“Untamed World”: Top TV Theme

Unless you were a nature nerd in the late 1960s to mid-1970s, chances are you have never heard Mort Garson‘s mysterious and exotic instrumental theme for the CTV television series, Untamed World.

“Untamed World Theme”     Mort Garson     196?

Uncanny emulation of steel drums that is/are undergirded by a percolating, undulating rhythm track — but what about those flute sounds, are those electronic, too?  Ditto with the reverberating drum you hear in the final seconds of the opening theme.

I am hardly the only one, as it turns out, to have been entranced by this 60-second composition, as the comments attached to this YouTube video clip attest:

  • “Growing up in the late 60’s, this was one of my favourite TV shows of all time. After all these decades, I still remember the tune nearly note-perfect. Thanks so much for posting, and bringing back such wonderful memories!”
  • “That song has been ruling my world for 35 years!”
  • “thank you for posting. been wanting to hear it a long time big childhood memories. maybe a little creepy sounding but great to hear it again after 40 yrs or so”
  • “thx so much for posting this. Haven’t heard this for years…gave me goosebumps!!! what a simple wonderful thing from childhood. thx for the memories”
  • “Ok raise your hand if you & your brother used to do weird jungle dances to this song.”
  • “I feel like crying. Huge memories of my childhood!”
  • “One of the best music intros for a tv show of all time”
  • “Genius indeed, but that opening, especially when one was a little kid, was 1000% SCARY!!!!! :O”
  • “Sensational musical theme!”
  • “THANK YOU! I remembered everything about this intro but could not for the life of me remember the name of the show! I remember my mom and dad watching this in the mid-1980s…I think either on Saturday or Sunday nights. I guess it must have been in re-runs by that time.”
  • “yeh something eerie about it for sure…..”
  • “Yes, it’s been exactly the same for me. So great to hear this again.”
  • “This song always makes me want to run naked through the forest.”
  • “Fantastic, trippy ’70s graphics and a great “tribal”-sounding theme that makes you wanna dance wildly around the living room. So glad to hear and see this again after many, many years – thank you!”
  • “Oh, those were the days. Life was simple then, watching an old B&W Zenith TV with 2 channels, and the other choice was usually some religious show. Being 6 yo I chose the animals.”
  • “Love the awesome wipes!” [technical term]
  • “one of those songs that sticks to your brain after all those years….up there with Rocket Robin Hood and Ultraman…”
  • “I always thought this was traditional African music It is computer generated”

YouTube contributor, Warren Jay, rightfully chides the program’s producers:

  • “Just look at those untamed Africans and Balinese.”

One Canadian contributor to IMDB’s jazz impressions as a lad:

  • “Sundays at 5:00 on CTV were a time of wonder and discovery.  The fields with their chaff-like growths blowing in the wind signaled the start of a highly informative and haunting half-hour documentary.  The thin straight lines speeding in a single direction, albeit staggered, brought us the silhouettes of images (offset by pink, orange, red, and teal backgrounds) that would have been lost in time if not for a YouTube account.  And then the announcer, one Alan Small, would finish off almost every episode with “the Untamed World.”  I remember being scared half out of my wits by, yet strangely drawn to, these simple images (all of which repeated in the outro accompanied by five others) and Mort Garson’s haunting theme, but now that fear seems just silly and ridiculous.”

Produced by Canadian Television (CTV), Untamed World was shown regularly between January and August 1969, according to IMDB, and then went into syndication – broadcast in the US through the mid-1970s and beyond, perhaps.

Fifty years or so ago, Billboard would report in its December 28, 1968 edition, under the banner TV Doings:

Mort Garson scoring 26 half-hour Untamed World shows for Metromedia, utilizing an electronic synthesizer.

Behold Untamed World‘s equally intoxicating outro theme:

Untamed World Outro Theme     Mort Garson     1967?

Mort Garson’s Mother Earth’s Plantasia vs. Stevie Wonder’s Secret Life of Plants

“Full, warm, beautiful mood music especially composed to aid in the growing of your plants,” Garson’s conceptual and all-electronic Mother Earth’s Plantasia from 1976 would predate Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants by three years.  Mother Earth’s Plantasia sells for an easy three figures at auction.

Paul Beaver Played Clavinet, Too (plus Emil Richards Tribute)

Remember last month when I was hot on the trail of identifying the first recording of a clavinet, thanks to a tip from Jim Kimsey: “Six O’Clock” by John Sebastian & The Lovin’ Spoonful?  Was John Sebastian‘s “electric harpsichord” (as he referred to the instrument), in fact, a clavinet?  Sebastian himself was gracious enough to respond to this historian-in-training:

“It was a Hohner Clavinet.  My father [John B. Sebastian] was a concert chromatic harmonica player, so I was way inside when it came to Hohner (I played with Matt Hohner’s kids.)   I may have had one of the first, due also to the band’s success.”

I cannot help but imagine the incredible array of harmonicas between the two households. Fun to note how musical advertising from around this time was so refreshingly fun and uncomplicated.

Hohner ad-iiHohner ad-i

Hohner ad-charlie mccoyHohner ad-johnny cash

Throwing a musical bone to Paul Guinnessy here

Hohner ad-astronautGuess who else was in on the ground floor with the clavinet?  If you guessed Paul Beaver, because his name is in the title of this piece, you would be correct!   Zero to 180 is eternally thankful to the Bob Moog Foundation for all the fascinating (and free) history on its website.  As Thom Holmes writes:

“One can’t help but notice that nine of the first ten Moog albums had one person in common—musician Paul Beaver.  By late 1966, he and Bernie Krause had pooled their funds to buy a Moog Modular of their own.  Beaver was designated as Moog’s West Coast Representative and together, he and Krause operated a company called Parasound that provided consulting, recording, and production services using the Moog Modular and other instruments.  Beginning in April of 1967, he and Bernie were recruited to bring the Moog Synthesizer to a variety of recording sessions.  These first Moog productions from the April 1967 time-frame began to appear on vinyl by May and June 1967.  Another burst of activity occurred after Beaver and Krause set up a booth to demonstrate the Moog at the Monterey Jazz Festival in June 1967, leading to several sessions with rock groups including the Doors and The Monkees.  By January, however, you still only needed ten fingers to count the number of records featuring the Moog.”

Photo of Paul Beaver – courtesy Bob Moog Foundation

Paul BeaverVibraphonist Emil Richards would pull off a birthstone concept with his New Sound Element “Stones” album from 1967:  twelve songs, one for each astrological gemstone.  Surprisingly little has been written about this early Moog album that still fetches decent scratch on the second-hand market.

Clavinet, what clavinet?  And yet it says right there in the musician credits – Paul Beaver, clavinet, as well as Moog.  All I hear is the Moog.

“Diamond”     Emil Richards     1967

Was New Sound Element, in fact, recorded prior to February, 1967 — the release date of the debut album by The Left Banke, whose “Let Go of You Girl” appears to be the first clavinet on a pop record?   Almost certainly not, as recordings with Beaver & Krause’s new Moog only began that April.  Nevertheless, Emil Richards’ “Stones” album would be the third recording ever to feature the Moog modular synthesizer, according to Holmes:

“Although Paul Beaver set-up the Moog, Richards was actively engaged in experimenting with the synthesizer for this session.  Richards told me that, ‘Beaver assisted as programmer for these sessions.  I played the synthesizer and all mallet instruments on all twelve tracks.’

This is the first commercial recording to credit the ‘Moog Synthesizer’ by name.”

In 2011 NPR’s Weekend Edition put together a feature piece on “Tinseltown’s Timekeeper” — Emil Richards — who would perform the finger snaps for The Addams Family TV theme, bongos for Mission Impossible‘s theme song, xylophone on The Simpsons‘ opening theme, and endless other sessions as one of the top percussionists working on the West Coast.

Photo of Emil Richards courtesy of NPR

Emil Richards-x

Selected Emil Richards Sessionography

Also worth noting that Richards played on one of my wife’s favorite albums – Queen Latifah’s Dana Owens Album from 2004.  The following year, Richards would help Paul Anka recast contemporary rock (e.g., “Smells Like Teen Spirit“) in swing band fashion (á la In a Metal Mood, Pat Boone’s rebranding effort from 1997) via 2005’s Rock Swings.

Richards is still musically active — follow him on Facebook why doncha?

Early 90s Ohio Valley EDM

In retrospect, I now realize that Ed Goldstein was the first musician I knew personally to  obtain formal permission to record another musical artist’s work.  This was in 1992 — before the Internet would so much more readily facilitate this kind of information sleuthing — and I remember being somewhat impressed, and a little envious, that Ed and his musical partner, Scott Fuqua, were able to navigate this aspect of the music business.

Scott + Ed = Fuquay

Fuquay-xGoldstein and Fuqua joined together in the early 1990s to form Fuquay, Ohio Valley practitioners of EDM – “electronic dance music” – a full two decades or more before this musical genre (and I never saw this coming) would enter the pop mainstream.

cover art by Lynn Punkari

Fuquay Psychosis1992’s Psychosis would find the duo crafting 11 original instrumental compositions — and one inspired cover:  Oliver Nelson‘s theme to the 1970s TV action series, The Six Million Dollar Man:

[Pssst:  Click on triangle above to play “Six Million Dollars” by Fuquay]

I think it’s safe to say that Scott and Ed were the first “pop modernists” to breathe new life into Nelson’s composition following its mid-70s heyday.  Nelson, a respected jazz composer, bandleader, arranger and saxophonist, would be best remembered for The Blues and the Abstract Truth, his 1961 album with Freddie Hubbard, Eric Dolphy, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers, and Roy Haynes, .

Fuquay – like Peter Gabriel’s bagpipist, Larry Fast – would fully embrace the digital realm, as noted in the album credits:

“Scott Fuquay uses Emu-Systems, Korg, Ensoniq, Kawai, Tascam, Technics, SR&D, Charvel and Alesis equipment.

Eddie Goldstein uses Drum-Kat, Alesis, Dauz, Akai, and Vic Firth sticks.  All drum and percussion tracks played digitally, live, in real time.”

Zero to 180’s one and only encounter with a Vic Firth truck

Vic Firth truck-x

Zero to 180 is stunned to discover (thanks to Bionic: The Wiki) that Dusty Springfield sang the original theme song, which was used for the second Six Million Dollar Man “telefilm” Wine, Women & War but then replaced by Nelson’s instrumental version once the weekly series began.

one-time percussionist for LES NESSMAN & THE FINNYTOWN BRASS

Ed Goldstein-cc

We will all miss your joyful spirit, Ed.

Ed Goldstein-aaEd Goldstein-bb

Larry Fast: Digital, Experimental

Tip of the hat to my old tennis partner and high school music rival. Ed Goldstein [he was in The Head Band with future “Smooth” songwriter, Itaal Shur, and one-time-bassist-for-Sleepy-Labeef-turned-sociology-professor, Adam Moskowitz, while I was in The Max, formerly Max & the Bluegills], who recently paid tribute to Peter Gabriel and late-70s Genesis as pivotal influences on his approach to percussion, with “Games Without Frontiers” leading the way as his favorite Gabriel track.

As music entered the ’80s, I remember how things got increasingly and disconcertedly digital — MIDI, disk drives, drum machines and the like — putting some of us analog-minded folks off, at least initially.  Not Ed, though, who helped serve as a bridge to fearful, reactionary types like me, whose old school heart will always yearn for analog-only devices, such as a Hammond organ with a rotating Leslie speaker, or a Moog Taurus bass pedal synthesizer (my college roommate had one), or an Echoplex tape delay effects unit (sax man & friend, Bruce Batté, once had one), without which dub reggae would almost certainly have never been born.

                  Hammond B-3                                   red Walnut Leslie Speaker Cabinet

Hammond B-3Leslie speaker

Moog Taurus II Bass Pedal Synth                 Echoplex – Complete with Case

Moog Taurus Bass PedalsEchoplex - vintage

“Games Without Frontiers,” unsurprisingly, would be cited in a fun historical romp – “Ghosts in the Machine:  The Most Important Drum Machines in Music History” – which begins in 1959 with Wurlitzer’s built-in percussion sidekick, the Side Man.  Peter Gabriel, as it turns out, utilized a Linn Drum predecessor I was not aware of until now – PAiA – that enjoys the distinction of being the “first programmable drum machine in history,” having been introduced to the marketplace in 1975.

Frustratingly, that information is not spelled out in the otherwise detailed credits captured on Discogs for the UK edition of Peter Gabriel’s third album from 1978.   Did Gabriel himself do the drum programming vs. Jerry Marotta & Phil Collins, the drummers listed on the track?  We do know, however, that Gabriel and Larry Fast both did some programming with respect to synthesizers, such as “Games Without Frontiers,” on which both musicians programmed synth bass lines (one of which I initially assumed to be Tony Levin playing a Chapman Stick).

Larry Fast LPSoon after playing bagpipes on the album’s concluding track “Biko,” Larry Fast — under the name Synergy — would issue his fourth long-playing release Games, an “all electronic production” that, like his three previous efforts, would be produced, engineered and programmed by Fast himself.   Released in 1979, Games is an instrumental song cycle that some might deem “experimental, ambient” (Discogs) and challenging at times but is hard to categorize given the dynamics and dramatic shifts in mood and intensity, as demonstrated on six-minute composition “Delta Four:

“Delta Four”     Synergy     1979

From the liner notes courtesy of Discogs:

Digital synthesis realized using the digital synthesizer at Bell Laboratories – Murray Hill, New Jersey.

Mixed at House of Music June and July 1979 by Larry Fast except Delta One which was mixed by Charlie Conrad & Larry Fast.  Mastered by Robert Ludwig, Masterdisk, NYC.

Digital synthesizer computer programming by Greg Sims.  Equipment used on this production manufactured by — Moog Music Inc.; Oberheim Electronics; Sequential Circuits; Paia Electronics; 360 Systems; Musitronics; MXR; DBX; MCI; Eventide Clockworks; Sony; Teac-Tascam; EMT; The Synergy System; Apple Computer Corp.; Bell Labs Digital Synthesizer; Deltalab Research.

Soundcheck:  “Delta 3” [parts A-F] developed from themes written during soundchecks on the August to December 1978 Peter Gabriel Tour.  “Delta Two” themes are remnants of 1974’s electronic Realizations For Rock Orchestra writing sessions.  “Delta Four” is a surviving digital synthesizer sequencer program experiment combined with some advanced tape loops.  “Delta One” is an experiment fusing the pop and electronic vocabularies of turn of the decade composition.

Electronic music pioneer & Occasional Bagpipist – Larry Fast

Larry FastIn a 2004 interview, Larry Fast would have a lot to say about the experience of the album:

“Games was the first encounter on a Synergy album with digital synthesis and to some degree, digital recording.  It was done under laboratory conditions at Bell Labs, which was then the crown jewel of the AT&T Research Lab.  It’s still there [or is it?], but it’s now part of the crown jewels of Lucent.  AT&T was the telephone company—Ma Bell—back then and had lots of wonderful “blue sky” research going on in computers, audio and various other technologies.  They would fund these things thinking—and rightfully so—that at some point, something would surface out of these free thinking projects that might be beneficial to the phone company.  They don’t do that so much anymore.  At that time, there wasn’t any real competition in the phone business.  Now, it’s very cutthroat.  However, at that time, one of their great, shining lights was Max Matthews, one of the pioneers of computer music and electronic music, at the academic and theoretical level. One of his departments was speech and synthesis.  They were exploring several areas of synthesizers, speech and vocals, which could be made into singing.  He had worked on one project as early as 1976 that incorporated aspects of that.

By 1978, they had some of the very earliest digital synthesizers, running essentially as software, with some concurrent specialized hardware they had built on minicomputers.  They were just mind-boggling to me after struggling to extract sounds from the Moog, Oberheim and related instruments I had been working with in the analog world.  This was positively world changing.  Again, like any technology at the beginning, it was a little tedious and difficult to control. I was just getting my feet wet, but there were a few passages recorded at Bell Labs that found their way onto the Games record.  The passages were enhanced with some of the analog synthesizers to flesh out the arrangements.  It was a very eye opening experience.  It set part of the tone for the album.  The other aspect of Games it that I was on the road a lot with the Peter Gabriel band and recording with them as well.  It meant that some of the writing was done on the road, captured on small cassette recorders and lots of scribbled-down notes.  It was the first album where I hadn’t set aside a block of time in my composer’s studio to write.  It was a different approach.”

Is it ironic that this digital work was issued on 8 TRACK?

Larry Fast 8 trackEd Goldstein’s current percussion philosophies are being carried out through Big Car Jack.

Big Car Jack-xThis piece, by the way, is not Zero to 180’s first reference to bagpipes in popular music — sorry Ed, I’m not referring to AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)” but rather “Reggae Bagpipes“!

Abstract Interjection!  This is the 4th Zero to 180 piece tagged as “Experimental Pop

“Capricorn Flight”: It’s the Bass II

As with Waylon Jennings‘ deeply-felt “Abilene” or Ruby Wright’s surprisingly bass-centric  “Adios Aloha,” one cannot but feel alarmed by the depth of bottom in the opening synth notes of this charmingly analog production – recorded at Cincinnati’s Counterpart Studios, with Shad OShea and Wes Boatman at the helm (get it?):

“Capricorn Flight”     The Saturn Symphony Orchestra     1981

Lo and behold, “Capricorn Flight” would be from the pen of Manzel Bush – however, using the alias The Saturn Symphony OrchestraLast September, Zero to 180 celebrated the groovy ‘space funk’ sound of Manzel, who would record two 1970s dance tracks for Cincinnati’s Fraternity that would be highly sought by DJs and vinyl enthusiasts in the decades since.

Manzel Bush photo courtesy of DISCOGS.COM

Manzel BushThree digits for original copies of “Capricorn Flight” are what to expect at auction. with prices hitting as high as $316 in 2008 and $210 plus $200 — both from 2018.

First appearance of Cincinnati skyline in Zero to 180

Saturn Symphony Orchestra 45-aJust discovered this delightful vintage ad c/o Aerial Noise

Manzel ad

“Space Funk”: Groovy Synths

Is Cincinnati aware the degree to which Manzel‘s two 45s “Space Funk” (from 1977) & “Midnight Theme” (1979) have become revered dance tracks around the globe?  Note the trippy backwards drumming intro that immediately draws in the listener on “Space Funk”:

“Space Funk”     Manzel     1977

The number of times Dopebrother Records have reissued (and remixed) these tracks – originally produced by Manzel Bush & Shad O’Shea – is a testament to their durability, as well as desirability by DJs and vinyl enthusiasts worldwide.  One recording of “Space Funk” posted on YouTube has enjoyed 180,000+ “views” to date.

Worth noting that Harry Carlson would sell 20-year-old Fraternity to Shad O’Shea in 1975, thus allowing Fraternity to stake a claim as America’s oldest continuously operating independent record label.”  Shad would then consolidate operations at Counterpart Creative Studios in Cheviot, where Manzel’s two singles were created.

What’s the deal with this 1988 release?  Need info, please
Manzel 45

Discogs.com waxes biographical about Lexington, Kentucky’s Manzel:

“The Manzel story began quite unsuspectingly.  In 1976 O’Shea built Cincinnati, OH’s first state-of-the-art recording studio, Counterpart Creative Studios, and recorded some sessions by Manzel.  The instrumental funk group from Lexington, KY, consisted of Manzel Bush (keyboards), John L. Van Dyke (guitar), and Steve Garner (drums).  Just before the sessions were totally finished, Lieutenant Bush got called off to military duty in Germany, and O’Shea hired some players from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra to finish off the sessions.  The first of the recordings to see the light of day were ‘Space Funk’ b/w ‘Jump Street,’ which O’Shea released on Fraternity in 1977.”

Manzel-aManzel-bManzel-c

Discogs has the rest of the story:

“Two years later, after some further tweaking by Bush, came the ‘Midnight Theme‘ b/w ‘Sugar Dreams‘ 45, and that was that.  Manzel were no more.  Bush stayed in the military, raised a family, and left music behind.  Twenty-five years later, in 2004, the recordings of Manzel resurfaced with the aid of Kenny Dope and the Undercover Brother.  The two wanted to reissue the original, very rare, and quite bootlegged Manzel recordings.  However, the Dopebrother guys didn’t just reissue the original 45s.  They dug up the tapes from the original Manzel sessions at Counterpart Creative, remixed and remastered them, and then released everything on a lavishly detailed CD, Midnight Theme.  They also released a ‘Midnight Theme’ b/w ‘Space Funk’ single on 7″ vinyl with a picture sleeve reproducing the artwork from a flyer for a Manzel show in the ’70s.”

“Chef d’Oeuvre”: Negative Radio Plays?

I am reading the memoir of music industry legend, Bob Thiele — producer at Coral Records who “discovered” Buddy Holly and would later work with Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Albert Ayler, Joe Turner, Otis Spann, Gil Scott-Heron, and BernardPrettyPurdie & the Playboys, among many other artists.

Funny Thiele didn’t mention having produced Jon Appleton‘s (highly) experimental album.  The fact that “Chef D’Oeuvre” was released as a 45 delights me to no end:

“Chef d’Oeuvre”     Jon Appleton     1969

Be sure to listen for the stereophonic loop of a Chef Boyardee jingle – a recurring motif.

45Cat’s Harvestman Man humorously observes:  “If it’s possible for a record to actually get a negative number of plays on the radio, this would be a likely candidate … it is that weird.”

Appleton 45

Thanks to Vintage Vinyl Revival for the liner notes to Appleton Syntonic Menagerie from which I take this excerpt:

“Labels, categories, boundary lines – the neat classifications separating musical experiences – are dissolving rapidly.  Young musicians and listeners, brought up in a “global village” because of the pervasiveness of television, recordings, and transistor radios, refuse to be compressed by past conventions.  The popular music of the present is, for example, a continually changing fusion of rock, country and wester, blues, Indian influenes, echoes of Appalachian ballads, jazz, rhythm and blues, and many other elements.

“Simultaneously, young composers – who, in another time, would have been called “classical” composers – are also probing, discovering, and transcending territorial markings of the past. Jon Howard Appleton, for example.  Since 1967, he has been Director of the Electronic Music Studio at Dartmouth, where he is also Assistant Professor of Music.  [This] The first album of his work – on Flying Dutchman – reveals the open-ended scope and resourcefulness of the new music as well as Appleton’s inventive singularity.”

Appleton would release one more LP for Flying Dutchman – a collaboration with Don Cherry, father of Neneh.

“Roly Pin”: Slide Guitar & Synth

Did this synth-and-slide-guitar instrumental B-side enjoy much UK radio play when it was released in 1978?  Likely not, I suspect – but who knows:

Roly is a side project by RobRolyDavis & Ray Stiles of UK glam rockers, Mud.  Released on Logo.

This discography of Logo releases from 1978-1982 rendered in a “dot matrix” typeface reveals a curious assortment of artists:  Mick Farren & the Deviants, Duncan Browne, Dave Swarbrick, Bert Jansch, Good Rats, Alberto y Lost Trios Paranoias, The Tourists, and Gerry Rafferty.

Formed in the mid-1970s by British music industry executives Geoff Hannington & Olav Wyper, Logo was originally funded and part-owned by UK publishing firm Marshall Cavendish.   A “digital timeline for Logo Records posted on WhenInTime plots out the founding of the record label in 1977 and five of its significant long-playing releases:  Vampires Stole My Lunch Money by Mick Farren; Reality Effect by The Tourists; I’m a Rebel by Accept; Smiddyburn by Dave Swarbrick & Heartbreak by Bert Jansch.

Roly Pin

“Swan Lager”: Prog Rock Reggae

Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman‘s beery take on Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” became the A-side of a 45 released by A&M in 1979:

“Swan Lager”     Rick Wakeman     1979

Swan Lager” also served as side two’s closing track for 1979 double LP, RhapsodiesCash Box‘s review in their June 23, 1979 edition

Anyone who can re-arrange Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” and re-name it “Swan Lager” has got to be either a hopeless buffoon or a major genius … Rick Wakeman is both and hence the charm of this, his latest release.  A four-sided effort, Wakeman plows into a variety of styles ranging from Gershwin to honky tonk.  A veritable never-a-dull-moment album which fully illustrates that keyboard expertise can be both dynamic and fun simultaneously.  For AOR to MOR formats.

How interesting to see one of the leading exponents of progressive “art rock” flirt with reggae rhythms on a track that Billboard, in its June 30 1979 edition, would identify in its list of recommended LPs as one of the album’s best cuts.  It would appear, unfortunately, that this attempt at classically-infused reggae failed to chart.

bowie producer, Toni Visconti, twiddles the knobs

Rick Wakeman 45Link to companion piece, “Yancey Special:  Prog Reggae II

“M1”: Modern Sound for a Modern Roadway

From Sound on Sound‘s wonderfully detailed history of the Clavioline (the otherworldly keyboard sound that steals the show on Beatle B-side, “Baby You’re a Rich Man“) we learn that “electrical instruments first appeared at the close of the 19th century.”  However, it was only with the introduction of the Clavioline in 1947 by French company, Selmer, that “an affordable and widely distributed electronic keyboard became available.”

Clavioline

Fascinatingly, the Clavioline was originally built to be attached underneath the keyboard of a piano and “used to imitate orchestral solo instruments.”  Even though Selmer “offered suggested voicings,” there was nothing to prevent musicians from creating new sounds by combining the stops in novel ways, while at the same time employing the instrument’s knee lever to surprisingly expressive effect.

1962’s soaring #1 instrumental hit, “Telstar,” propelled the Clavioline onto the international stage thanks to producer/songwriter, Joe Meek – but was that the first time the distinctive and futuristic sound of the Clavioline made it onto a pop record?  The Ted Taylor Four, believe it or not, beat Joe Meek to the punch two years prior with their instrumental ode to the newly-opened M1 motorway that features a rather delightful romp on the Clavioline:

“M1”     The Ted Taylor Four     1960

According to 45Cat contributor, Klepsie, the tune was “originally called ‘Left Hand Drive’ but renamed before release to ride the coat-tails of the publicity surrounding the opening of the M1 motorway.  Despite being voted a majority ‘hit’ on Juke Box Jury for 29 October 1960 (where Ted Taylor was the artist ‘behind the screen’) it missed the charts.”

However, “M1” is not the first appearance of a Clavioline on record – at least, in the UK.  According to Wikipedia, that honor goes to Frank Chacksfield and His Orchestra with “Little Red Monkey” which peaked at #10 in April, 1953 on the UK pop chart:

“Little Red Monkey”     Frank Chacksfield & His Orchestra     1953

Meet the Musitron – The Clavioline’s Kissing Cousin

Del Shannon‘s #1 1961 hit, “Runaway,” features a prominent keyboard line that music scholars have long assumed to be a Clavioline — Sound on Sound helpfully informs us:

“The instrument used to create the track’s instrumental break — possibly the first ‘synth solo’ ever released on record — was not a Clavioline, but a custom instrument called a Musitron, which was assembled by Shannon’s keyboard player and co-writer, Max Crook.  Based on a Clavioline, the Musitron incorporated numerous other unspecified electronic bits and pieces that made it possible for Crook to create a wider range of tones and special effects.  Later, he was to build another hybrid, which he dubbed the Sonocon.  This had pitch-bend and was also capable of generating percussion sounds that the Clavioline could not.”

According to Del Shannon’s website, keyboardist and electronics wizard, Max Crook, took a Clavioline (itself adapted from the Ondioline, also French) and modified it by (1) “expanding the octave range to infinity” and (2) incorporating a “spring echo reverberation unit,” as well as (3) additional outboard effects, such as “mechanical vibrato” and tape delay (i.e., “Echoplex”), while also inserting (4) “extra resistors, pots & capacitors” into the mix.  Most interesting – for historical sake – is Crook’s assertion that his keyboard’s inescapable sound directly influenced Joe Meek to use the Clavioline on that following year’s equally-unavoidable radio hit, 1962’s #1 “Telstar.”