Robert Moog, RIP

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Everyone's favorite prog rock enabler is dead. Robert Moog made synthesizers that almost anyone circa 1970, given enough time and patch cords, could use to make sounds and noises no keyboard had ever made before. Much like Les Paul's electric guitar did years before, the Moog anticipated and encouraged the DIY vibe that carries right through to today's digital musical scene.

So pull up some Kraftwerk or Tangerine Dream or, my fave, the wholly superfluous Keith Emerson solo at the end of ELP's "Lucky Man," and say a little thank you to Mr. Moog.

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  1. I don’t know how old you are, Jeff, but that “superfluous” synth solo was what got people’s attention in that song when it came out. When a list of rock’s most influential 500 songs came out several years ago, I thought it was a crime that it wasn’t included, cause it singlehandedly led the synth craze of the day. Now, whether it was “good” is another story. In fact, “incongruous” I think would be a better description of the solo. When I heard that Emerson was just goofing around in the next room not knowing that he was being recorded, I thought now THAT makes sense. But still, it is does rather work and is even downright effective, in its own silly, pretentious, dated (and ironic) way.

    Seems the day is gone that individuals get associated with particular instruments. Moog, Theremin, Les Paul are perhaps all from a bygone era….

  2. I’ve always been priced out of owning a Minimoog. When I was a kid and they could be had for $500, I couldn’t afford $500. When I was in college, suddenly the electronica and rapper types discovered them, and they were $1500. Now they’re north of $3000, and I just can’t justify that.

    Sigh. I’d wanted to meet him, since I used to live close to Asheville, now that won’t happen.

    I saw Keith Emerson with the Nice and his restored Moog Modular in London in 2002. Used mainly for his butt-floss ribbon controller solo, but still loads of fun.

  3. fyodor, his story always was that they asked him to put something on at the end, and started it through so he could improvise and come up with something. He didn’t realize they were recording it, so when he said, “OK, let’s go back and try a take,” they were raving about the initial performance and wouldn’t hear of it.

  4. Those octave leaps in that Emerson solo may in fact be the defining moment in Moog rock.

    Sandy, a former bandmate of mine had a Minimoog, and we actually got to use it on an EP we recorded, overdubbing it to create a little harmonized hook. ‘Twas a thing of beauty.

    I think my favorite recent use was by Matthew Sweet, on “Where You Get Love” from the Blue Sky On Mars album. Just a repeating, persistent root-fifth-octave thing that he stole from Cheap Trick, over and over, through at least two or three key changes. RIP, Mr. Moog.

  5. “So pull up some Kraftwerk or Tangerine Dream or, my fave, the wholly superfluous Keith Emerson solo at the end of ELP’s “Lucky Man,” and say a little thank you to Mr. Moog.”

    “Superfluous?!” The song was *nothing* without it! Just silly “social commentary.” The Moog at the end made it rock.

  6. Below is a missive I sent to some of my cronies, recounting an event that took place in the Fall of 2003 at Washington, DC “niteclub,” the preposterousness of which I inadvertantly exacerbated by my sporting of a tee featuring a MOOG logo.

    I did receive an update on the young lady in this story. Later, it was reported, she has moved out of the storage space she rented to live in and gotten herself a “real job,” at Urban Outfitters. In America, anybody can reach for the stars.

    Mr. Moog, THANK YOU, and may you Rest In Peace.
    – JVLaB

    “Man, that MOOG logo shirt is quite the rage among the hipster set, I tell you what.
    I’m still not certain exactly how – and, indeed, considering my extended, interminable adolescence, even if – events at Saint-Ex late, late Sun. night transpired as I now ostensibly remember them to have gone down, but…

    …that was no mere idle threat of impending toplessness (To our friend, the Girl Who Most Looks Like an Asian Girl Would Look Like, Who’s Not Actually Asian at All: “We’re gonna get topless tonight! You’re cute. You in?”) issued by that SupaSexxxy “Chick Who Cuts Her Own Hair (yet in truth pays another person a handsome sum to make her coif appear that way…),” the very one who later pulled me towards her by my left nipple, proffering patently false claims of personal MOOG ownership.

    Once we dispensed of that halfhearted ruse, she then proceeded to promise, – unprompted by my dirty schoolboy’s suggestive wishfulthinking, I might add – to send me pix of herself “jacking off” (NOTE: I’m not comfortable with gals employing this expression as it unintentionally implies “he-she-ry” but…) in a MOOG tee shirt, if I’d procure (and, later, I found out, of course, “pay for”) one for her, baby doll tee style.

    As she gyrated about the dance floor, a few mins. later, grinding with the funky, foxy 6ft. Lady DJ (her set featured her boucing bangs, giant retro headphones and a lot of Bananarama remixes), I tried to muster the temerity to take off my MOOG tee and cover her bare, perfected “breastseses” scolding her for making a scene, embarrassing us all and imploring of her: “Are you happy NOW?!”

    Alas, it was all I could to to summon the strength to strike that disinterested, nonchalant pose which would permit me to grab a few, brief, seemingly innocuous glances of those perfectly shaped “bajumbas” bouncing up & down mere yards away. Quite a feat, I might boast, esp. considering how tight she squeezed my bum toward her during our abortive “repart?e” only moments before.

    A quick survey of the room noted every straight male in the dump striking that same pose, looking toward the dance floor, yet never directly at the boobies in question. (No self respecting indie rock poseur would ever deign to “stare at tits.”) Even that drunken Dime Store Indian of a Mexican busboy at the end of the bar managed not to gawk. The late Freddy Prinze, Sr. would be right proud.

    A notable exception was the DJ, the host of the event. He jumped from his booth and rubbed up against her, pretending to “dance” with her. He began the eve. with class, by ostentatiously kissing every Chick Who Cuts Her Own Hair in the joint, on the mouth.

    I never did get suckered into abusing my tee shirt contacts for a MOOG shirt for her, though I trod precipitiously close to that edge.
    Thus, I left that night with what is left of my dignity intact, but a little dehydrated from heavy losses in drool.

    And, I vow to NEVER wash my MOOG novel-tee shirt AGAIN, even when I send it to the Smithsonian Institution upon my retirement to my coffee plantation (and the Muthaiga Club) in Kenya.

    Sincerely,
    Horny McHairlip himself, age 12.

  7. I’ll not only listen to some ELP, and Kraftwerk (divine madness!) but to Wendy/Walter Carlos and some Switched on Bach!

  8. Fy — ELP’s debut constitutes one third of the first LPs I ever purchased, along with their Trilogy and the Who’s Live at Leeds, all found in a cut-out bin at a Charlotte K-Mart for $3, $3, and $3.50, respectively (I had a $10 from mowing grass, I was 13ish in 1978 or so.)

    But the Moog thang was well under way before Emerson tossed off that solo, superfluous as it was not to the history of the instrument, but surely to Greg Lake’s 12-string strum-fest. To put it in context, by the time Luck Man charted in ’71, 1970 hadalready seen Switched on Nashville, featuring the Moog doing country tunes, an obvious follow on to Wendy Carlos’ Switched on Bach from ’68.

    So I’d have to say Emerson’s solo turn alerted to the general public to the possibilities of the Moog in the hands an expert player, but that the experimentation phase was already well under way among the musical community.

  9. Dig that Moog on Joni Mitchell’s “The Jungle Line” from The Hissing Of Summer Lawns — it’s just Joni, the Moog, and a recording of Burundi drummers.

    Those of you seriously needing a Moog fix might want to check out Arturia’s line of classic synth software emulators. I own the Moog Modular V, and have played around with demo versions of the minimoog and the ARP 2600. Not only are these great for patch-cord sonic experimentation, but you can also use them in most computer recording studio apps.

    Few have had as great of an impact on the sonic landscape of popular music. Rest In Peace.

  10. Now I remember…my brother and I recorded Lucky Man off the radio onto a cassette. But the pinch roller must have been dirty…so the singing part speeded up to like a 33 played at 45 rpm…and then slowed down to sound like a 33 rpm played at 16.6 rpm. “Ooooohwhataluckyman heee waaaasssss.” Then it fixed itself just in time for the Moog solo.

    The perfect song.

  11. The Moog Cookbook is a good novelty tribute. Here’s the tracklist:

    1. Black Hole Sun
    2. Buddy Holly
    3. Basket Case
    4. Come Out and Play
    5. Free Fallin’
    6. Are You Gonna Go My Way?
    7. Smells Like Teen Spirit
    8. Even Flow
    9. One I Love
    10. Rockin’ in the Free World

    Dick Hyman’s MOOG is just out there.

  12. Actually, Moog Cookbook’s Ye Olde Space Band is much better:

    1. Born to Be Wild
    2. Cat Scratch Fever
    3. Sweet Home Alabama
    4. More Than a Feeling
    5. Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love
    6. Whole Lotta Love
    7. Ziggy Stardust
    8. 25 or 6 to 4
    9. Hotel California
    10. Rock & Roll All Night

  13. Synth sounds got really ugly (in a bad way) when MIDI was in its infancy from the late ’80s to the young ’90s. Thin, airy, hissy pseudo-flute patches and mushy reverb bass notes are what I most remember.

    Then, fortunately, some hip-hop impresarios rediscovered the meaty bleeps and bloops, pink blasts and white noise virtues of the analog technology, and all was forgiven.

    I like Whitehouse. And Kraftwerk. And the first 4 Devo LPs.

  14. don’t confuse midi with general midi modules. it’s bad for your teeth.

  15. I saw this earlier today and was wondering if it was going to merit a mention here, and in positive or negative. You never know how the cultural commentary here is going to sway.

    As much I enjoyed certain synth tracks on certain songs, when I was growing up there was a definite vibe that anything with synths sucked.

    Like any other tool, they could be used for either good or evil.

  16. Tangerine Dream

    Wow, less obscure than I thought.

  17. What about Rick Wakeman, in Yes. Wasnt that perfectly moogy?

    And King Crimson > all other prog

  18. I’ll not only listen to some ELP, and Kraftwerk (divine madness!) but to Wendy/Walter Carlos and some Switched on Bach!

    Where’s my Clockwork Orange soundtrack album?

  19. No mention of the soundtrack to “A Clockwork Orange”???!! Well, at least several of the commenters mentioned the musician Walter Carlos.

  20. Man NO ONE has mentioned Gary Numan?? In my opinion the best usage of the Minimoog are on Replicas and The Pleasure Principle, his 2nd and 3rd records respectively.

    Numan saw the synth as a way of creating the sounds in his head that the guitar couldn’t; but he didn’t use it as an end to itself.

    Numan’s Minimoog pieces confrom nicely with the drums and basslines from his bands, and show the best example of the wonderful sounds of that instrument.

  21. Man, you guys can have all of that noodly prog-rock hellishness. I will however, keep my Kraftwerk, and play some early Stereolab in tribute today.

  22. So I’d have to say Emerson’s solo turn alerted to the general public to the possibilities of the Moog in the hands an expert player, but that the experimentation phase was already well under way among the musical community.

    I’ll go along with that. It certainly doesn’t contradict what I previously said, although perhaps I wasn’t in clear what I meant by the “synth craze.” I was referring to its use in rock/pop in the 70’s. I’d only amend your “correction” slightly to say that the solo excited the rock music (and primary record-buying) public about the possibilities of the Moog in rock music. The Switched-On stuff was seen primarily as novelty up to that point and was largely ignored by the rock audience. I certainly know Emerson wasn’t the first to use the instrument, even in rock music, as at the very least The Beatles beat him to it, albeit in a much more subtle manner. But that solo got people excited and talking about both the instrument and the song, the former in ways that the Switched-On stuff surely never did.

    Thanks for getting me thinking about the song Trilogy!

  23. when I was growing up there was a definite vibe that anything with synths sucked.

    Heh-heh, well dead elvis, I guess that’s how the youth-culture pendelum swings! And more power to it!!

    Rick H: Whitehouse??? The harsh industrial power-electronics band??? Wow, I never thought I’d hear them mentioned in the same breath as Kraftwerk and Devo! Or on Hit & Run! That’s some heavy duty shit there…

  24. And King Crimson > all other prog

    Perhaps, but they used mellotrons, not Moogs.

  25. Those octave leaps in that Emerson solo may in fact be the defining moment in Moog rock.

    Yeah, but don’t forget about Mook Rock , either. 🙂

    I actually had the pleasure of seeing Devo less than a week ago. I guess that’s my small personal pre-departure tribute to Moog, maybe?

    Do Moog synthesizers really cost upwards of $3000 now? I’ll probably never own one then, if market demand continues to keep the price relatively that high.

  26. Yes thay do cost over $3000, either for a new Moog or a vintage minimoog.

    I’ve read a number of interviews with Moog over the years, and the thing that always struck was how cool the guy was. He always seemed to be having a great time.

  27. In connection with Moog synthesizers, how could it be that no one has yet mentioned the unoffical prog rock band of H&R … Rush? Especially the almost-embarrassing sci-fi intro to “2112 Overture”?

    Danimaux — Thanks for the links to the Moog Cookbook. I listened to a few samples, and I think “Cat Scratch Fever” is my favorite.

    Also, somehow I have to mentioned the “Grand Illusion” album by Styx. As a moody adolescent, I spent a lot of time listening to the synthesizer solos in “Man in the Wilderness” and “Castle Walls.” It was cheesy, but it got me through the years.

  28. when I was growing up there was a definite vibe that anything with synths sucked.

    Big Sigh, strange how things cycle. I quit playing saxophone at 19 because there was no place in pop music for the sax. Seems absurd now but at the time it was all synths.

    As my best friend Balloon Man used to say. A Moog doesn’t sound like a sax, it IS a sax.

  29. I quit playing saxophone at 19 because there was no place in pop music for the sax. Seems absurd now but at the time it was all synths.

    You know, I’ve come to realize that kids and younger people stop playing instruments all the time for that reason (that it wasn’t “cool” or “useful” for being in a band). Now I realize how completely untrue that is. What’s important is actually learning an instrument — ANY instrument — and playing it well. People will find a spot for you somewhere in a musical project if you’re good at what you do, even if it is only the kazoo or recorder or whatnot.

  30. We would be remiss if we failed to note, as did MTV.com and the NY Times, that Moog’s instrument “first popular appearance was on the Monkees album Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd..”
    (http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1508021/20050822/index.jhtml?headlines=true)

    And that the Monkees beat the Beatles to the punch
    by a couple of years. “The Monkees used the instrument as early as 1967, on their “Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd.” album. In early 1969, George Harrison, of the Beatles, had a Moog synthesizer installed in his home, and released an album of his practice tapes, “Electronic Sound,” that May.”
    http://nytimes.com/2005/08/23/arts/music/23moog.html?pagewanted=2

  31. I read this interesting tidbit in the paper today, which indicates that Moog got his inspiration from none other than Raymond Scott:

    “In 1954, he began to sell his theremins. Among his customers was the sound pioneer Raymond Scott, a studio bandleader and tinkerer extraordinaire who had cut off the theremin’s pitch antennas and reassembled the device with wires in back of a keyboard.

    This “Clavivox,” Dr. Moog once wrote, “was not a theremin anymore — Raymond quickly realized there were more elegant ways of controlling an electronic circuit.”

    He added: “Raymond had everything adjusted so that, sure enough, when you played the keyboard you got the notes of the scale. But the really neat thing, as he pointed out, was that now you could glide from note to note — you could play expressively — you didn’t have to play discrete notes.”

  32. I think Moog’s goaltending for the Edmonton Oilers in the ’80s is unfairly overshadowed by Grant Fuhr’s play. The Oilers needed Moog as much as they needed Fuhr.

  33. You know, I’ve come to realize that kids and younger people stop playing instruments all the time for that reason (that it wasn’t “cool” or “useful” for being in a band). Now I realize how completely untrue that is. What’s important is actually learning an instrument — ANY instrument — and playing it well. People will find a spot for you somewhere in a musical project if you’re good at what you do, even if it is only the kazoo or recorder or whatnot.

    smacky, I used to be able to play the intro to “Stairway to Heaven” on a nose flute. (two links)

  34. Incidentally, if you stir around the letters in “Moog” you get “Mogo” as in “Mad Monster of Mogo,” an old SF story that led to the creation of one of the coolest pulp magazine covers ever. It is a masterpiece of composition. The way the lines guide your eye is incredible.

    (The only flaw is that the monster’s hips are twisted around in a somewhat unnatural fashion relative to his torso, apparently in an attempt to avoid implying naked-groin-to-female-buttocks action.)

  35. Don’t forget that Moog was an innovator in automobile suspensions first, and only dabbled in synthesizers after seeing parallels in the equations governing suspension dampers and sound sysnthesis.

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