Thom Holmes: Indexing the Moog Modular from 1967-1970

The Moog Modular 1967–1970: An Index*

Tabulating Leading Indicators of Early Moog Influence

I want to look back to four years that changed electronic music history. The years were 1967 to 1970, the first years during which Bob Moog’s Modular Synthesizer were widely available. Much has been written about the engineering of this synthesizer, and Bob Moog’s instruments even today are still regarded as the Gold Standard in electronic music instrumentation.

The years 1967 to 1970 are interesting because the Moog Modular was nearly the only synthesizer being used at the time. What allowed Moog to rise above these other instruments were its musician-friendly controls and extensive modularity, allowing a studio, school, or individual to build an instrument meeting various budgets and needs. From its early designs, the Moog Modular was equipped with a piano-style keyboard controller for playing notes (triggering voltages). In addition to Range and Scale controls, the keyboard controller included the innovative Portamento control for gliding from one note to another. As such, it was immediately embraced by musicians working in nearly every popular genre of music.

Music Recordings, Imitation and Influence

An instrument alone means little without experiencing the music made with it. Listening to early music using the Moog Modular gets to the heart of what inspired so many musicians and the emergence of an entire industry. For this reason, I have been engaged in collecting, documenting, and preserving every commercial recording of the Moog Modular synthesizer that appeared between the years 1967 and 1970. This period was the heyday of the Moog Modular, when synthesizers were expensive and mostly sold to an eclectic mix of recording studios, university music schools, producers of music for media, and private individuals who had the means to afford one.

Commercial music recordings are a great source of data. They can tell you about music and musical styles from a bygone era, but they can also tell you about the use and geographic distribution of technology. Liner notes can provide vital clues to the people, technology, and relationships involved in the emerging phenomenon of electronic music. Naturally, this led to a cascade of accelerating innovation and imitators, both in the making of music and the making of synthesizers.

But what did the world of synthesis look like during these formative years? I thought it would be fun to tabulate a few leading indicators of the Moog’s influence based on what I have found by following the instrument and recordings made with it.

By the Numbers—Moog Modular Influence, 1967–1970

Number of commercial synthesizer makers in 1970: 4 (Moog, Buchla, EMS, ARP)

Estimated total retail value of the worldwide synthesizer market in 1970: $2,028,000

Percentage of Moog’s market share in 1970: 90

Estimated U.S. market for Electronic Music Instruments in 2012 (NAMM stats for sales of keyboard synths, rhythm machines, controller keyboards, electronic pianos and organs): $226,000,000

Percentage of Moog’s market share in 2012: 4.4

Value of the worldwide electronic music genre (instruments, artists, recordings) in 2012 (Association for Electronic Music): $4,000,000,000

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Number of commercial synthesizer makers in the 1970s: 33

Number of commercial synthesizer makers in the 1980s: 36

Number of commercial synthesizer makers in 2013: 127

Portion of that number producing software-only instruments: 97

Number of companies that introduced analog synthesizers in 1978 that were still in business eight years later: 6 of 18

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fig 3-223 recordings
Moog Modular Recordings Multiply, 1967–1970

Number of commercial recordings made using the Moog Modular Synthesizer that were released from 1967 to 1970: 223**

Percentage of these from 1967: 7

Percentage of these from 1968: 21

Percentage of these from 1969: 28

Percentage of these from 1970: 44

fig 2-Paul Beaver
Paul Beaver (pictured here) along with Bernie Krause, were the Most Sought-After Moog Modular Musicians

Percentage of all 223 recordings on which Paul Beaver and/or Bernie Krause operated the Moog Modular Synthesizer: 30

Estimated number of motion picture soundtracks (mostly unreleased on record) for which Paul Beaver and Bernie Krause contributed Moog sounds from 1967 to 1970: 150

~~~~

Percentage of Moog recordings made in Los Angeles area: 30

Percentage made in New York: 25

Percentage made in London: 5

Percentage of London Moog recordings made using George Harrison’s Abbey Road instrument: 60

Number of songs on the Abbey Road album featuring the Moog: 4 (“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” “I Want You,” “Here Comes the Sun,” “Because”)

~~~~

fig 5-the trip
The First Rock Recording to use a Moog

The first rock recordings with a credit for the Moog Modular Synthesizer:  The Electric Flag’s soundtrack for The Trip (The Electric Flag with Paul Beaver, September 9,1967; Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. (the Monkees, November 11, 1967)

Most famous musician to buy a Moog Modular but never use it: Jimi Hendrix

fig 1-SoB
Switched-on Bach by Wendy Carlos, the Top-Selling Exclusively Moog Recording of All Time

Number of weeks Switched-on Bach (released November 1968) was number 1 on the Billboard classical music charts: 153

By 1970, number of other Moog albums with the words “Switched-On” in their title: 11

Number of Moog Christmas albums released by 1970: 3

  • A Very Merry Electric Christmas to You (Douglas Leedy)
  • Switched-on Santa (Sy Mann, Jean Jacques Perrey)
  • Christmas Becomes Electric (The Moog Machine)

Number of weeks on the Billboard charts by the next most popular mostly-Moog recording of the time, Moog: The Electric Eclectics of Dick Hyman: 23

Months between the release of Dick Hyman’s Moog single The Minotaur (March 1969) and Lucky Man by Emerson Lake & Palmer: 23

Musical genres making use of the Moog Modular Synthesizer in recordings by 1970: popular, rock, folk, jazz, classical, country, Broadway, motion picture soundtracks; experimental

First successful cover version of a Moog composition: Popcorn by Hot Butter (1972), a remake of Gershon Kingsley’s song Pop Corn (1969)

Country in which Popcorn was most popular: France

Number of cover versions of Popcorn since 1972: 51

Percent of these cover versions made in Europe: 95

Rarest early Moog Modular recording: Drift Study 4:37:40-5:09:50 PM 5 VIII 68 NYC, by La Monte Young (1968)

Number of copies released of Drift Study (reel-to-reel tape): 25

*Much of this blog is derived from “Confessions of a Moog Discographer,” a lecture I gave at Brown University on November 21, 2013.

**Based on the current number of recordings in my growing archive.

 

Thom_Holmes_1Thom Holmes is a music historian and composer specializing in the history of electronic music and recordings. He is the author of the textbook, Electronic and Experimental Music (fourth edition, Routledge 2012) and writes the blog, Noise and Notations. For his ongoing project, The Sound of Moog, he is archiving every known early recording of the Moog Modular Synthesizer.

 

Twitter: Thom_Holmes

blog: Noise and Notations

http://www.thomholmes.com/

 If you want to read more from Thom Holmes, please see his many fascinating historical blogs here: http://moogfoundation.org/search/Thom+Holmes

11 Responses to “Thom Holmes: Indexing the Moog Modular from 1967-1970”

  1. Marty Ahlijanian

    This is truly fascinating, and a great collection of information. (I guess I’ll have to dust off my copy of that ancient Monkees album and give a closer listen.)
    I was surprised there was no mention of Arp – thought their modulars came out on the heels of Moog. Were they significantly later?
    Great job!

  2. Thomas Fang

    Well-researched and informative article, Thom. But in the second paragraph you’ve made one factual error:

    “The Moog Modular was the only synthesizer at the time with a piano-style keyboard controller for playing notes (triggering voltages).”

    The EMS DK1 keyboard, built to accompany the VCS3, was available in 1969.

  3. Chris

    Just for the record, there were actually four synthesizer companies in 1970, not three: Moog, Buchla, EMS, and ARP. Buchla and EMS synths at the time were far more esoteric and difficult to use (the EMS instruments in particular were notorious for instability due to the patch matrix, though they were still popular with bands like Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, and Gong…and Brian Eno used one throughout the 70’s, and the BBC had a huge EMS Synthi 100, similar to the one that can be heard on Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Sirius). ARP was Moog’s biggest competitor in the early 70’s, with their instruments being used by the likes of Pete Townshend, Stevie Wonder, Joe Zawinul, Herbie Hancock, Jon Lord and Tony Banks.

  4. Chris

    Oh, and anyone looking for which songs The Monkees used the Moog on, it’s most prominent on Star Collector and Daily Nightly. The instrument actually was owned by Mickey Dolenz, who bought it after seeing it being demonstrated at the Monterey Pop Festival. That’s Mickey playing it on Daily Nightly, and Paul Beaver playing it on Star Collector. Both songs were featured in the second season of the TV show, with the clip of them miming Daily Nightly displaying the instrument itself. I think I read where Mickey said he later sold his Moog to Bobby Sherman (I think it was Bobby Sherman). Mickey’s was something like the 3rd or 4th Moog modular built.

  5. David Borden

    I notice that you have not included Mother Mallard’s Portable Masterpiece Co. in this list. Although our first album was not released until 1973, it was ready to go in 1970, and recorded at the Moog Co. in Trumansburg NY except for some tweaking of Ceres Motion and Easter which was done at the Mother Mallard Studio in Enfield, NY after Bob moved the company to Buffalo.. Also, we used three modular Moogs in live performance from 1970 on: Bob’s original demonstration unit, a Moog X (which was lost in a fire) and a prototype Moog 1CA which I gave back to Moog at his request around 2002. The latter was in the collection of the Moog Foundation, but I am not sure who has it now since the archives have been donated to Cornell University.

  6. Triplanetary

    It is interesting how old stories persist about what are now historical artefacts or beloved bucket list possession. The EMS Synthi was and is not unstable due to its patch matrix (which in fact took many yards of EMI, RFI inducing wire out of the circuit) but rather the expectation of a conventional interface was its main impediment in the US market. The EMS VCS3 was not even conceived as a keyboard instrument and as late as 1984 oscillator stabilisation / synchronisation was a modification. Although not a synthesiser but a relative, the Streetly Electronics Mellotron / Novatron was greeted similarly with charges of unreliability by people who were unused to having tapes rather than hammers and gears under their keys, Mean time between failure on a Mellotron M400 was rather astounding if it had nominal care. I am happy to note that both companies are still in operation, EMS still building the Synthi A and VCS3 without keyboards but a very long waiting list. Streetly, Mellotronics are making the very impressive all analog M4000 with a slightly shorter waiting list and they can refurbish any older Mellotron.

  7. Thom Holmes

    Thanks for the enthusiastic response to this month’s blog! Our well-informed readers have brought some interesting points to our attention. We have revised the blog to reflect the presence of Arp synthesizers in 1970. Although Arp was indeed a player at the time, having been founded in 1969, I hadn’t felt that they made a huge impression on the market until 1971, which is why I hadn’t originally thought to include them. But let’s correct the record on that one (thanks Marty Ahlijanian). The EML and its ElectroComp is another lesser known synth maker from that time. Thanks also to Thomas Fang for pointing out that the Moog wasn’t the only synth in 1970 with a keyboard—the EMS VCS 3 could be equipped with an optional DK1 velocity sensitive keyboard. I’ve revised my statement about that as well, clarifying that Moog had a keyboard from its early designs. Best to everyone! –Thom

  8. Roikat

    I always thought Jimi Hendrix’ modular made one appearance on his records: the quacky, harpsichord-y sound on the song “Burning of the Midnight Lamp.” The Wikipedia page for that song says it was an actual harpsichord! I swear I remember an interview with someone (probably Eddie Kramer) who said it was the only use of Jimi’s Moog … I must re-listen to the track and research further …

  9. Dana Countryman

    One more song used the Moog on the Beatles’ album “Abbey Road”, and that’s “Mean Mr. Mustard.”

    – dc

  10. Dale Charles

    I’ve got The Monkees 1967 RA Moog Modular #1019 here
    http://compago.net/music/moog/ws/index.html

  11. Brian Kehew

    Correction to a reader comment above: Hendrix’s “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” is the Baldwin Electric Harpsichord, an electrified acoustic instrument, but not a synthesizer. It was borrowed from Mike Matthews, who later founded the Electro-Harmonix pedal company in NYC.

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