meltdowns ensued as the Fudge covered the pop stars of the day, starting with the Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride.” Then it was on to Donovan (“Season of the Witch”), the Zombies (“She’s Not There”) and Dylan (“Like a Rolling Stone”). Sony and Cher twice were victimized, notably on the agonizing second album, “The Beat Goes On” — for which producer Shadow Morton has repeatedly taken the blame.

The squares got theirs as well: Burt Bacharach, already reeling from Love’s cover of “My Little Red Book,” had his “The Look of Love” fudged up. The Bergmans and Michael Legrand saw “Windmills of Your Mind” churned, while Lee Hazelwood’s “Some Velvet Morning” was dragged screaming and kicking to hard rock school.

Oh, the humanity.

Vanilla Fudge dried out in 1970, as bassist Tim Bogert and Appice founded Cactus, a blues rock outfit in the vein of Humble Pie and the Shadows of Knight.

Later, the duo teamed up with Jeff Beck in the uneventful Beck, Bogert & Appice. Beck also played on a Vanilla Fudge reunion LP in 1984, one of several attempts to reheat the band. “Psychedelic Sundae: The Best Of Vanilla Fudge” was released in 1993 and updated in 2012.

A trio of other recent Rhino Handmade projects flirt with psychedelia:

  • “Chicago Transit Authority” revives the band’s debut album in “true, discrete Quadraphonic sound,” taken from the 1970s Quad mixes.
  • “Carnival of Sound” brings to light Jan and Dean’s move toward the sounds of the late 1960s as Berry fought to recover from his awful car crash.
  • “The Birds, the Bees and the Monkees” comes with a few hits and some 1968 flower power.

Further reading:
An interesting Mark Stein interview


  1. Derrick Phillips says:

    Like most critics, you seem to have only paid attention to the Vanilla Fudge’s cover songs while ignoring their 3rd and best album, the underrated Renaissance, consisting of 5 remarkable original songs and only 2 covers. The band has also never been given its just due as progressive rock pioneers. In 1967, they were the first band to employ those long symphonic instrumental intros used so extensively in later years by Yes, King Crimson, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Kansas, and others. Deep Purple and Yes have both rightly acknowledged the Fudge as an influence.

    As for the shortsighted critics who dismiss their music as nothing but bombastic hard rock sludge, they’re missing the heavy classical influence. On The Beat Goes On, they did a rocked up medley of 2 Beethoven pieces. Their reinvention of “Some Velvet Morning” begins with a passage from Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.

    Those who see them as just a cover band and dated psychedelic relics would be well advised to listen with new ears, especially to the finely crafted original songs on Renaissance.

    • William says:

      You Keep Me Hanging On will always be their signature song, but Renaissance is most likely their best album. Yes, it is underrated.

  2. Race Baker says:

    Vanilla Fudge will always be hot shit.

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