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
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
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
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”)
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
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 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.
blog: Noise and Notations