The Moog Modular Synthesizer—First Recordings
Ten Early Moog Recordings, plus 1
At first, Bob Moog didn’t think of his synthesizer as a total solution for the musician. He once told me, “There was never a notion that a synthesizer would be used by itself for anything.” He pictured it as another piece of equipment in the traditional electronic music studio. But as soon as the first modular systems were available, musicians of many tastes began to think of the Moog as a standalone musical instrument. In 1967, the first commercially available recordings using the Moog became available. Curiosity about the instrument grew quickly and by the time Switched-On Bach was released in late 1968, 74 recordings--both singles and albums--had been released that featured the Moog Synthesizer somewhere in its grooves.
In my project to archive every early recording of the Moog Modular Synthesizer, I am often asked to name the very first recordings. There are recurring discussions of this on the Internet, so I thought it would be worthwhile to document what I’ve discovered while archiving the recordings. My list originally appeared in my blog for the Bob Moog Foundation, and I have since slightly updated it due to one additional discovery.
My list of the first ten commercial recordings of the Moog Modular Synthesizer includes 45 RPM singles and long-playing albums, whichever came first. I have corroborated the release dates using multiple sources including one or more trade publications from the time, the US Copyright Office, and personal contacts with the artists, producers, and engineers themselves. I do not use dates found in Wikipedia. Being on this list means that a record was sold in retail stores and had the potential of widely influencing the sound of the time. This collection does not include non-commercial releases such as broadcast library records, because those were not widely heard or available in retail stores.
The recordings you will hear are from my personal collection that is a subset of my larger archive of electronic music. Having accumulated what I believe to be the most complete archive of the Moog Modular Synthesizer recordings from the years 1965 to 1970, I am always hoping to discover one more recording that I never knew about, so the search is ongoing. But as of today, these are the first ten Moog recordings about which I can report.
One can’t help but notice that eight of the first ten Moog albums had one person in common--musician Paul Beaver. By late 1966, he and Bernie Krause had pooled their funds to buy a Moog Modular of their own. The two were designated as Moog’s West Coast Representative and together, he and Krause provided consulting, recording, and production services using the Moog Modular. Beginning in April of 1967, Beaver and Krause were recruited to bring the Moog Synthesizer to a variety of recording sessions. These first Moog productions began in April 1967 and the recordings began to appear on vinyl by May and June 1967. Another burst of activity occurred after Beaver and Krause set up a booth to demonstrate the Moog at the Monterey Jazz Festival in June 1967, leading to several sessions with rock groups including the Doors and the Monkees. This list will take us through January 1968, when you could still count the number of Moog records on ten fingers.
A word on what to listen for in these recordings. As you might expect, something as new as a synthesizer and as complicated as the Moog left many artists baffled. The idea of a programmer—in this case the person who made the patch chord connections—emerged in the persons of Paul Beaver and Bernie Krause. Sometimes an artist took over after having a patch setup for them but other times Beaver was asked to play a part in the recording. Also, because the Moog was monophonic, anything that sounds like a chord is probably not a Moog unless some serious multitracking was done, ala Wendy Carlos in the following year.
Sometimes you have to be a sound detective in picking out the sound of the Moog. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to use a Moog Modular for several years in the early 1970s in the electronic music lab of Temple University. This gives me some familiarity with what the Moog could do and the sounds that it could make. But even then, I am careful not to attribute a sound to a Moog that couldn’t more easily be produced using something else, especially if that “something else” was a part of the recording session. For example, at Motown, where they purchased a Moog in early 1968, why would they use a Moog to reproduce a horn sound when they always had a really fine horn section available for their recordings? So, while a proportion of my collection includes uncredited appearances of the Moog, these are most difficult to confirm other than by a careful listen. For this collection of ten first Moog recordings, only one goes without a credit.
Remember that the Moog was new at the time and, as Bob Moog has said, nobody knew exactly how to use it in popular music. Yet some early trends were evident that have persisted for many years:
Bury the Moog in a mix of many instruments, using it primarily for accents and effects.
Use the Moog to modulate other sounds, making the familiar unfamiliar.
Ramp-up the bottom of a track by using the famous Moog bass sound as a bed underneath the other instruments.
Bring the Moog to the forefront as an instrument on its own, writing tunes expressly for its unique tonalities.
Here are the first ten Moog Modular records I have been able to identify, presented in chronological order from the earliest.
1 Mort Garson, The Zodiac Cosmic Sounds. Released: May 20, 1967. Aquarius: The Lover of Life; and Aries: The Fire-Fighter. Moog programmer: Paul Beaver. Recorded in Los Angeles in late April 1967, this was a famous studio session for which composer-arranger Mort Garson and producer Alex Hassilev called-in a bevy of session musicians to create a musical mind-bending trek through the astrological signs. Narrated by Cyrus Faryar, the session was filled with some of the most famous session players of the time:
Emil Richards – exotic percussion
Bud Shank – bass flute
Hal Blaine – drums
Carol Kaye – bass guitar
Mike Melvoin – keyboards
And Paul Beaver – credited with electronic instruments.
“Must be played in the dark,” are the instructions printed in purple on the back of album cover. This wacky mashup of musical styles was much hyped as a “secret project” prior to its release. Although the Moog Synthesizer is not mentioned in the liner notes--Beaver is credited vaguely with electronic instruments--this was not only the first commercial release of a record featuring the Moog but also the first to chart. The arrangements are pretty brilliant, and it is really difficult at times to separate the Moog from the other instruments sprinkled over this album such the harpsichord, sitar, organ, and tablas. In Aquarius, the first track we heard, the Moog doesn’t enter until the second half of the song in the form of reverberating beeps, every keyboard prior to that is an organ and harpsichord. In the second track, Aries, there is a continuos rising and falling tone similar to a theremin but with a more complex waveform, which could have been played on the Moog’s ribbon control or keyboard. Two other noteworthy musicians who played in the session were Wrecking Crew drummer Hal Blaine and mallet instrument master Emil Richards. These two gentlemen were also responsible for recordings no. 2, 3, and 7 on this list. Mort Garson went on to become a terrific Moog producer and programmer himself, creating some of the most beloved Moog albums of all time. These included an audacious follow-up to The Zodiac Cosmic Sounds consisting of twelve individual albums, one per astrological sign, released by A&M in 1969.
2 Hal Blaine, Love-In (December). Single. Released: June 3. 1967. Moog programmer: Paul Beaver. This is a single from Blaine’s trippy Psychedelic Percussion album (no. 7 below); a case where the single achieves date priority over the album from which it was taken. Accordingly, this is the first 45 RPM single release to feature a Moog. Blaine is the legendary session drummer who played for everyone from the Beach Boys to Frank Sinatra and the Carpenters. Hal Blaine already knew Paul Beaver as a fellow session musician. After being exposed to the Moog during The Zodiac Cosmic Sounds session, Blaine recruited Beaver and Emil Richards to take part in recording one of his daring solo albums. On -Love-In, Blaine was accompanied by Emil Richards’ madcap mallet playing and an ethereal Moog sound played for effect in the background. You can hear the spooky Moog sound mostly in the second half of the song.
3 Emil Richards, New Sound Element, Stones. Released: June 1967. Moog programmer: Paul Beaver. Richards is another well-known Los Angeles session musician. Richards told me that, “Beaver assisted as programmer for these sessions. I played the synthesizer and all mallet instruments on all twelve tracks.” This is the first commercial recording to credit the Moog Synthesizer by name. This concept album revolved around twelve birthstones. We heard tracks called Garnet and Moonstone. There is a lot of Moog going on in these tracks and the way in which they are played in rhythm to the mallet instruments is because Richards was playing the synthesizer. You also hear the Moog prominently as an accompaniment to what sounds like ring modulated mallet instruments. I can’t say for sure if the ring modulation came from the Moog, although a Bode ring modulator module was available around this time.
4 The Seeds, single of Six Dreams, Released: June 24, 1967. This later appeared on their album The Future released August 12, 1967. No Moog credits, but that wind sound heard throughout sounds like modulated white noise from the Moog, an effect used later by the Beatles for I Want You (she’s So Heavy). Not that opening thunderstorm sound, but the windy sound that ebbs and flows through much of the rest of the song. There is a simple Moog patch that modifies the amplitude and attack characteristics of white noise to create this undulating effect—a very common Moog technique. Although no credit is given, I suspect that Paul Beaver provided this effect because the album was recorded at Gold Star Studios in Hollywood, a frequent stopover for Beaver and Krause.
5 The Electric Flag, The Trip soundtrack, the track is called Flash, Bam, Powe. Released: September 9, 1967. Moog programmer: The Electric Flag, a Los Angeles rock group led by Mike Bloomfield (guitar), had an intense fling with the Moog and recruited Paul Beaver to provide electronic sound effects on several tracks for this movie. In this case, you can hear the Moog primarily during the opening of the song and the closing, what might be called the freakout portions of the music. By March of 1968, they also released an album of their own with Beaver on Moog as a member of the band.
6 The Doors, Strange Days. Released: September 7, 1967. Moog programmer: Paul Beaver.
Ray Manzarek recounted in his own book about the Doors the session with Paul Beaver, who was demonstrating an endless variety of Moog sounds to the group. Apparently, they had trouble keeping up with him. When the band would stop Beaver to ask him to go back to a previous patch, he would do his best to recapture the sound and when they heard something they liked they recorded it. This wasn’t the most focused process. In the end, the Moog Modular played only a minor role on this album, that of modulating the voice of Jim Morrison on the song Strange Days. Manzarek recalled that Morrison would trigger the modulating with the keyboard as he sang every word. Also, the track Horse Latitudes might feature some modulated white noise from a Moog.
7 We return to Hal Blaine for record no. 7 on this list. Psychedelic Percussion was the complete album from which the earlier selection Love-In was chosen as a single in June. This album was released on September 30, 1967. For this record, the Moog is listed as the Beaver Electronic Instrument and Paul Beaver credited with electronic devices. The album includes twelve instrumental tracks featuring Blaine’s drumming and an exotic list of featured instruments, from gongs and bird calls to train whistles and sub bass canary. The Moog has a role on every track, mostly for spacey effects The track we heard was Tune In-Turn On.
8 The Monkees, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. Released: November 11, 1967. Featuring Micky Dolenz and Paul Beaver on Moog. The Moog is heard on two tracks, Daily Nightly and Star Collector. Although not literally the first rock record to feature a Moog, this Monkee’s album is probably the most-often cited example of an early Moog because so many people heard it. The Monkees were enormously popular at the time and one episode of their weekly TV show even featured a sequence with Dolenz playing the synthesizer, or at least pretending to while the prerecorded Daily Nightly played. The record is a lot of fun because the Monkees succeeded in using some of the most spacey sounds they could conjure within the context of a pop song. We heard Daily Nightly from the album and Star Collector from a single released in Japan.
9 is an example of the Moog’s use in avant guard electronic music. This revealed Bob Moog’s connections with composers working on the fringe of musical frontiers. The album was called Extended Voices: New pieces for chorus and for voices altered electronically by sound synthesizers and vocoder. Released: November 18, 1967. We heard the track byToshi Ichyanagi, also called Extended Voices (for Voices with Moog Synthesizer and Buchla Associates Modular System. New pieces for chorus and for voices altered electronically by sound synthesizers and vocoder. This was part of a compilation of experimental voice works Ichiyanagi most likely recorded the taped portions of this work in 1967 at the Brandeis Electro-Acoustic Music Studio, located in Waltham MA. The studio is known to have had a Buchla system at that time as well as Moog Modular components. Ichiyanagi was living in New York, having been studying music at the Julliard School of Music and the New School for Social Research. He studied with John Cage and was married to Yoko Ono from 1956-63.
10 Perrey and Kingsley, The first track was a single release called The Savers from December 9, 1967. The second track was from the associated album Kaleidoscopic Vibrations and the track called Fallout. Moog Programmer: Gershon Kingsley and Jean Jacques Perrey who also played Ondioline on the recording. Both were produced in New York without the aid of Paul Beaver.
These tracks showcase the Moog as an instrument in and of itself, using multitracking to form harmonies and other tape effects that they had already mastered. Perrey would go on to a long career in pop music and is mostly associated with the Ondioline, a compact organ. Kingsley recording the tune Popcorn in 1970, which became one of the most covered Mood hits of all time.
11. The Byrds, The Notorious Byrd Brothers, was Released on January 27, 1968. The Moog was programmed and played by Roger McGuinn of the Byrds with assistance from Paul Beaver, with some additional help from producer Gary Usher. Usher played the Moog on “Space Odyssey.” Paul Beaver played on the track, “Natural Harmony.” We heard Space Odyssey. McGuinn later purchased a Moog of his own and completed tracks for the album The Ballad of Easy Rider, Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde, both from 196, and Untitled from 1970.
For The Archive Mix played two additional tracks at the same time, to see what happens. I thought I would continue the theme of Moog music by playing two additional tracks that I think are outstanding examples of the Moog in rock music.
3. Tillicum, the theme from the Canadian TV show “Here Come the Seventies,” by Syrinx. From 1970. John Mills-Cockell on Moog.
4. Komarovsky and Lara’s Rendevous, from the soundtrack to Doctor Zhivago, music by Maurice Jarre, excerpt. This soundtrack from 1965 is rumored to have included an early Moog, but audible evidence is scarce. I think I may have found an example in the deep bass bed midway through this cut. Both were singles and I don’t think either appeared on albums.
Read my book: Electronic and Experimental Music (sixth edition), by Thom Holmes (2020).
Link to my blog for the Bob Moog Foundation.