Memory Motel: Juicing The Electric Prunes
Serving up some psychedelic history
As far as most of the world is concerned, The Electric Prunes were psychedelic genies let out of the bottle only long enough to conjure up the three minutes of fuzz-guitar glory that make up their 1967 hit "I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)." The song also has the singular distinction of leading off the legendary, Lenny Kaye-curated 1972 compilation Nuggets, but while many of the ‘60s garage-rockers with whom they share space on that super-seminal collection do indeed have only a one-hit-wonder tale to tell, The Prunes had more to their story than many might assume. That fact is underlined eloquently on the most recent (and most comprehensive currently available) Prunes anthology, The Complete Reprise Singles.
This disc contains both sides of every single the band released in its initial lifetime of 1967-'69, and as is so often the case with such a collection, it provides the perfect primer to the Prunes' musical evolution. As opening cut "Ain't It Hard" makes clear, The Prunes were coming from a hard-edged, Rolling Stones/Chocolate Watch Band kind of place, but when they hooked up with "Too Much to Dream" writers Annette Tucker and Nancie Mantz, they came into full psychedelic bloom shortly before the Summer of Love.
After a debut album dominated by Tucker/Mantz cuts (including the hit "Get Me to the World on Time," which definitively excludes the band from one-hit-wonder status), The Prunes decided to make their own ideas more prevalent. They did a damn fine job of it on the follow-up, Underground (also 1967), as the cuts "Wind-Up Toys" and "The Great Banana Hoax" make clear.
The original line-up's last hurrah, however, was a sharp left turn in the form of 1968's Mass in F Minor. Like many other albums of the era (The Moody Blues' Days of Future Passed and Deep Purple's Concerto for Group and Orchestra being among the most well known examples), it aimed ambitiously for a lofty concept. In this case, the idea was to combine a Latin Mass with some "heavy" psychedelic sounds. Cult-hero producer/composer/arranger David Axelrod wrote and crafted the album, and as "Sanctus" and "Credo" bear out, the whole thing works a hell of a lot better than one might expect, moving far beyond anything The Prunes had done before, and at times even touching on a proto-prog feel.
Apparently, it worked well enough for Reprise to green-light a sequel even though the band split up after the release of Mass in F Minor. Dave Hassinger, who had produced the first three albums, simply got another gang of longhairs into the studio, backed them up with the Wrecking Crew, and hired Axelrod to work his magic again, but this time based on a Jewish theme (Kol Nidre). The result was 1968's Release of an Oath. With Axelrod and the Crew on board, things couldn't really go too far afield, and once again, the album was far better than it had any right to be. Whether it was really The Electric Prunes, of course, is another matter.
1969's Just Good Old Rock and Roll was The Prunes' last gasp, as the Mk. II lineup emerged from Axelrod's yoke and made their own sonic statement. Tracks like "Sell," "Love Grows," and "Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers" indicate a move towards the sort of sounds popular at the tail end of the psychedelic era when the zeitgeist began shifting towards hard rock. Overdriven Hammond Organ, high, wailing lead vocals, and bludgeoning blues-rock beats and riffs ruled, and the band went out with a bang but not much else. Happily, the collection itself ends on an up note, nodding to The Prunes' brief heyday with a radio spot the original lineup recorded for (What else?) the Vox Wah Wah pedal. So, the next time The Electric Prunes are mentioned and some poor benighted soul reflexively tosses off the obligatory "Too Much To Dream" reference, pull The Complete Reprise Singles from your trick bag to shed some sorely needed light on the subject.
|Get Me to the World on Time|