Near the Beginning is an excellent title for this self-produced Vanilla Fudge recording. The fourth of five albums recorded during 1967, 1968, and 1969, the band themselves worked to get closer to what made them very special. What made them special was their treatment of other people's material. Reworking Junior Walker's 1965 hit is interesting, especially with engineers like Tony Bongiovi and Eddie Kramer to throw ideas at. Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood went Top 30 with "Some Velvet Morning," and that is more in line with the Fudge's debut than re-assembling Motown again. The problem with "Shotgun" is that it is pretty much the same tempo, with their big sound and added intensity being the difference. "Some Velvet Morning," on the other hand, is more Black Sabbath than Ozzie and crew covering Crow's "Evil Woman." The performance dangles in mid-air, the vocals deliver eeriness, the stuff Deep Purple jumped on a year after Vanilla Fudge made Great Britain stand at attention, and the sound is quintessential Fudge. "Some Velvet Morning" makes for a very great album track, but as "near" to the beginning as these guys got, without production they just don't get back to the chart action garnered by the sublime "Take Me for a Little While" and the immortal "You Keep Me Hanging On." Carmine Appice's "Where Is the Happiness" is a band learning how to write in public. There is no doubt how talented all these fellows were, but "Where Is the Happiness" sounds like an extension of "Some Velvet Morning" and breaks no new ground. Twenty-three minutes and 23 seconds of a live track, "Break Song" was written by the bandmembers and recorded at the Shrine in Los Angeles. It certainly works better than Ted Nugent & the Amboy Dukes' Survival of the Fittest Live a year after this was released, but not by much. Overly self-indulgent, there is yet again another drum solo from the period on record. Putting up with drum solos in concert is bad enough, but with Ted Nugent and Vanilla Fudge making a point to show off their musicianship, it became tiresome. Why blame Iron Butterfly when the real fault is no one listened to the 45 rpm version of "In a Gadda Da Vida"? By forgetting that Vanilla Fudge was a singles band, the whole reason the audience was buying tickets gets lost in the expressive nature of young artists dealing with fame and the record industry. "Good Good Livin'," a previously unreleased long version written by all four members of the group, is heaviness they would explore with Adrian Barber on the Rock & Roll album, and unfortunately expand upon with their reunion in 1984, continuing to drift away from their beginnings. The single version of "Shotgun" is included on the extended CD, as is the 45 rpm "People" written by Vinny Martell, Carmine Appice, Tim Bogert, and Mark Stein. An interesting transitional record with some high points, and worth adding to your collection.
AllMusic Review by Joe Viglione