This piece originally featured in Mojo magazine.
|INTRO- THE MOOG SYNTHESIZER
Unlike the Hoover, a similarly undisputed brand leader which describes any vacuum cleaner as all vacuum cleaners do the same thing, all synthesizers are, over thirty years on, still not Moogs.
Most synthesizers make funny noises but none have been able to emulate a peculiar language of sounds which revolutionised popular music, encouraging a whole spectrum of crooks and creators to arse about in an unprecedented fashion. Robert Moog's incredible invention was almost as crucial to the musical free expression of the sixties as LSD. It was a tangible signal of an electronic future and, though it was initially treated largely as gimmick and a toy, it had by the 1970s proved itself a legitimate musical instrument in the hands of....er......say....er....Rick Wakeman.
It would be wrong, however, to say assume Robert Moog invented electronic music. There had been machines around since the1920s which primitively tackled the idea of artificially generated sound. Instruments like The Clavioline, famously used on Joe Meek's 1963 hit Telstar, the Ondioline and Leon Thermin's electrified coat hanger, heard on Good Vibrations, existed before the Moog. The work of innovators like Pierre Schaeffer, using pre-recorded wax discs to create music in the 1950s, and the ideas of Moog's contemporary, Don Buchla, had also been noted. It was however Moog, a former electronics-obsessed schoolboy who'd proved his talent for marketing by selling home-made kit form Theremins in the back pages of electronics magazines, who saw money in circuitry and opened a shop in upstate New York in 1964 selling his prototype synthesizer.
By the time the Modular Moog had started to make it's mark around 1968, it was perhaps uninvitingly being described as, "A collection of oscillators, generators, amplifiers, mixers and voltage controlled filters interconnected to allow musicians to vary pitch, frequency, dynamics tone and duration". With its banks of jack-socket connectors it looked like an old-style telephone directory and cost about as much as a top of the range car. Essentially a nice bit of furniture to be used and abused, the Moog promised a world beyond bass, guitar and drums and, in doing so, inspired some of the best and worst music of the 20th century. Even when it was bad, however, simply mimicing on Switched On County, The Plastic Cow Goes Moooog and a whole series of Moog Plays.... LPs, it was always funny.
Following the release of Walter (now Wendy) Carlos' hit demonstration disc, Switched On Bach, actors, stars like George Harrison and others with more money than sense would buy Moogs and then realise you couldn't get anything out of them unless you really knew what you were doing. James Coburn, as far as I can tell, never got as far as recording his. A team of crack programmers like Walter Sear, Mort Garson, Paul Beaver, Bernie Krause and, in the UK former member of Manfred Mann, Mike Vickers became crack programmers virtually on call 24 hours a day. Regardless, some of the best things came about when amateurs just plugged things in to see what would happen.
When the less creative got the hang of things there seemed to be an avalanche of cover versions of Spinning Wheel each with its own farty bassline and cheesy trumpet sounds. Like the magic modern word STEREO on your LP sleeve, patronage of the Mooog underlined your commitment to a groovy, squelchy, squealing future. Even if you lived in Nashville. The sleeve notes to Jean Jacques Perrey's Moog Indigo got typically carried away. "What The Moog Synthesizer opens up for music is beyond dreams". Dick Hyman kept his feet on the ground describing his Moog as, "a kind of super-organ". It encouraged whirlwind creativity (The Hellers fantastic LP for Command), hellish pretension (Tonto's Expanding Headband trying to sum up entire Egyptian dynasties on It's About Time), absolute insanity (Mort Garson recording 12 LPs, each one a musical representation of the individual signs of the Zodiac) and caveman confusion (George Harrison apparently banging it with his fists on Electronic Sound). It says something about the compelling-even-when-crap nature of the Moog that it is possible to own and enjoy all these records.
By the mid 70s the Moog was everywhere from rock to jazz; easy listening to funk and reggae. Wherever it cropped up it always bullied its way centre stage, especially after the development of the user-friendly Mini Moog which, from jazz-rock to progressive, became a ubiquitous tool for hairy egotistical soloists to go Wooo Eee Ooo Eee Ooo whenever they felt like it. Of course by then whole album covers full of ARP and EMS synthesizers had appeared, and the Moog was alone only in its ability to create a sound it was impossible to emulate- an attention-grabbing signature which blew the dust from all around it.
This tape calls at almost all points on the map. Witness the age of innocence and plugged in pop, easy auteurs letting their proper backbones slip, the avant garde getting totally wired and the sound of people turning on, tuning in and consulting page 189 of a telephone directory-sized handbook.
Fly me to the Moog, Bob!
A Hammond veteran takes on the Godfather for perhaps the ultimate example of Moog funk. Dick pompously refers to it as, "an experiment in electronic soul". Nobody could argue he was unsuccessful on hearing this. Went on to soundtrack work by Woody Allen but sadly neglected the obvious opportunity to use this spaced out classic as the theme to Sleeper.
RAY DAVIES AND THE BUTTON DOWN BRASS
Tijuana trumpeter Ray (no relation incidentally) takes the Lalo Schifrin classic at break neck jungle speed as session keyboard king Alan Hawkshaw twists more knobs than a rent boy on overtime. A gloriously extreme example of how the Moog compels squares to, like, freak out.
Scary, devilish concept LP from 1970 which sounds like an evil early Depeche Mode. This is intense and intensely comical. The earth-shattering capabilities of Robert Moog's box of tricks obviously encouraged people to get carried away. Witness this quote from the sleeve: "A primary function of The Electric Lucifer is to help end war and hate and pain and fear". Bloody hell.
LARRY YOUNG'S FUEL
The incredible gravel funk bassline would be enough without Larry, one arm tied behind his back and at least three fingers seemingly arthritically inactive, walking a musical plank with no regard for subtely- turning up the Mini Moog/Moog Organ volume and kicking this former rare groove favourite into the left field. Who could have thought the same instrument which helped Tomita send people to sleep during his spectacularly dull classical Xeroxes could propel a booty shaker like this. A stone to the bone killer.
BLEY-PEACOCK SYNTHESISER SHOW
Annette Peacock is a remarkable singer- a kind of pissed off Kate Bush for eggheads. She was given a prototype Moog by its inventor in 1967. Immediately bypassing the comical aspects of its sound which fascinated and transfixed others, she fed her voice through it with beautiful, incredible, inspirational results. This unique LP didn't see release until 1971. Even then it still sounded twenty years ahead of its time.
The man who invented Exotica, a kind of South Pacific ambient music loved by '50s Americans in shirts with palm trees on them, revisits his genre-defining hit with some wires and a Welsh dresser full of switches and holes. The results, recorded it seems to turn the Haight kids on to his laid back/horizontal sound, are startlingly soporific and strangely unnerving.
Three years before that definitive Moog solo on Nutbush City Limits, (up there with the one on Giorgio Moroder's version of Son Of My Father) Ike was already plugged in on this bizzare LP which sounds as if it was recorded on something considerably stronger than herbal tea. An example of the fact that, as people didn't know how to control the Moog, wrist-twisting wildness and mucking about (see also George Harrison's Where's-The-Instruction-Book? classic, Electronic Sound) were the only options.
A Moog arrives in Kingston and all hell lets loose. As usual the sound is so irresistable that the King himself, on the mix here in fine form, is compelled to chuck all subtlety out of the window. The Moog dominates the tracks like a drunk at a garden party while the irrepressible U Roy shouts to compete. A close cousin of I Roy's Lee Perry produced Space Flight.
I have often thought I've dreamed this LP and sometimes have to get up in the middle of the night just to check it's there. According to Klaus, seen on the sleeve sporting a dinner jacket and bow tie in front a wall of wires, knobs and sockets, (obviously terrified of losing his slipper wearing audience too) this LP is more than just, "bullets, explosions and abstract noises". "My good old organ was also able to play a little part in this". No sniggering at the back there, this is serious Blade Runner type stuff.
Completely out of this world and looking like a Mo Tucker from space, Silver Apples' Dan Taylor funks the drums like J.B.'s Clyde Stubblefield while Simeon tweaks ramshackle techno basslines from his hot-wired machines. This must have sounded a bit more revolutionary than Sgt. Pepper in 1968. Some people are still catching up. An incredible record.
JOE RENZETTI/TONY LUISI
This could have been terrible but, as it turns out, with a few drinks inside you, it will blot out the memory of an awful original which, thanks, Pete, set Melvyn Bragg wittering on about 'Ruck Upras' for several light years. Shows that, with a Moog between you and the original, no masterpiece is too good to mangle.
Born to synthesize and leaking ideas like water, Todd makes the Moog work overtime. There are sounds stacked high like planes at Heathrow with no room to land. Earning his LP title The Runt sends us spinning and, like Annette Peacock tames the beast without tie-ing it down. Seen by some as a gimmicky mess. Not round our house.
ELECTRONIC MUSIC PRODUCTIONS LTD.
Burt's peerless melodies get chased around the circuit board with a beat, plenty of echo and no respect. Better than the average Moog Plays....do, of which there are more than a few (note: avoid at all costs Marty Gold's Moog Plays The Beatles, even if it was programmed by electronic deity Walter Sear). Who will question Dom Cerulli's sleeve notes? They quite rightly, point out: "This is a today album that will be around tomorrow and quite a few days after".
Ego-less genius Allen Ravenstine finally surfaces properly on this track from an LP so startlingly creative it stopped more than a few in their tracks in 1978. Never one to play a tune where a storm would do, he swoops between the gaps in an inspired atonal style that was unmistakable. After hearing this, every crap punk band clubbed together to buy a synthesiser for their Eno/Wierdo so they could join the new wave with mostly slightly less impressive results.
Apparently witnessed in the making by Robert Moog himself, this psychedelic classic trawls the zodiac using his invention to ring the cosmic changes. Written by celebrated Moog-er Mort Garson with assistance from the likes of Paul Beaver (who, together with Bernie Krause later explored the machine's capabilities further) and a proper band, this is primitive, definitive stuff. Not to be confused with Garson's later Moog only 12 LP star-gazing project.
HARRY RABINOWITZ ORCHESTRA
Not really an orchestra, more a couple of violinists chased by a bloody big Moog. From nowhere it bubbles, taking your levels into the red and proving that good taste is for sonic cowards. This is a gloriously careless version of a theme to a crap BBC detective series which, like the similarly Moogy, The Hanged Man, sunk without trace at least leaving a scorching theme.
You've got to catch up on this one. You see, Gary has been rehabilitated by Detroit Techno bods namechecking him as the electronic Don. See Paperclip People's Oscillator or any Model 500 record to check just how much damage has been done. On this top secret 1991 Renegade Soundwave mix of homeboy G's Tubeway Army original from 1979, the Moogs are still fantastically loud. Gary was always more Moogy than his Human/Mode contemporaries which puts the man whose nervous tick made him turn his head sideways between each and every petulant line, way ahead in my book.
He was still singing about his Cherie Amour when Moog first let his analogue animal off the leash, but he'd caught up in fine style by 1972, assisted by Robert Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil who, as Tonto's Expanding Headband, had set the gold standard a year earlier with their own Zero Time. Stevie's funk-defining fingers slip across the keys, layering moody bass with liquid top lines until you're dizzy. In the wrong hands, this kind of multi-tracking would be a mess. Instead it's controlled effortlessly by a true genius with a mind working overtime. Stevie was later to defect to the clone-synths he got for free on records like Songs In The Key Of Life but, here at least, he Moogs it like he means it.
Riding Augustus Pablo's Java rhythm with a Moog turned up full should be enough to make even the most open minded scarper. Instead African Dub specialists Joe Gibbs and Errol Thompson (the latter demands the word engineer is redefined) win out with a Jah-ing Moog Plays Melodica type thing to frighten small children and deafen the Man In The 'Ills. An extreme approach is always rewarded with this instrument and here's an object lesson.
THE ELECTRIC FLAG
Their soundtrack to The Trip is a well known psychedelic roller coaster ride. This countribution to a film which starred Tiny Tim and made no sense (in that order) expands on the idea. The band plays the boogie like The Family Stone while a Moog is tortured mercilessly and played with anything but hands. There are a lot of bad drugs between this and Walter Carlos' Switched On Bach.
The sleeve features a bald woman with wires coming out of her scalp so you get the joke in the title. This is a multi layered work of real beauty, full of tricky sequences and set pieces where seconds must have taken months. All melodies are present, correct and well Mooged. Like most of these records, there is a picture on the back of someone with horn-rimmed glasses on plugging wires in. These days, of course, it's all done by Robots.
EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER
His Manager Tony Stratton- Smith having famously tried to blag one of Bob's trendy boxes on his behalf, after getting sent packing by then Moog salesman Walter Sear, Keith Emerson had to buy his own. Here, he obviously can't wait to use it, restraining himself for most of Greg Lake's drippy baroque ballad until he can contain himself no longer and- a confirmed organ stabber who was never the subtlest of instrumentalists anyway- he lets rip with the Moog solo, loud as a bastard and wearing electronic 18 hole Docs. He's paid for it and he's going to use it. Still simultaneously stupid and superb.
Hiding in the middle of an album full of Bach and Shostakovich is this taste of sleazy funk, penned by the baton-weilding, card-carrying, four-cornered king himself. Sunlime and, the context noted, ridiculous. What could have been his inspiration? My money's on the theme from Robin's Nest, a Moog landmark sadly never released but respectfully covered by troubled ironist Lawrence Heyward of Denim.
Perhaps better known for his work with Jean Jaques Perrey on the ground-breaking In Sound From Way Out, here the man who gave us the bubblegum Moog classic Popcorn, carries on like someone has told him he only has two minutes ten seconds to live. This will likely take the cream off your milk and shatter your windows too.
WALTER SEAR/RICHARD HAYMAN
By rights this shouldn't even begin to work. A brain-scrambling exercise
in electronic extremism fights a winning battle with an easy standard,
epitomising all the brash, barmy glory of the Moog refusing to share space
with any other instrument. Sear is a solid state electronic hero. A session
Theremin player since the fifties, he locked on to the possibilities of
the Moog from day one and became a high- profile salesman for Moog Inc.
Enough to startle even the most twisted firestarter.
Links coming soon.....