The title alone may have made you unsure if this is the kind of music for you or weary of any music put out by these apparent galvanic fruits. However, I’m here to tell you that The Electric Prunes have some incredibly notable psychedelic rock opera songs that will quite literally bring you closer to the Heavens. The Electric Prunes are better known for their consistent and classic ’60s rock ‘n’ roll sound; “I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night” is a great example of this through the band’s garage punk vibe. “Onie” is another certified ’60s classic from the group, and a personal favorite of mine because of its iconic, delicate, and melancholic sound.
However, through the name of The Electric Prunes, composer David Axelrod created some of the most unique, spiritual, and coolest psychedelic rock. The songs I’ll be covering are from an EP and album that were sort of unnecessary, but intentional additions to the discography of The Electric Prunes. Personally, I think they are fascinating creations by Axelrod and worthy of praise by fans of psych. The following songs consist of delectable and extraordinary blends of R&B, rock, psychedelica, Gregorian music, soul, and jazz. So, get ready for a spiritual awakening of sorts.
Mass in F Minor was the EP that started this short, but very interesting phase for the band. It consists of six tracks which are entirely sung in Latin, and is almost thirty minutes of a psychedelic mass. What you’ll notice throughout the songs is the authenticity of Gregorian chant and its use of what is known as “stepwise motion”. Stepwise motion is when each note in a melody moves up or down a single note. It creates this singular and uniform sound, making this EP a respectable piece to this medieval craft. In addition, drummer Michael Weakly stabilizes a jazzy feel by holding all of the other musicians’ instrumental parts together. Interestingly enough, this release was sort of the start of the decline of The Electric Prunes due to their inability to keep up with their producer David Hassinger’s demands for the EP. The band played on every track, however, session musicians were brought in and, in a sense, took over the project. As unfortunate as this was for the band members, some great music was created. David Axelrod is really the genius behind this concept and why it works so well; he wrote and arranged everything. Axelrod’s style shines brightly throughout, creating such a solid set of confident and holistic tracks. Stripping it down to the basics: the blend of the vocals, electric guitar, drums, bass, and organ form this cadence that really itches the part of my brain that adores the aesthetics of the past.
The opening track: “Kyrie Eleison”, better known from cult classic film Easy Rider, is sung boldly and outspokenly by lead singer James Lowe. I think Lowe did a great job on all the tracks—he really added so much mystique and graveness. There’s a point in the song when Lowe’s vocals are isolated. You really get immersed in it all because he truly sounds like a man of religious order, strongly citing a sacred chant for a congregation to hear. This song, along with the others, have a signature ’60s rock sound mixed with music that goes back hundreds of years. Without his superb vocals, I would not be transported to a daydream of ancient ceremony and royal garbs. The simple guitar riff and drum combo as soon as the song starts is cool and collected. The guitar reverb is essential in creating that dreamy, psychedelic effect. Every time I hear it, I can’t help but sway. Another cool thing in the song is this brief guitar rendition of the song “My Favorite Things.” Guitarist Ken Williams plays this demented version of it for just a few seconds towards the end of the song.
The song “Credo” is my favorite example of the use of stepwise motion. The song starts off pretty regular and then it jumps to this faster pace cadence with Lowe’s vocals leading a fleet of instruments. It is only a small portion of the song, but it is so catchy. Lowe is surfing off that singular melody with a massive wave of instruments behind him. The rest of the song is pure instrumental rock ‘n’ roll with subtle trickles of allure.
My personal favorite song is the last one off the EP titled “Agnus Dei”. This song starts and ends with so much confidence. I can see David Axelrod’s vision so clearly with how he arranged and directed this piece. This song does not quiver or feel unsure of itself, but instead almost stands on its own as this beautifully written piece. The fusion of stringed instruments and electric guitar blend with grand conviction. In the beginning, Lowe sings the title of the song and after a momentary pause the stringed instruments emerge gracefully. Then, the rock ‘n’ roll begins: Weakly starts things off with a simple groove, and then, the iconic, echoing reverb of the electric guitar takes over. The unification of the orchestra and rock is one of my favorite parts of the song. I can’t help but get lost in the music. Midway through is this instrumental tunnel the musicians take you into. It’s Williams’ guitar and the strings surfing through this cosmic echo chamber that I never want to leave. Ultimately, this song is solid throughout and unwavering.
Not too long after Mass in F minor, their next album, Release of an Oath was released. It is the same concept as its predecessor with its religious undertones intertwined with rock and jazz fusions. This album is centered more around R&B type tunes and is sung entirely in English. At this point, the original Electric Prunes had disbanded. The musicians playing on this album are an entirely new set of people. It was kind of sad to learn that this was not the original band nor was it done in the true spirit of The Electric Prunes, however, some truly unique music was born in the process; there is no doubt about that. Just like the previous release, Axelrod created a solid set of songs that matched one another very nicely. The instrumentals are an easy listen for all fans of psych, so it’s a no brainer to check this album out. My favorite parts of this album are the drums and keyboard.
“Holy Are You” is the most recognized song from the album, and rightfully so, because this song is absolutely timeless. The beginning, middle, and end take you on this beautifully mastered journey. Within the first minute of the song we go from a simple keyboard and vocal combo to a groovy R&B beat. The percussion in this track is incredible. It is no wonder this song has been sampled many times by Rap and Hip-Hop artists. (Sidenote, “Respect Mine” by Fat Joe is a perfect example of a great song that sampled “Holy Are You”). Drummers, Earl Palmer, Gary Coleman, and Richard Whetstone elevate the song entirely and are the reason the song is such a contemporary tour de force, in my opinion. With every groove and fill carrying the song to mastery, I can’t help but dance and sing along every time I hear it. A part I really love from the song is when you can hear the percussion, flute, bass, and keyboard create this enchanting jam. The keyboard adds this delightful twinkling sound to the mix that just whisks the listener away into an instrumental dream. And, of course, the insanely awesome guitar solo is another notable feat. Every note and every instrument in this song feels absolutely necessary and purposeful. I can not stress this enough: the unity of the orchestra, R&B, and electric guitar are perfect. This song is simply fantastic and is truly an example of Axelrod’s best.
The other song I want to briefly cover from this album is “Closing Hymn”. As you can tell from the title of the song, it is the final one on the album. I really enjoy the repetition in this track and the tune overall. Again, you have this killer drum beat that holds everything together and makes you want to dance along. Despite being such a simple note change from up to down and vice versa, keyboard Don Randi performs a wistful lulling effect through this. The dreamlike sound of the notes brushes you softly like the touch of flower petals and the subtle reverberation in the ending of the notes are a hollow, ethereal echo. It is such a pretty song and a great close to the album.
I learned a lot while writing this review, but I’m most excited about hearing more of David Axelrod’s works. I listened to a few of his solo works and I have to say I think I found another style of music that deeply resonates with me. He does such a great job blending genres together like I’ve never heard before. Even though this psychedelic gospel wasn’t what the original Electric Prunes had in mind, some truly special melodies were made in the process. David Axelrod did good in the name of The Electric Prunes. Thank you to all the musicians involved in these pieces and thank you for reading.
A huge thank you to The Electric Prunes website for all of this amazing information: http://www.electricprunes.com/
3 thoughts on “The Unexpected Religious, Psychedelic Rock of The Electric Prunes”
Another great review by Reyna McCain!
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Thanks for introducing me to the Electric Prunes. While our musical styles are widely divergent, it’s interesting to hear what another artist is doing with Gregorian Chant in a modern context. My band, Gregorian Rock, is more prog while Electric Prunes are clearly going for a 60s sound. There’s no shortage of creativity going on if one is willing to look. Blessings, Dale
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I’ll have to check you guys out, sounds super interesting. Thank you for reading my review and commenting, Dale. Their song “Love Grows” is another great one to check out.
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