At the time of the British Invasion pop music was either an R&B/blues/country hybrid or a super smooth ‘Tin Pan Alley’ style slick ballad. However, by the middle of the sixties there were signs of a change While bands desired to experiment the general public showed little interest in what was being presented. A number of 45’s released during the latter part of 1966 were indications of what was coming, but they did not get the requisite airplay. There is one exception – A garage band from sunny California that bucked the trend when they issued a single with sonic experimentation wedded to a dark, but nonetheless commercial song. The band was (The) Electric Prunes. The song was 'I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night). From that point on there was a template for a different style of music that was commercially viable and, at the same time, satisfying to the burgeoning 'underground scene'. The success of this song was a major contributor to the underground movement and musical genre that would, a few months later, become known as "psychedelic".
Following a chance hearing of a rehearsal an acquaintance of an RCA recording engineer Dave Hassinger recommended to him that they were worthy of his attention. A few months later, they signed with Warner Bros and recorded a set of songs at Leon Russell’s house. A change of name was deemed necessary and the band was asked to come up with some suggestions. One idea was 'Electric Prunes', in reference to one of a series of wacky jokes doing the rounds at the time.
Their first single, 'Ain't It Hard?' backed with 'Little Olive' was not a success and the band was dropped by the record company. However, among a set of demos presented by the songwriting team of Annette Tucker and Nancy Mantz was a song titled 'I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)'. It was a slow tempo ballad intended to be a country ballad. But Dave Hassinger liked its title and suggested the band have a go at working up an arrangement. To save money a tape reel was turned over to be used again and accidentally the tail end of an earlier recording was played back. Out blasted something sounding like some buzzing monstrosity coming to get you. This set the tone for the recording, wherein a sonic collage of weird backward sounds took the song far from the 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand' style of music. The finished article, deemed too strange to find favour with the public, was referred to only as 'the odd song'. However, ultimately with this "odd one" in hand, Hassinger resigned the band to Warner Bros.
After the success of 'Too Much To Dream', the band came up with an inspired arrangement of a Tucker/Jones song, 'Get Me To The World On Time’, which continued where 'Too Much To Dream' left off. With its host of studio created sounds from another world the single climbed the charts. This was followed with an album, 'I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)'.
But the band’s vision of sonic experimentation was not what Hassinger had in mind. They wanted to boldly go where no band had gone before and he wanted to be more like 'hey hey we're The Electric Prunes'. The ensuing tug of war between band and producer, resulted in a mix of both killer and filler tracks. The killer tracks have stood the test of time but the filler sounds like the work of another band. The band contributed some songs for the most part they did not conform to his vision of pop 'loveliness'.
The power struggle over song selection continued during the second album; songs written by the band were presented under a pseudonym . This subterfuge this meant more of their material was included and the album that was released as 'Underground' is the better for it. The band was allowed to 'have it their way' on 'Underground' because Hassinger felt if he let them alone they would sink themselves. ‘Underground’ is a great album. There are a few examples of Hassinger intervention but all in all it demonstrates that the band's inventiveness was in full flow.
Hassinger and composer/arranger David Axelrod decided to record "Mass In F Minor". Written by Axelrod, it would use The Electric Prunes as a front. It quickly became a source of annoyance that most of the band could not read the written score ( they were a garage band for heaven's sake, what was he expecting?), and the Daves set about using back up musicians in place of band members. The resulting album starts with the whole band performing the opening track, then one by one they fall away until the album closes with very little in the way of band contribution.
The album was released to an indifferent public and after the release of one last single, 'Everybody Knows You're Not In Love' , the band called it a day. History shows there were two more Electric Prunes albums, but they were made by Axelrod and some hired hands on, 'Release Of An Oath', and then more hired hands assuming the name of the band for 'Just Good Old Rock 'N' Roll'. These albums have nothing to do with the original band and their pioneering musical vision.
At the time of their initial success they were highly regarded by bands who were to become some of the biggest names on the planet. Jimi Hendrix, was eager to question them on how they achieved their sounds. Syd Barrett was lifting their ideas wholesale to help him define the psychedelic sound of Pink Floyd on 'Piper At The Gates Of Dawn' album.
In the ensuing years, the band's legacy has been a source of inspiration for countless other bands and their cult status has grown. After the release of the 'Stockholm '67' live album in the mid nineties and the onset of the possibilities offered by the internet, the band members reconnected. A reunion album, 'Artifact', was released followed by two more releases 'California' and, most recently, 'Feedback'. These releases offer a modern day take on their classic sound and allow them to be produce their music in a manner that was actively discouraged all those years ago.
The Electric Prunes are a vital link in the progression of pop music to the more serious forms of music of the late sixties. Their contribution is often overlooked or, more cruelly, their pioneering ideas are often attributed to other better known acts. They stand up on their own and have earned a rightful place in music history. Just listen to their albums and you can hear for yourself. Or better yet, this seminal band is still out and about. Catch an Electric Prunes live show if you want to experience some musical history first hand.
Author/copyright: Jan - (Psychedelic Central - owner/editor) Co-writer - references: Kevin Wallbank (U.K)
Ain't It Hard / Little Olive (Reprise 0473) - May 1966 I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night) / Luvin' (Reprise RS 20532) - November 1966 Get Me To The World On Time / Are You Lovin' Me More (But Enjoying It Less) (Reprise RS 20564) - April 1967 Dr Do Good / Hideaway (Reprise 0594) - May 1967 The Great Banana Hoax / Wind-Up Toys (Reprise RS 20607) - July 1967 A Long Day's Flight / The King Is In His Counting House (Reprise RS 23212) - December 1967 Everybody Knows You're Not In Love / You Never Had It Better (Reprise RS 20652) – 1968 I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night) / ("Lies" by the Knickerbockers) (Elektra K 12102) – 1973 I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night) / Luvin' (Radar ADA 16 - picture sleeve reissue) - 1979 I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night / Get Me To The World On Time (Reprise 0704 - Double A-side) – 1968 Hollywood Halloween (Peter Lewis backed by The Electric Prunes) (Birdman Records BMR1313) - October 2001
*** See Full Discography On The Electric Prunes Main Page ***
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