16 October 2006

Nonsense Electronica 10+1

I've always aspired to doing a 'Woebot-style post' and in the wake of Matt's latest offering, I couldn't resist having a crack at it, with tongue firmly in cheek, but with absolute love and respect for what Matt does. I'm crap at taking photos though, so apologies for the dodgy j-pegs. I guess I could've probably stolen some of these from elsewhere on the 'net, but that would've been anti-Woebot. I assure you that all sleeves on display were photographed and cropped from my own collection. Yes, I really do own these bloody things!

Matt takes issue with Simon Reynolds over the 'affordability' factor in record collecting. I have to say I would never pay $250 for a record. I think the most I've ever paid was a little under £60, incl. postage. The record I most covet in the entire world is the 12" promo of Richard H. Kirk's aborted "Wicky Wacky" EP, but when a copy turned up on e-bay a year or so back, I stopped bidding when it went past £100. But I still think it's cool that others would make that sort of commitment. It's true that I do love bargain hunting, and will buy some absolute rubbish simply because it's selling for pennies. My obsession with crappy Moog records began in the bargain bins of the late '80s. Since the publication of Re/Search's "Incredibly Strange Music" Moog records have been steadily increasing in value. Some are genuinely good, but most are utter shite. They're the sort of records that should never be re-issued in the digital age - they belong as historical curios from the days of analogue. Most are exploitative rubbish, designed specifically to cash-in on the brief Moog crazes that surfaced on both sides of the Atlantic from roughly 1968-75. They're not worth the price of the vinyl they're stamped on, and in terms of critical analysis, they're completely under the radar. But still, they didn't ask to be manufactured, and now that their entrepreneurial parents have long-since abandoned them, I feel a strange need to give them a safe, secure home in their dotage. It's a collecting thing...you wouldn't understand.

Anyway, let's have a look at a few, shall we...?

in thought

Elektrik Cokernut - Go-Moog! Smash Hits Synthesiser Style!!!

Bizarrely, this record was once the subject of some brief, excitable discussion between myself and fellow blogger Kek-W. I had to kick-off the list with this because it was my first ever Moogsploitation record, discovered in the bargain bin at the old Plastic Wax store on Old Market, many many years ago. I didn't even know what the hell it was supposed to be - some sort of vintage electronica? But all cover versions of hit records?! I was curious enough to pay the 50p asking price, though was frankly horrified when I played it back home. Since then, of course, I've grown quite affectionate towards it, and other records of it's ilk. The version of "Jeepster" is rollicking good fun, with a crazy synth wig-out near the end, although I think Kek's favourite was the cover of "Mouldy Old Dough". Like so many UK Moog albums of this period, it includes a version of "Popcorn", the Gershon Kingsley-penned hit single by Hot Butter from 1972 which seemed to kick-start the market for British novelty instrumental electronic records over the next couple of years.

in thought

Great Hits Of The 70's - Moog Style

Beware of anything released by Contour Records. In the UK, Contour was a cut-price label specialising in no-nonsense exploitative crap, which, by the time I was buying records in the '80s, you could find two-a-penny in charity shops and bargain bins across the land. This is one of the very worst examples of the UK's novelty Moog market. The backing arrangements are lackluster and the lead Moog tones are uninspired and insipid - a real 'anything'll do' approach. The record was produced by one Barry Kirsch, who should be shot for crimes against music. Some of the other Contour Moog records, like "Romantic Moog" and "Moog Party Time" are slightly better, but I must warn any oversees e-bayers - never believe anybody claiming to sell a 'classic' Contour Record - such a thing simply doesn't exist. This one isn't even worth the shipping fee. About the only thing in it's favour is that it doesn't include "Popcorn", although the versions of "Daniel", "Waterloo" and, gulp, "Long Haired Lover From Liverpool" are heinous enough.

in thought

Denny Morris - Chartbusting Moog

The cover design is encouraging: on the front we have a nice illustration showing a keyboard (the slightly yellow tinge makes me think of a Roland SH-09) with various knobs and dials floating around it. The rear shows a b&w detail of an impressive-looking modular synthesiser, suggesting that this is a record that takes it's technological slant seriously. Alas, the music within is completely at odds with that idea - it is yet more uninspired drivel for the UK masses, care of the long-forgotten Windmill label. The collection starts off, as usual, with "Popcorn", which is frankly bloody ridiculous when you think that this album was released in 1975 - a clear three years after Popcorn's runaway success. At least we get a reasonably proficient version of "Pepper Box", a top ten synth hit for French instrumental group The Peppers from the previous year. The cover of "Honey, Honey" is listenable, and it's nice to hear a Moog version of "I Get A Kick Out Of You", but "La Bamba" is abhorrent.

in thought

Synthesonic Sounds - Moog At The Movies

For my money, the Synthesonic Sounds records were the best of British novelty Moog. They were produced by Mike Batt, who is possibly best known as the man behind a series of hit singles as The Wombles, a spin-off from the popular children's TV series. As such, Mike has the dubious honour of being possibly the only person to record Moog cover versions who also got to see one of his own compositions immortalised on the Moog ("The Wombling Song" on the above-mentioned "Smash Hits Of The '70's" album). On this record, Mike and his team tackle some great music - Walter Carlos' "Clockwork Orange Theme", the "Love Theme from The Godfather", some funky shit like "Shaft" and "Superfly" and, er, "Live And Let Die" and do a pretty good job! The version of Curtis Mayfield's "Superfly" is particularly satisfying - up there with Dick Hyman's "Give It Up Or Turn It Loose" for spirited, if slightly flakey, funkiness. But although the album title clearly credits the Moog, the synth used in the sleeve illustration looks suspiciously like an ARP 2600! Batt followed this record with another decent Synthesonic album called "Ye Olde Moog" - folktronica 70's style! If you see either of these for sale, they're worth a punt at around £5 - but absolutely no more than a tenner!

in thought

Hans Wurman - The Moog Strikes Bach...

In the States, the Moog craze kicked-of a few years earlier, the catalyst being Walter Carlos' surprise success story "Switched On Bach" in '68. Consequently, America's novelty Moog market was heavily slanted towards electronic renditions of classical works (although it pursued a pop angle too - see The Moog Machine, Electronic Concept Orchestra, loads of stuff on Command Records, etc). The good thing about these classical records was the emphasis on 'pure' electronic realisations, aspiring to the level of technological sophistication that Carlos achieved in his apartment with a homemade multitrack and giant customised Moog. This record by Hans Wurmann came out in 1969, and is clearly an attempt by the RCA label to grab a chunk of Carlos' action, even making sure to include Bach's name in the title, despite there being only one Bach composition on the whole record! I love the sleeve on this one: crew-cut Hans is clearly no hipster, but they've dressed him up in a 'groovy' shirt and surrounded him with cardboard cut-outs of the great composers - a sort of Sgt. Pepper on the cheap. On the rear sleeve we see Hans more formally attired in a suit (which was I suspect his usual mode of dress) sitting before an impressive modular Moog system complete with oscilliscope and other arcane electronic devices. Hans was something of a Moog evangelist; in the sleeve notes he goes into raptures about this "new instrument - awesome to contemplate", and his electronic interpretations of Chopin and Rachmaninoff are mildly entertaining, plus I'm a total sucker for his take on Mozart's "Turkish March", which always reminds me of playing Lemmings on the Amiga. But Hans really pushes the boat out on his own "Thirteen Variations on a Theme of Paganini", which in places seems like an uncanny prophesy of the Radiophonic Workshop's output in the following decade.

in thought

Andrew Kazdin and Thomas Z. Shepard - Everything You Ever Wanted to Hear on the Moog*

Another classical Moog excursion, but from a few years later in '73, with a bit of a Spanish theme. Possibly one of my favourites, mainly on account of the opening version of Chabrier's "Espana" with it's completely bonkers electronic arrangements that make no attempt at the subtle replication of conventional orchestra. Crazy, outlandish and bombastic, you can tell they had a lot of fun putting this track together. The whole of side 2 is devoted to an unabridged rendition of Revel's "Bolero", which simply defies description, or even rational explanation. I dig the cover illustration, with the conductor directing his orchestra of swaying, crooning patch cords - a deliciously cartoonish, naive vision of analogue modular synthesis. I generally just love crude line drawings filled-in with rich, handpainted watercolours anyway. The artist was Tomi Ungerer. Nice one, Tomi.

in thought

Claude Denjean - Open Circuit

Another tasty example of Art Naive, with this lovely illustration that reminds me of Simone Grant's Silicon Teens sleeves (I wrote a little post on that ages ago which, funnily enough, referenced Woebot(nik) too!). On the rear of the sleeve, the 2-pin plug connects to the socket as the two lovers kiss. Which must be very symbolic of something, I suppose. With a sleeve like this, you'd assume the music would be gorgeous, but alas that just isn't the case. Any definitive list of Moog records will probably include Denjean's Decca release "Moog!" from 1971, and rightly so. But this follow-up from '73 lacks the balls-out punch and percussion-heavy groove of his earlier collection. Mind you, the version of Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" needs to be heard to be believed! Denjean released one more record that I know of - the equaly lackluster "Moods" - but from there the trail goes cold...

in thought

Klaus Wunderlich - Sound 2000 3: The Electronic Sound Of Music

To most people over the age of 65, Klaus Wunderlich was The Man. My Uncle Mike (himself a semi-pro organist) thinks he was a genius, and my father-in-law is a big fan too. But for the rest of us...well, let's just say that the only record from his large back catalogue you're ever likely to need - at a push! - is Sound 2000 1, Klaus' big modular Moog project that, in relative terms, pushed the envelope of what could be done with the easy-listening instrumental keyboard album. Volume 2 focused on electronically treated piano, and this, the final part of the Sound 2000 mini-series (all released by the Hamburg-based Telefunken label), is where it all gets combined with his more familiar Lowry and Wersi organ sounds. I found this one quite recently - about four years ago in a dusty little charity shop in a remote part of Northern Ireland. I bought three records for a pound, including this. Massively disappointing album, unfortunately. I don't wanna diss the deceased Mr. Wunderlich out of hand, cos I respect his high technical skills as a musician and engineer, but perhaps that's the problem. The music is simply too discreet and well-produced to make any sort of impression. Where's the gag? Where's the punchline?!

in thought

Switched On Burt Bacharach

Check this - a record so innocuous that no artist is even credited with recording it. However, I suspect that this doublepack is the European version of the Switched-On Bacharach records made by a guy called Sir Christopher Scott, originally released as two separate volumes in the States by MCA Records. This is the 'Twin Deluxe' edition, care of Coral Records, which commits the unforgivable sin of squandering the artistic/design potential the gatefold sleeve format. Open it up and all you get is a repeat of the tracklist found on the rear sleeve, against a plain background. Wankers! From a musical perspective, it's hard to find anything constructive to say. It covers pretty much all the great moments of Bacharach's career, and after hearing so many fantastic songs being slowly murdered, one starts to loose the will to live.

in thought

Tommy Seebach - Wheels

We have EMI (Australia) Ltd to thank for this one. Subtitled '...with the magic of the moog', this is actually more of a general easy-instrumental album, as Mr. Seebach also plays piano, organ and (yuck!) mouth organ on some tracks. But when he does fire-up the Moog, as on the title track, it's some of the most sickly-squelchy cheese nonsense you could ever hope, or dare, to hear. The versions of "Silhoettes" and "Sealed With A Kiss" are bearable, but really, you don't ever need to hear this record. Next!!

in thought

Mike Timoney - The Astounding Sound Of The Cordovox

Another dodgy Contour release, but this ain't no Moog record. According to the (unusually detailed) sleevenotes, the Cordovox was some sort of electronic accordian and, despite the hyperbole in the title, I can assure you there's absolutely nothing 'astounding' about it. The Cordovox basically imitates organ tones in a vaguely Hammond-like way. There's probably more info about this instrument on the 'net, but I honestly can't be arsed to google it. But what about the performer, Mr. Timoney? A 'small, frail man', born in Manchester in 1944, started playing accordian at age 7, won the All Britain Junior Championship at age 14 and became a regular performer at the Warren Club in Stockport. He liked to modify his Cordovox to "try to exactly reproduce the sounds he keeps hearing in his head". Wot a guy! Unfortunately, these tepid reworkings of "Whiter Shade Of Pale", "Je T'aime" and an inadvisable stab at "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly" don't really bring that across. But wait! Tucked away in the middle of side 2 is a wicked rendition of "Time Is Tight", where the backing group suddenly metamorphisise into Neu! for a cool motoric excursion as Timoney's watery Cordovox tones sweep ethereally above. Worth a quid of anyone's money!!

*...but were afraid to ask.


WOEBOT said...

fantsastic stuff nick! i'm speechless with admiration.

kek-w said...

Hahaha...top post, Nick!

Yeah: The Elektrik Cokernut rules...their bonkers version of 'Mouldy Old Dough' was the theme-tune to my radio-show some years back...and I always play it in a DJ set if circumstances allow it!

I covet a copy of that Mike Timoney LP, though...that cover scan has got me salivating. Now that's what I call a record sleeve...

Ben.H said...

You forgot to mention that the Moog-ified Bolero comes complete with synthesised audience applause at the end!

Also, I don't know if it's unabridged or not, but 12 minutes is pretty lean for a version of Bolero, let alone an entire LP side. But yeah, an amazing feat of painstaking skill and complete worthlessness.

Anonymous said...

haha! great post.

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Anonymous said...


Is there any chance that any of those great albums could be shared please?

Anonymous said...


Is there any chance that any of those great albums could be shared please?"

You can find it here: http://www.fatbaron.com/everything/

Anonymous said...

Oops! That link refers to Everything You Always Wanted to Hear on the Moog....

persiflage said...

Great post. Could you possibly provide pointers on photographing LP sleeves? I have given up looking for an affordable scanner capable of scanning 12"x12".

Thanks and best wishes.

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