The Moog synthesizer wasn’t the first electronic instrument to work its way into the context of post-War pop music. There was the theremin, for example – that white swan of electronic instruments, heard for a few spectral bars on certain space-themed exotica and soundtrack albums of the 1950’s & 1960’s. The Moog, on the other hand, jostled and squawked, calling attention to itself with loops and shrill blasts like some complicated, hyperactive kid. It was, unlike the theremin, a distinctly Pop art creature. I’ve found consequently that Moog synthesizers – or, at least, Moog synthesizer records – tend to alienate people. To be fair, the problem lay not so much with the technology but rather with the use of it; Moog pop records carried with them a heavy novelty factor. When they weren’t dishing up classical standards or making corny pop hits like “Aquarius” even cornier, they often wound up as vehicles for their own gadgetry, as if wacky electronic effects alone could sell records. Well, actually, wacky electronic effects did sell a lot of records.
Either way, below are three of the more listenable exceptions.
1. The Hip Sound, Far Out (Limelight)
It sprang from the mind of Pierre Henry, the French 20th century electronic composer and artist known to the serious music community for his role in the development of musique concrète. As with his similar and much-loved (and sampled) “Psyché Rock,” “Far Out” is a demonstration of Henry’s penchant for pop. Bending Moog and French go-go brio to the will of his own collagist aesthetic, “Far Out” finally became – clanking and buzzing and squelching – something akin to Pop art. Or it became at least its own futuristic form of discotheque music.
Recorded in the late 1960’s in France, this was released domestically on Limelight records, a subsidiary of Mercury which, in addition to its jazz releases, was home to some of the more experimental music of the 60’s.
2. The Time Zone, Space Walker (White Whale)
Mort Garson was an arranger/composer type with a long track record in the Los Angeles studio world, and the mastermind behind some truly grandiose synthesizer albums of the late 60’s/early 70’s: kitschy concept albums with paranormal and astrological themes, and titles like The Unexplained: Ataraxia. Whatever increasingly occult shape his personal obsessions assumed in the 70’s, Garson’s most memorable recordings remained his (earlier) productions of the late 60’s, however. The psychedelic “Space Walker,” for example: a genuinely inventive construction forged from go-go drums, fuzz tone distortion, squawks, glissandos, finally zapped into life and sent hurtling towards the American record buying public in 1967 – where, promptly, it did nothing.
“Space Walker” also bears a passing resemblance to Garson’s equally wonderful Zodiac Cosmic Sounds LP (see Richie Unterberger’s feature on Zodiac Cosmic Sounds, a true Aquarian relic).
3. Dick Hyman, Strobo (Command)
One of the names synonomous with the Moog, Dick Hyman – unlike other popular Moog advocates such as Jean-Jacques Perrey or Walter Carlos – came to the instrument not through a background in “serious” academic music but, rather, from many reliable years as a session pop and jazz musician. With a few exceptions (like his eight minute long “Minotaur”), Hyman’s late 60’s Moog records tend to give the sub-genre a bad name in my book, as they can come across a little too consciously wacky sometimes. “Strobo,” however – with its dense patter of mechanized rhythms (courtesy of the Maestro Rhythm Unit) and a series of shrill keyboard runs that could have been picked up on the moon – has its own futuristic charm. Easily the moogiest of this week’s bunch, its title in fact describes it perfectly.
This song only appeared on 45.