50 Years Ago: Vanilla Fudge Get Weird With ‘The Beat Goes On’
Released in February 1968, Vanilla Fudge's The Beat Goes On is easily one of the weirdest albums in classic rock history. When it comes to the highly unconventional career trajectory of the band, it's not uncommon for certain details and events to become confused, lost in translation or merely clouded by the mists of time so many decades down the line.
But every ounce of confusion involving this, the group’s 1968 sophomore album is justified.
Spawned in 1966 out of Long Island, N.Y., initially under the overwhelming influence of the British Invasion, the quartet composed of Mark Stein (vocals and keyboards), Vince Martell (guitar), Tim Bogert (bass and vocals) and Carmine Appice (drums) would duly morph into pioneering psychedelic rockers and, later, unknowing forefathers of heavy metal before dissolving four years later.
All of their albums captured a telltale snapshot of Vanilla Fudge's ever-changing musical interests and talents over that lifespan, whether via the covers of established artists dominating the group's eponymous first disc, or the self-penned material sprinkled throughout later efforts.
The exception is 1968's sophomore long-player, The Beat Goes On, which instead of proper songs consisted of a series of sound collages that to this day stubbornly refuse classification. This is in large part because the album’s recording sessions were allegedly hijacked.
According to band accounts in the years that followed, The Beat Goes On was both masterminded and orchestrated, not by the Fudge, but by its producer George "Shadow" Morton. It was he, they claim, who allegedly dragged the powerless young musicians along for a wild ride across four distinct musical "phases" fusing historical radio broadcasts and tripped-out mantras with brief musical vignettes. Some of these were crafted by the band, others were excerpted from the works of artists as diverse as Cole Porter, the Beatles and Beethoven.
The end results were so freaky and far-out they managed to baffle even the flower children that had taken root all over America's opposite coast and, if anything, some musical fragments actually resembled the musique concrete creations found on vocal Vanilla Fudge critic Frank Zappa’s Lumpy Gravy.
All of which, made The Beat Goes On's relatively strong performance on the charts (it peaked at an impressive No. 17, likely on the strength of its more successful predecessor) perhaps the most unbelievable part of this entire story.