Fifty Year Friday: David Axelrod, Electric Prunes and Mass in F Minor
In 1967, the previously unknown, recently formed, L.A. band, The Electric Prunes, grabbed public recognition with the quintessential psychedelic top 40 hit, Annette Tucker’s and lyricist Nancie Mantz’s “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night.” Soon the Prunes were guests on TV, miming performances to their big hit, and touring the country.
in 1968, the band’s manager Lenny Poncher, their producer Dave Hassinger, and the Reprise Records management, determined that the Electric Prunes would record some type of concept album from material provided by producer/composer/arranger David Axelrod. Axelrod was given the freedom to compose whatever he thought most appropriate, with the hopes of furthering the Prunes’ name recognition.
The final material composed by Axelrod, a psychedelic setting of the Latin Mass, with sections crafted for appropriate freely-expressive, acid-rock improvisation, ultimately required the band to be augmented by studio musicians. Also, since the band was as much of a commodity (producer Dave Hassinger owned the rights to the name at that time) as individual members, this particular formation of Electric Prunes would soon be replaced by other musicians.
However, we did get a rather interesting, if less than stellar, concept album — a rock mass, a couple of years after Vince Guaraldi’s Jazz mass (see below) and three years before Leonard’s Bernstein’s mass (originally intended to be a modern setting of a traditional mass, but ultimately realized as a stage work.)
Though uneven, this Electric Prune’s Mass in F Minor is worth listening to. It uses an abbreviated form of the mass, but still has the major sections. The Kyrie Eleison is later included in the film Easy Rider. The Credo and Agnus Dei are the most interesting. Though most music historians would not classify this as progressive rock, this is, for 1968, a musically progressive setting of the mass. Also, this album should get a nod for being a concept album, including symphonic instruments, and some notable guitar work. One can check out a lower quality audio version on youtube: