The Electric Prunes – ‘Then Came The Dawn – Complete Recordings 1966-1969’ (2021)
The band, in its different incarnations, released five studio albums and numerous singles between 1966 and 1969. Cherry Red Records has gathered these recordings, supplemented by extended versions, studio outtakes, a complete 1967 performance for Swedish Public Radio and demos by precursor band Jim & The Lords, a total of 109 tracks spread across 6 discs, in a new box set. This collection on the Grapefruit Records imprint is made especially unique by the group’s first three albums appearing in both mono and stereo versions, and where possible the singles are presented in their original mono mixes.
Disc one contains the band’s self-titled December 1966 debut album, recorded by the classic lineup of James Lowe (lead vocals, autoharp, rhythm guitar, tambourine), Ken Williams (lead guitar), James “Weasel” Spagnola (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Mark Tulin (bass guitar, piano, organ) and Preston Ritter (drums, percussion). The LP opens with the group’s signature song, the previously mentioned ‘I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)’ which peaked at #11 on the US charts and #49 in the UK, when released a month prior to the album, drenched in Williams’ oscillated fuzz guitar and Lowe’s trippy vocals. ‘Get Me To The World On Time’ the followup single reached #27 in the US and #42 in the UK, with its Bo Diddley style percussion riff and fuzzy, distorted guitar. Both hits had music by Four Star Music staff writer Annette Tucker, with lyrics by Nancie Mantz and Jill Jones respectively. In all, Tucker supplied eight of the twelve tracks on ‘The Electric Prunes’, six co-written with Mantz. Other highlights of the album are ‘Are You Lovin’ Me More (But Enjoying It Less) with revved up guitar courtesy of Williams and the snappy ‘Try Me On For Size’ with its early Rolling Stones vibe, the former a Tucker/Mantz composition, the latter penned by Tucker and Jones. The LP included two Lowe originals, the Stonesy ‘Luvin’’ with slide guitar reminiscent of Brian Jones and ‘the trippy ‘Train For Tomorrow’ with Williams’ jazzy lead guitar dominant. The album is presented in stereo followed by its mono version, making for a most interesting listening experience and sure to inspire thoughtful comparisons among listeners.
Disc two comprises The Electric Prunes August 1967 sophomore LP ‘Underground’. Album opener ‘The Great Banana Hoax’ is a four minute rocker with Williams’ screaming lead guitar and Tulin’s Vox organ dominating the sound. The Lowe-Tulin penned number is a saga based on the myth of people getting high smoking banana peels hinted at in Donovan’s ‘Mellow Yellow’ and makes reference to The Beatles’ ‘A Day In The Life’ lyric “I’d love to turn you on”. Released as a single, the tune failed to dent the charts. In contrast to its predecessor the band wrote seven of the album’s twelve tunes, with Lowe being involved in all. The album’s other single ‘Dr. Do-Good’, a Tucker/Mantz tune also failed to chart despite racing, fuzzed out guitar from Williams. The LP’s highlight is album closer ‘Long Day’s Flight (‘Til Tomorrow)’ written by drummer Michael “Quint” Weakley, who replaced Ritter midway through recording, contributing to five tunes, and lyricist Don Yorty. The track, a staple of The Prunes’ live shows showcases Williams’ familiar oscillated fuzz guitar and Yorty’s trippy lyrics sung by Lowe. The rhythm section of Tulin and Weakley is especially tight, with Mike Gannon, who replaced Spagnola near the end of the sessions, playing on three tracks, contributing chunky rhythm guitar beefing up the band’s sound. ‘Hideaway’, a Lowe/Tulin composition, resembles a Yardbirds’ rave up, with Williams’ lead guitar and Ritter’s racing drums pushing the tempo. ‘I’ the album’s longest track at more than five minutes, has a relaxed groove with Williams’ guitar and Tulin’s piano leading the way, Lowe delivering the song’s introspective lyrics by Nancie Martz, with tranquility. Lowe’s ‘Captain Glory’ is reminiscent of The Rolling Stones, with its country influenced slide guitar and restrained solo by Williams. Sadly, despite the strength of its material, lacking a hit single, ‘Underground’ stalled at #172 and proved to be the final album recorded in its entirety by the original incarnation of The Electric Prunes. As with ‘The Electric Prunes’ the album appears in stereo followed by its mono version.
Disc three displays The Electric Prunes third studio album “Mass In F Minor’, originally released in January 1968. The LP has the musical setting of a mass arranged in the psychedelic style of the band, its six tracks written and arranged by David Axelrod. A turning point, the entire band plays on side one of the album, while only Lowe, Tulin and Weakley appear on the final three tracks, with session players including engineer Richie Podolor on guitar replacing Williams and Gannon. Opening track ‘Kyrie Eleison’ mixes Gregorian chants with psychedelic guitar, with Williams contributing feedback drenched fuzz guitar. The track gained attention by its inclusion in the movie and soundtrack of 1960’s counterculture classic ‘Easy Rider’. ‘Gloria’ mixes majestic organ, Gregorian chants and psychedelic guitar, with horns and strings added for texture. Williams delivers a feedback filled solo which gives way to an extended bass solo by Tulin. The tune stands out as an incredible mixture of religious and psychedelic rock. ‘Credo’ showcases Williams’ fuzzed out, feedback laden guitar as well as Tulin’s organ work and Lowe’s chanted vocals. ‘Sanctus’ features a much more delicate feel with strings and horns joining lead guitar work filled with feedback and Lowe delivering more chanted vocals. ‘Benedictus’ combines delicate vocals and restrained guitar with organ adding texture. The tune gets heavier, leading to a snarling feedback filled outro. ‘Agnus Dei’ is a mellower tune with string and horn intro. Lowe’s vocals lead to soaring psychedelic guitars with swirling feedback before the tempo slows and Lowe closes the tune, mass and album with chanted vocals. ‘Mass In F Minor’ charted higher than ‘Underground’, peaking at #138, and keeping the band in the public’s eye. Again, the stereo version of the LP is followed by the mono mix for the listener’s comparison and pleasure.
Disc four comprises the final two studio albums released by The Electric Prunes in their original lifespan. Following ‘Mass In F Minor’ Lowe, Tulin and Weakley departed, leaving producer Dave Hassinger as the owner of the band’s name. Hassinger seeing the success of ‘Mass’ turned to Axelrod who followed up with another religious rock LP, this one based on a combination of Christian and Jewish liturgies, titled ‘Release Of An Oath’ and hitting record shops in November 1968. Axelrod assembled a new lineup for The Electric Prunes consisting of Richard Whetstone (lead vocals, drums), Mark Kincaid (guitar), Brett Wade (bass guitar) and John Herron (organ). However, ‘Release Of An Oath’ was recorded by session musicians with Richard Whetstone’s vocal efforts being the band’s only input. The album employed some of Los Angeles’ finest session musicians, with Howard Roberts and Lou Morrell on guitar, Carol Kaye on bass, Don Randl on keyboards and Earl Palmer on drums, all members of the fabled Wrecking Crew who appeared on thousands of recordings, mostly uncredited, but whose contributions to popular music were the topic of a fine documentary film in 2008. Because of the limited input of the band, the album will not be reviewed here except to say that it is quite worthy of a listen, and inclusion in this set, both in the name of completeness and the abilities of the musicians involved. The fifth and final studio album ‘Just Good Old Rock And Roll’ was released in June 1969 with ten of the eleven tracks being band originals, The opening tune ‘Sell’ is a mid tempo rocker with a nice organ interlude. Released as the album’s first single, the track failed to chart. ‘14 Year Old Funk’ has some fine guitar work by Ron Morgan who joined the group during the sessions when organist John Herron departed. Morgan was noted for his work with the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band and as an original member of Three Dog Night although he left before any recordings in order to join The Electric Prunes. ‘Love Grows’ is a fine piece of guitar rock, with tasty wah wah work. ‘Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers’, a Ray Charles cover, has a funky guitar and organ intro and had commercial possibilities although it failed to sell when released as a single. ‘Giant Sunhouse’ was written with members of The Standells including Larry Tamblyn and is a hot rocker with a fiery solo by Morgan. ‘Tracks’ penned by Herron is an uptempo rocker with two tasteful guitar solos. The album closes with ‘Sing To Me’ a Wade composition that is restrained yet seductive, with wah wah guitar and organ joining delicate vocals. ‘Just Good Old Rock And Roll’ was originally issued as being recorded by the New Improved Electric Prunes as a combination slap at the original members of the band and a nod to the Blue Cheer album of the day.
Disc five is titled ‘Shadows’. The disc opens with both sides of the group’s debut single, ‘Ain’t It Hard’/’Little Olive’ released in May 1966 with James Lowe, Ken Williams and Mark Tulin joined by original members Michael “Quint” Weakley (drums) and Dick Hargrave (keyboards), who left after the single’s release, replaced by Preston Ritter (drums) and James “Weasel” Spagnola (rhythm guitar, backing vocals) respectively. The mono recording of ‘I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)’/Luvin’ is next up, followed by ‘The Electric Prunes’ outtakes ‘I’ve Got A Way Of My Own’ and ’World Of Destruction’. Mono single mixes of ‘Get Me To The World On Time’/’Are You Lovin’ Me More (But Enjoying It Less), and ’Dr. Do-Good’/’Hideaway’ follow. An extended mono version of ‘The Great Banana Hoax’/’Wind Up Toys’ is followed by the non-LP mono single ‘Everybody Knows (You’re Not In Love)’/’You’ve Never Had It Better’. An UK-only extended version of the mono take of ‘Long Day’s Flight (‘Til Tomorrow)’ is next, followed by the single-sided mono single ‘Shadows’. The non-LP single ‘Hey Mr. President’/’Flowing Slowly’ leads to the final track, a Vox Wah Wah Pedal radio spot done by Ken Williams finishes the disc in fine fashion.
Disc six opens with ‘Stockholm ‘67’ recorded December 14, 1967 at Konserthuset (The Concert Hall) in Stockholm, Sweden for Swedish Public Radio. Although only four tracks were aired at the time, the complete concert was issued in 1997 by Heartbeat Productions, UK. The gig was performed by the lineup of James Lowe (lead vocals), Ken Williams (lead guitar), Mike Gannon (rhythm guitar), Mark Tulin (bass guitar, organ, backing vocals) and Michael “Quint” Weakley (drums). The band opens with the Lowe/Tulin ‘You’ve Never Had It Better’ featuring Williams’ oscillating fuzz guitar leading naturally into Lowe introducing ‘I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)’ which he refers to as the band’s first song. Williams’ guitar screams and the band is obviously locked in with Tulin and Ritter in a groove with Gannon’s rhythm guitar adding to the heaviness of the group’s sound. Next up is a nearly ten minute take on ‘Try Me On For Size’ which Lowe introduced by inviting the audience to scream curse words in their native language and apologizes for US involvement in a meaningless war before the band turns it on for a rave up with guitar work by Williams that The Yardbirds would have been proud of. Lowe calls ‘I Happen To Love You’ a Goffin-King song that had been offered to The Monkees who turned it down, without clarifying his comment. The tune is mellower, giving the audience a look at a different side of The Electric Prunes. A nearly seven minute take on Muddy Waters’ ‘I Got My Mojo Working’ gives the band a chance to stretch out, with Williams again shining, and the band appearing a well oiled machine, able to rock, play the blues or guide the audience through an acid trip on a moment’s notice. A straight up take on ‘Long Day’s Flight’ gives Williams another chance to show his chops with Gannon’s rhythm guitar giving depth to the band’s sound, Tulin and Ritter holding the bottom end tight as always. A five and a half minute take on Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Smokestack Lightning’ reinforces the fact that the band was as capable of playing the blues or rocking as anyone, with Williams’ guitar aided by Gannon again bringing The Yardbirds to mind. The show closer is an extended take on the band’s other big hit ‘Get Me To The World On Time’ rave up style, leaving the crowd crying for more. Lowe has said the band adjusted their set list as to not be too heavy and to fit their audience. Listening to The Electric Prunes forty five minute performance here one can only wonder if the walls were shaking or windows shattering in their wake at other gigs on the European tour. Thank goodness the entire performance was preserved and released. As a coda, four demo recordings by Jim & Lords are included to bring the set full circle, back to the beginning when James Lowe, Ken Williams, Mark Tulin and Michael “Quint” Weakley first recorded in 1965. The four demos recorded were Jagger & Richard’s ‘I’m Free’, Lowe’s ‘Little (Lil) Olive’, Bill Reinhardt & Jim Pons’ (The Leaves) ‘Too Many People’ and Lennon & McCartney’s ‘I’m Down’. Included mainly for historical purposes, the demos nonetheless serve as an indication of the talent and promise contained in the quartet and serves as a perfect ending to this magnificent box set.
Each of the six discs of ‘Then Came The Dawn: The Complete Recordings 1966-1969’ comes in its own cardboard replica mini-LP sleeve, two of which are gatefolds. The set comes with a 36 page full color booklet with complete track annotations and an extended essay by compiler Gray Newell as well as an afterword by Alec Palao whose remastering job makes The Electric Prunes sound better than ever. The booklet is also full of color photos of the band, record artwork and other memorabilia. The discs and booklet fit snugly into an inner slip case which in turns slides snugly into a sturdy outer slipcase. This box set is without question the last word on The Electric Prunes and will be of interest to fans of 1960’s rock, psychedelic rock, classic rock and rock music in general and comes most highly recommended.
The Electric Prunes – ‘Then Came The Dawn – Complete Recordings 1966-1969’, 6CD Box Set (Grapefruit)
Electric Prunes interview with James Lowe