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Class ?

Main Category: Psychedelia
Also applicable: Pop Rock
Starting Period: The Psychedelic Years
Also active in: --------


Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of an Electric Prunes fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Electric Prunes fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Postponed until the page is more comprehensive.



Year Of Release: 1967
Overall rating = 11

Mediocre, but they're ready to try ANYTHING! That's enticing, if you ask me.


Track listing: 1) I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night); 2) Bangles; 3) Onie; 4) Are You Lovin' Me More (But Enjoy It Less); 5) Train For Tomorrow; 6) Sold To The Highest Bidder; 7) Get Me To The World On Time; 8) About A Quarter To Nine; 9) The King Is In The Counting House; 10) Luvin'; 11) Try Me On For Size; 12) The Toonerville Trolley; [BONUS TRACKS:] 13) Ain't It Hard; 14) Little Olive.

I don't think I'll be making much of an overstatement once I mention that the Electric Prunes' debut does not own much in the way of original vision. (Take that, English language!). Well, you might have been deceived by the lead-in single - which, by the way, also happens to be the lead-in track on Nuggets (both the current boxset and the groundbreaking Lenny Kaye concoction). The lead-in single, which wasn't even written by the band members, much like the absolute majority of the material on here, was pretty damn mindblowing. For a detailed account of the song, see my Nuggets review; here I'll just add that, for all its transparency, it really sounded like nothing else at the time.

Once you get past that song, though, it's the usual picture of a one-hit band, good enough to take a short sprint but whose muscles eventually give way when it comes to follow it up with something more substantial. None of the songs on the album reach that peak. On the other hand, the Electric Prunes still have an advantage over a lot of their competitors. We have the epoch to thank, of course, but it took talent and bravery to follow the trends of that epoch, and one can't deny that the Prunes had both, in early 1967, at least. The record is brimming with all kinds of experiments - successful or failed, mild or bold, laudable or questionable, you name it; no two songs sound the same. At the very worst, you could claim that all these experiments are failed - and in a certain way, they are, because for every genre and style tackled here, I could name somebody who did it much better; but then again, it's hardly possible for anybody to equally despise all of the boys' results. And if you like at least a small bunch of these tunes, enough to not be able to declare the record a "monumental crash", you'll probably have to give them credit for at least trying to do all the rest.

If the songwriting credits are of any indication, the band members themselves were primarily fans of the Rolling Stones-style: "dangerous"-sounding midtempo blues-rock was their original thang. The best track in that genre, singer Jim Lowe's 'Little Olive', actually did not make it onto the original album; today, it is available as a bonus track on the restored CD edition. The album has that direction represented by the slightly more generic 'Luvin', produced in such a closely mimicking way that it sounds like an outtake from a Stones album of the Now! (early '65) period - same mysterious echoey guitars, same scary echoey harmonica.

They did, however, take interest in expanding their format, and the one "alien" track of their own writing that they did get the chance to place on the album was 'Train For Tomorrow'. In the liner notes, Richie Unterberger hints at the band's being used and exploited in the studio, meaning that, while they did have a batch of original compositions under their belt, only two were allowed on the record; maybe that is why 'Train For Tomorrow' is actually a medley of two songs in two different styles - first part is mild psycho-folk, possibly influenced by the Jefferson Airplane, second part is instrumental jazz, "inspired by Wes Montgomery" (to quote R.U.). Both parts sound amateurish but authentic, and they even manage to make the instrumental jazz section ring with true tension, unlike quite a few boring noodlefests by far more professional performers I could name.

Outside songwriter Annette Tucker is responsible for a whoppin' eight compositions on here (six in collaboration with Nancie Mantz, two with Jill Jones). Considering that this includes both of the band's hit singles (the second one is 'Get Me To The World On Time', also captured on Nuggets and deservedly so), she truly should be considered the main hero of the album, although credit still goes to the band members for thinking up all the variegated arrangements. Granted, some of these songs can't be saved by any amount of psychedelic overlays, which is presumably why they don't even try on such fluff as 'Onie', a sugar-sweet teenybopper ballad that tries to work along the same atmospheric/melodic lines as the Velvet Underground's 'Sunday Morning', but doesn't have neither the chimes nor the interesting lyrics nor the sincere-sounding Lou Reed vocal delivery; in fact, I have a suspicion rhythm guitarist Weasel, who takes lead vocals on here, isn't even trying, because no sane person could feel any sympathy towards such garbage. But you just had to have something for the pre-pubescent ones, you know. In the same way, 'The King Is In The Counting House' is probably targeted at an even younger audience. (There was this really nasty tendency to "artsify" nursery rhymes in the mid-Sixties, mostly indicative of bands that had a hard time writing some real art-pop of their own).

On the other hand, 'Sold To The Highest Bidder' with its pseudo-ukuleles is good clean fun, and the resulting sound, mixing a bit of sadness with a bit of ecstasy, is quite unique even for '67; a slightly similar effect, although with radically different means (synthesizers - what a surprise!), would only be achieved by Roy Wood seven years later with 'Everyday I Wonder'. 'Try Me On For Size' shows that Tucker wasn't opposed to writing ballsy Stonesy rockers either, although the similarity is somewhat weakened by the band entrusting most of the melody to electric pianos (then again, once the marimbas start rolling in, comparisons with 'Under My Thumb' become inevitable). And the music-hall divertissement of 'The Toonerville Trolley' is a suitably nice conclusion to the album.

You know, when you actually read the liner notes and hear all those band members complaining about how The Machine was sadistically stifling their creative forces, as if they were one collective Orson Welles or something, you'd think the end result should have been predictable - two good single A-sides and ten pieces of worthless crap. But in thinking so, you'd definitely underestimate the power of corporate songwriting. Tucker and Mantz presumably wrote 'I Had Too Much To Dream' just because it was their job. They got good money for it, and they wrote it by carefully capturing the "vibes" of the epoch, whether they themselves were feeling these vibes in their souls or not (and I have good reason to doubt they did). And yet the result was convincing enough for the song to make it to Nuggets, together with the real "authentic" garage-rock of the epoch, the one written by scruffy teens out of (spiritual) inspiration and (sexual) maturation!

Which brings us, yet again, to the point that "commercial" and "non-commercial" songwriting were exceedingly hard to separate in the mid-Sixties; with values such as "experimentalism" and "spontaneity" getting as high on the market as they'd never ever get again, somehow the goals of those who wrote for money and of those who wrote for art became, if not completely the same, at the very least so close to each other it took a real pro to tell them apart. On I Had Too Much To Dream, it's mostly lightweight fluff like 'Onie' or 'The King...' that hints at "oppression" - but let's not forget that even creatively free bands would often stoop to this kind of material, not being forced by anybody, in order to attract larger audiences.

The one truly deplorable effect it had on the Prunes, of course, is that the Prunes eventually came to be regarded in the same ballpark as the Monkees - i.e. a band where outside songwriters are everything and band members are interchangeable nothings, which, of course, resulted in the embarrassment of the "band"'s "third" album in less than a year. But then again, it has never been proven that something great and timeless could come out of the original Prunes had they been given completely free rein. Where is Jim Lowe today, I wonder?



Year Of Release: 1968
Overall rating = 8

There's a concept here, for sure, but it's a rare case of having a concept and not having anything else.

Best song: ??

Track listing: 1) Kyrie Eleison; 2) Gloria; 3) Credo; 4) Sanctus; 5) Benedictus; 6) Agnus Dei.

My best example of the worst excesses of the Sixties has always been the Animals' Winds Of Change album, but this one definitely holds second place. It's not as proverbially bad, but it just serves as a warning to all those who, in their avid hunt for an exciting and innovative concept, forget all about the musical substance. And, of course, the late Sixties were a ripe epoch for such kind of things.

The Electric Prunes themselves had little to do with this album. Their quintessential garage philosophy wouldn't let them come up with the concept themselves; the idea of an 'electric mass' sung in Latin and combining gospel and Gregorian elements with distortion and feedback and rock energy belongs to the band's "spiritual godfather" of the time, David Axelrod. He himself 'wrote' all of the 'songs' on here and took care of all the arrangements. Worse than that, the Prunes didn't even play on the album - despite being credited for the instrumental work, they were actually for the most part replaced by session musicians for the proceedings. They probably sang the harmonies but it's not as if there was a lot to sing: all the lyrics to the album are limited to about fifteen lines of text, i. e. 'Gloria' consists of the endlessly repeated line 'Gloria in excelsis Deo' and nothing else. What do you want, it's in Latin. In other words, the Electric Prunes had less to do with this record than the Monkees had to do with their debut album.

In other words, it's not so much a testimony to the 'twisted genius' of the Electric Prunes as an interesting historical document witnessing the curious state of mind of the 'advanced' part of the musically involved public at the time. I mean, really, such an album could ONLY come out in 1968, what with Blue Cheer, Vanilla Fudge, and other 'deconstructive volunteers' functioneering all at once. Too good that King Crimson arrived on the scene a year later and swept all that incompetent shit away. (Not that I'm really complaining - like I said, it's good to have this stuff lying around as part of the historical background, and if you ask me, music like that never really threatened to derail any aesthetic values; it was doomed from the start).

Anyway, I haven't yet said a lot about the album itself, but I've been putting that off for as long as I could because it's hard to say anything. The recipe for all of these 'songs' goes as follows: a) take the text of a mass and dissect it in small portions; b) think of the most basic, primitive melody to accompany each of these dissected portions, never mind catchiness or hooks; c) loop each of these primitive melodies a couple dozen times; d) fill all the empty spaces with generic psychedelic 'jams' replete with heavy guitars, ferocious drumming, and very moody organ; e) make sure that every single second of the album totally lacks any evident purpose, goal, or sense of direction. The best evidence of your success will be provided by the listeners - if, despite the fact that the album barely goes over twenty-five minutes, not a single note sticks in the head of the listener on the tenth listen, and the general feel of a general chaotic mess refuses to budge an inch, YOU GOT IT.

I do have to confess that I find the idea itself pretty interesting. Rock music has incorporated a lot of religious elements in it over time, but this is the only case of a full-fledged 'rock oratorium' I know of. Definitely, it was more of an ironic counter-culture product than anything else; you can't seriously imagine any Catholics shedding a tear of fervor at the sounds of 'Credo' or 'Agnus Dei'. But even as an ironic counter-culture product, it certainly COULD have been done much, much better. The sung parts could have at least been made catchier and less formulaic. And as for the jamming parts, they're just plain dull: the session musicians involved were definitely pros, but genius jammers they were not. 'Gloria' has a pretty good bass solo, and the other basslines on the album are mighty good, too, but the guitar and organ playing just don't do anything, not even for 1968 standards. All of the jams are more or less done in the California stylistics of the epoch; they're the kind of instrumental passages you could encounter on an Airplane or a Quicksilver Messenger Service record, only duller and totally senseless. No particular song really stands out - some reviewers point out at the album opener, 'Kyrie Eleison', as a high point, but supposedly it's just because it's song number one. I suppose most reviewers just don't have the gall to get themselves past song number two.

So in the end I suppose I'll have to give this stuff an 8 if only for the 'conceptual inventiveness' and for the fact that the very sound of it doesn't particularly offend my ears... and probably won't offend yours, as the music clearly steers away from dissonance or intentional ugliness. I'm pretty sure that the album has its valiant group of supporters as well, supporters for whom 'experimentation' of this kind is more valid than the 'stereotypic' and 'commercial' approach of most Sixties' artists. But sorry, I'm just not one of these pompous clowns. I don't know much about my music, but I know shit when I see it, and THIS is most certainly shit. So stay away unless you're a rabid Sixties fanatic or a music historian. And if you happen to be a garage/Electric Prunes fan, be sure to get the real stuff from these guys, or better still, just be content with your Nuggets. Remember the sacred rule number one: if a garage band makes more than two good songs over its existence (and if that existence lasts over one, maximum two years), it's not a garage band at all.


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