Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Dreams are Charcoal - The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds - The Moog in '67

We look to innovators like Barrett and Keith Emerson, at McCartney more so than Lennon for experimentation (Lennon more likely to leave the tricks to Martin and Emerick), often we overlook the Moody Blues or The Pretty Things, but we readily dismiss a true pioneer in modern music, Robert Moog. While Moog's creation was reasonably well established by 1967, little was his creation utilized. In May 1967 (recorded in April) a long forgotten LP was recorded in Los Angeles, with Paul Beaver credited on the Moog, The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds. Here was a unique piece of electronic music history for which composer-arranger Mort Garson and producer Alex Hassilev called in every oddball instrumentalist in Los Angeles to record a mind-bending trek through the astrological signs. The music is a blend of pop rock with spacey effects and a melodramatic spoken essay regarding on each Zodiac sign. Though veritably unlistenable, Cosmic Sounds is like a time machine in 60s experimentation, and maybe only truly accessible on one’s fledgling acid trip. For whatever else may attract one to the LP, it is arguably the first rock endeavor to utilize the Moog in a prominent role.

Rather than being limited to spooky sounds and spaceships, keyboardist, Beaver contributed a veritable clinic of fundamental Moog modulations, from soothing melodies and textures to sharply percussive interactions with the other session musicians. Although the Moog Synthesizer is not mentioned in the liner notes—Beaver is credited vaguely with "electronic instruments."

Electronic instrument innovator, Paul Beaver, was chosen to perform on the album since he was one of the few who knew how to set up and use the synthesizer at the time (Keith Emerson, after hearing the Moog for the first time, ordered one for use with The Nice. It came in a myriad of boxes with patches and wires and no instructions). Emil Richards, who had worked with Frank Zappa, Marvin Gaye and Henry Mancini, was chosen to create the LP's percussive tone. Bassist Carole Kaye and drummer Hal Blaine, both top, on-demand session musicians, were The Zodiac's rhythm section. Flutist Bud Shank and keyboardist Mike Melvoin were also used.Jacques Wilson wrote the album's narration, and folk singer Cyrus Faryar narrates.


The sleeve, by Abe Gurvin and art director William S. Harvey displayed a psychedelic, if typical, design, with "Must be played in the dark" in large letters written across the back. The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds is at once comical and a history lesson in Psychedelia. On an odd personal note, there was a head shop on Van Nuys Blvd. called Captain Ed's. It is still there today. For me it was an odd and frightening place with a bit of danger thrown in in the mix. I was seven or eight and my hippie sensibilities called out to me early. My grandmother would take me inside to buy black light posters and beads to string across my doorway. There was a poster room with a color organ and a strobe. It was Cosmic Sounds that ran endlessly on a reel to reel.  Hippies and wayward high-schoolers would lie on the floor on pillows from Pier One tripping. This for me was of huge influence in my musical leanings and in my life. Interestingly, In the liner notes for the 1997 Moody Blues compilation The Best of the Moody Blues, Justin Hayward named this album as an influence on the band's development going into Days of Future Passed.