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John Covach

John Covach is Director of the University of Rochester Institute for Popular Music and Professor of Theory at the Eastman School. He has published dozens of articles and is the lead author of the college textbook What's That Sound? An Introduction to Rock Music. He has co-edited Understanding Rock, Sounding Out Pop, American Rock and the Classical Tradition, and Traditions, Institutions, and American Popular Music. His MOOCs on Coursera have enrolled almost 300,000 students worldwide.

“Re-voicing Pop: Vanilla Fudge and the Psychedelic-Symphonic Cover Version”
The cover version has played an important role in the history of rock music. This paper examines the formation of idea of the cover and the musical practices associated with it during the second half of the 1960s, as the cover develops out of the “versions” and “duplicates” prevalent in the period going back to the 1950s. By the end of the 1960s, rock artists and bands avoided playing a song previously recorded by others unless motivated by a special purpose, such as an homage to an earlier artist or style, or presenting a significant reworking of the song. Within the context of an emerging poetics of rock originality, cover versions now became markedly intertextual: full aesthetic appreciation demanded that listeners know the original, comparing the cover with its source and noting the transformation. Intertextural cover versions created an opportunity for an artist or band to make a statement, emphasize distinctiveness of style, and showcase a range of musical talents. These covers presented the originals in a new voice.

This paper will examine the music of the New York-based band, Vanilla Fudge, focusing especially on the self-titled first album (released August 1967, #6 in the U.S.), which consists entirely of cover versions. These Vanilla Fudge “re-voicings” greatly expand the originals and this paper will closely examine the musical techniques the band employs in creating a series of musically ambitious “psychedelic-symphonic cover versions” from relatively short pop songs. The tracks on this album occur in a running order that suggests the topic of childhood governs the entire record, making Vanilla Fudge an early and exceptional concept album.

The paper will conclude by placing the band’s music within the broader history of the cover version and concept album in popular music.


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