Beneath the racy exteriors of this week’s selections – the exotic chimes and flutes, the fuzztone distortion, the invitations to grooviness – beat the cocktail-tippling heart of an older generation. The work of veteran New York City and Los Angeles studio arrangers, composers, and musicians, they’re selections calculated to appeal to a set eager for relevancy and curious about – and wary of, too – current pop culture.
The Now Sound was just that. It did not suggest a whole countercultural lifestyle the way that, say, the more threatening strains of psychedelic rock music might. The Now Sound acknowledged pop culture but kept it at arms’ length. It could still fade into the background when necessary: the Now Sound accessorized. In doing so, it unwittingly gravitated to the more commercial end of the American musical landscape, eventually finding its proper home in ‘60s soundtrack and television themes, advertisements, game shows, and your bachelor uncle’s living room.
1. The Big Game Hunters, See the Cheetah (Uni)
This number, with its bouncy sex kitten insouciance, reclining bucket seats, and Zowie-Flute®, could turn the most sexless bachelor pad into a pulsating discothèque in seconds.
As Pop art as a Lichtenstein print or any Batman episode, “See the Cheetah” was written by Alden Shuman (composer of the 1973 soundtrack to The Devil in Miss Jones), produced by Dave Pell (veteran West Coast bandleader, musician, producer) and Russ Regan (ubiquitous West Coast A&R man), and arranged by our guy Mort Garson. It was a pure distillation of the Los Angeles studio world from the kind of session veterans who could sit down at a table in 1967 and rub their hands together and half an hour later records would be hurtling themselves into heavy rotation over at KHJ.
2. The Distant Galaxy, Blue Scimitar (Verve)
After the engineering fantasies of 1950s Popular Science-style articles and paranoid overtones of the early Space Race, the galaxy assumed more stylish tones in the late ‘60s. At least after watching Star Trek, you could reasonably assume that space was the place for a casual rendezvous. Not to mention those gleaming ensembles of mod, plastic-molded furniture. Think of the Distant Galaxy that way. None of this science business, just soothing light of the nebulae, a place to cool your head after, say, a night of Sake Bombs.
The Distant Galaxy was in reality the studio project of Don Sebesky, a composer and arranger best known for a fruitful series of collaborations with producer Creed Taylor. Their lush, commercial orchestrations for jazz artists were ubiquitous in the late ‘60s twilight of jazz’s mainstream currency. “Blue Scimitar,” which features Richard Spencer on soprano sax and the stinging fuzztone guitar of the young Larry Coryell, was taken from the 1968 Verve album of the same name, the first (and better) of two groovy, lightly psychedelic pop-jazz albums from Sebesky.
3. Marty Manning and the Cheetahs, Tarzan (Tarzan’s March) (Columbia)
Marty Manning was one of many New York City arrangers, composers, and musicians who might play the occasional jazz or pop date, or cut an album or two under their own name. Mostly, though, they toiled and made their living in the anonymity of their studio-bound pop, jazz, and soundtrack work. Manning, one of the busiest, is best known today as the creative genius behind 1961’s The Twilight Zone: A Sound Adventure in Space, a memorable one-off album of outer space-themed exotic percussion, electronic instrumentation and wordless vocals that was loosely affiliated with Rod Serling’s television show.
“Tarzan’s March,” likely recorded around 1966 as a tie-in with the NBC television show, is something else altogether. It would have made a lot of sense as an updated theme for some Dragnet or Perry Mason morality drama, marching forward with fuzztone guitars, organ, and a spirit of justice.