Cheesy Moog albums take on a new life today, as Mark Jenkins enters a world of crazy, psychadelic, and sometimes funny electronic sounds
In the course of writing my book “Analog Synthesizers” I put together a long “Recommended Listening” section. It includes what I can only call “cheesy Moog” albums.
These come mostly from the second wave of electronic music releases prompted by the great success of Carlos with “Switched On Bach” and Tomita with “Snowflakes Are Dancing” – both pretty much serious looks at the classics. Record labels in the pursuit of similar sales quickly thought to apply the Moog to more popular music – and so the cheesiness began.
Stage musicals, pop songs, Latin music and all sorts of other styles rapidly received the Moog (or sometimes ARP) treatment.
In modern terms it’s only fair to say that most of these albums were not very good. For speed of recording, usually there’s a conventional rhythm section of drums and bass, with a single Moog melody line over the top. And because the Moog had caught the public imagination as much with its crazy noises as with its serious music output, a lot of the sounds are very much of the comedy variety. If you want to hear Beatles songs played with quacking duck sounds, or the musical “Hair” played with human whistles and comedy trumpets, this is just the area for you.
But most people aren’t seeking out these almost 50-year-old releases just for their musical quality. These are terrific collectable items – rare, but not so rare that you can’t find them affordably in thrift stores, on eBay, or Discogs. They often have beautiful photos of Moog studio setups, or better still very psychedelic paintings of synths and their owners.
Here’s a very partial list of artists you might want to look out for. Very, very few of these albums achieved a CD release later on, so you’re basically looking for old vinyl LP releases (so brush off your record deck) and hoping they’re in reasonable condition.
Jean Jacques Perrey
An illustrious electronic music career starting in 1968 with “The Amazing New Electronic Pop Sound Of…” which has original compositions like “Minuet of the Robots”. The album “Moog Indigo” of 1970 is more commonly found, though.
Electronic Concept Orchestra
“Moog Groove” of 1969 claims to be “the first album of electronic rock” but of course is really covering pop – “Oh Happy Day”, “Windmills Of Your Mind”, “Aquarius” and similar. A great cheesy sleeve of Moog Modular, oscilloscope and hippy girl in shorts – until you realise it’s just a collage.
“Moog Power” is quite commonly seen, and like many albums of the period has a go at “Hair” and popular singles like “My Way.” A great sleeve image too.
In fact there’s a whole Moog album devoted to the musical “Hair.” Robert Byrne was the man in charge.
Kingsley also started off very early with electronic keyboards, used several to back up his synthesizer melodies first on “Music To Moog By” in 1969. Sometimes working with Jean Jacques Perrey, he had more than a dozen electronic albums, some of which like “God Is A Moog” do exist on CD. And he composed “Popcorn,” covered more than 50 times and firstly a much bigger success for…
Led by synthesist Stan Free, who created a worldwide singles hit for the synthesizer, coming up with a melody sound that became a preset for many, many (particularly Roland) monophonic synths.
Switched On Hit & Rock
Tomita covering “ Hey Jude,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Imagine,” and more, two years before his worldwide electronic classical breakthrough “Snowflakes are Dancing.”
“Moog Party Time” is commonly found, at least in the UK. It covers “Popcorn,” “Song Sung Blue,” and other chart singles.
“Switched On Buck” of 1971 was the first attempt to my knowledge to cover country music on the Moog.
Note the crazy spelling. “Go Moog” of 1973 covers mostly British singles chart hits from T.Rex, The Sweet, and others. Bill Wellings and Len Hunter were the players responsible.
“Moog – the Electric Eclectics of…” is quite commonly found, and it unusually consists of original compositions (with titles like “The Topless Dancers of Corfu”) and improvisations. No CD release, though this rather jazzy album has been sampled by some. Given its “robot percussion” and repetitive basslines, it has been acclaimed as a precursor to techno.
The German virtuoso light entertainment organist had a couple of Moog-based albums with wonderful sleeve images, notably ”Sound 2000” and the wonderfully titled “Uraltedelschnulzensynthesizergags” of 1974.
Kraft & Alexander
The Canadian duo’s “1812/Nutcracker” is a very symphonic and non-cheesy ARP-based take on Tchaikovsky, very grandiose and well worth hearing. By the time of its release in 1977 the age of the cheesy Moog was over, and electronic keyboards were being taken much more seriously. And in 1979 – Gary Numan.
Now 91, Gilbert Harry “Gil” Trythall is something of an unsung electronic music pioneer. Classically educated, he taught music theory as a Professor at Peabody College, Nashville.
In 1971 he was approached by Athena Records to create albums that would appeal not so much to classical folk as to “country folk.” And so “Switched On Nashville – Country Moog” was born.
The album was unusual in synthesizing much of the backing as well as the melody parts. It’s a very light-hearted take on “Little Green Apples,” ”Polk Salad Annie,“ ”Wichita Lineman,“ and other country melodies, but there are some terrific sounds in use.
The album was released all over the world – in Argentina as “Ritmos Electronicos Connectada a Nashville.” It was so successful that in 1973 a follow-up “Nashville Gold – Switched On Moog” was released, which it’s said was one of Bob Moog’s favorite synth albums.
The two albums were combined in 1973 as “In A Country Moog.” And that could have been the end of that, as the fad for novelty Moog albums quickly passed.
But unlike so many other albums in their field, the two Trythall country albums were picked up in 2007 for a combined CD release by Omni Recording Company, along with a bonus track “Decker’s Creek” and a great 16-page illustrated booklet.
But here’s where it gets really interesting. After a 4-minute silent gap, somebody has snuck in two very serious Trythall electronic compositions – “The Play Of Electrons (excerpt)” which is a short abstract piece from a 45rpm single that accompanied Trythall’s now highly collectable 1973 book “Principles and Practice of Electronic Music” (Grosset & Dunlap); and “Echospace,“ which is a really enjoyable minimalist electronics composition.
It’s very much like a Terry Riley piece using clear Moog sounds with a long repeating tape delay. Towards the end, chordal sounds from a Farfisa organ come in to accompany the Moog.
Gil Trythall did perform and teach long after the two albums were originally released, and in performance is usually seen playing a MiniMoog – he performed alongside local composer Lily Taylor, who adds voice and electronics, in Fort Worth as recently as 2019.
His actual discography is short and mostly unobtainable. “Echospace,” along with “Luxicon 2” had been originally released by Pandora Music in 1980, while “Symphony No. 1,” along with a piece by John Boda, was released by Composers Recordings Inc.
But Soundcloud to the rescue. Now you can find a wonderful page with many of Gil’s more serious compositions, including collaborations with well-known synth musicians like Zon Vern Pyles (link below).
Gil Trythall remains one of those great pioneers of electronic sound who slipped briefly, perhaps reluctantly in some cases, into the wonderful world of the Moogsploitation album. You can find much of this vintage music on YouTube. But with vinyl coming back and record decks becoming widely available once more, now is a wonderful time to seek out those early original examples of “The Cheesy Moog.”