So there I was minding my own business mowing like any other middle-aged guy, when last Saturday afternoon a package arrived on my doorstep. It had arrived from the frozen tundra and icy, harsh landscapes of Canada. From what I’ve read on fan fiction sites and in The Federalist, it’s a desolate place where Prime Minister Geddy Lee rules with a iron fist wrapped in super heavy gauge bass strings, people fight to the death with hockey sticks in the streets of Toronto and Quebec City, and by graduation every high school student must know by heart all three seasons of Degrassi Junior High and must write a thesis on Wheels’ journey to find his grandpa. Now I’m no fool, I’m perfectly aware that Wheels left to find his dad, not his grandpa. Regarding all the other stuff, well I’ll wait for more fan fiction to fill in the blanks.
My good friend Aaron over at keepsmealive came across this most excellent record called Moog Groove during one of his record store stops and sent a pic of it to me. He asked me if I would be interested in it, and I said “Yes!” A week later it arrived in all of its cheeky glory for me to enjoy(and annoy my family with.) Aaron, along with his pal James, do a fantastic job over at Keepsmealive of talking about music in a way that musicphiles can sink their teeth into. It’s not the “passing fancy” kind of music writing. It’s dudes deep into the grooves, professing their love of the musical arts to the Gods and mortals across the universe. They also have this thing called the “Grail List”, where they’ve amassed a large collection of albums folks from across these great lands are in search of. When they’re out and about they look for said grail albums for those that cannot find them. Aaron has espoused on “Community!” to me, and he is a firm believer in chipping in and helping folks get those sweet, sweet vinyls in their grubby hands. If you ask me, I think the guy should be sainted, or knighted.
Or at the very least maybe get a gift certificate for a free coffee and donut.
So now that you know how I came to possess Moog Groove, let me tell you about it. It came out in 1969, and it was a novelty LP where hits of the day were performed almost entirely on a moog synthesizer. By this time the moog had gone from this space age instrument creating the sounds of the future to the musical equivalent of a plastic kazoo or a whoopie cushion. They were being used for sound effects on tv shows and sci fi films, while one was even highlighted in a beer commercial.
Makes you want to pop open a Schaefer, doesn’t it?
Anyways, the point is this highly technical, beautifully constructed instrument had become sort of mainstream. Wendy Carlos showed what could be done with a moog on her 1968 album Switched-On Bach, an album that may sound kitchy, but the time it took to create those pieces is anything but kitchy. But by the time 1969 rolled around every K-Tel Records wanted to have their “Moog” album out. Moog Groove was that for Mercury Records.
Okay, so this album is novelty, cheeky, corny, and pretty much any other “-y” word you can think of. But there’s also a certain aged charm to it. Like that old guy that smelled like Swisher Sweets that told crazy stories at family get-togethers out at the picnic table. Stories that used to bug you and make you feel a little queasy, but now that he’s gone and that picnic table has long given into the elements you sort of miss those stories and that faint smell of cheap cherry-scented cigars. Listening to the Moog-tastic “Hey Jude”, “Both Sides Now”, and “Feelin’ Alright” there’s a twinge of melancholy that comes over me. It reminds me of times of being a kid and riding my bike to the local convenient store and buying a bagful of penny candies and playing arcade games as I gulped down a Mountain Dew. It puts me in our old Oldsmobile and going with my mom the JC Penney mail order pick up store to grab those green Osh Kosh pants she ordered for me. I think of watching In Search Of, old Charlie Brown holiday specials, and lousy 60s sci fi flicks with my dad on Friday nights. Or having epic paper football games with my older brother in his room on rainy Saturday afternoons.
Even the cheekiest of novelty music can do something to you. It gets my overactive imagination going. Listening to this record I imagine some alternate world where all the popular songs of the day are turned into these Muzak-rendered songs, performed on these circuit-filled wooden boxes that an android in all chrome performs for the matriarchy that rules. Everything sounds like space-aged elevator music. There’s something sickly sweet about that.
But the most interesting piece on here is “Windmills Of Your Mind”. They take a Dusty Springfield hit and turn it into this dark, baroque lament. There’s something quite eerie and haunting about the sound of a Moog creating human emotion through minor key melodies. The song, thanks to the ghostly beauty of the Moog, is transformed into something like a medley for a sad android. For me, this is what the Moog was created for. It’s like a machine yearning to feel. Or something like that.
So there you have it. Moog Groove, as cheesy as it may be, can still pull on the heartstrings. My heartstrings, anyways. It’s a K-Tel collection for the paranoid android. Many thanks to Aaron. I owe you one, my friend.
Now, how about an ice cold Schaefer?