We have a love/hate relationship with the Moog Synthesizer, simply meaning we sometimes love its sound and sometimes hate it. There’s no denying the extent to which it changed popular music after its introduction in the 1960s. There’s an extraordinary documentary about its inventor, Dr. Robert Moog, which you are likely to enjoy if you enjoy popular music. We’re gonna put it here in case you have the time to watch it — or the guy in the next office can’t hear that you’re watching TV on your computer.
One of the Moog’s most enthusiastic proponents was keyboardist Richard Hayman, who recorded frequently for ABC’s Command series. The liner notes to his 1969 album Genuine Electric Latin Love Machine were especially optimistic for the future role of the Moog Synthesizer in popular music:
Moog — The very name of the instrument conjures up all sorts of mental visions of new, strange, wonderful musical sounds — Ah! but “Beware the ides of Moog” — for here is an instrument capable of so many diverse sounds and combinations of sounds it staggers the imagination of anyone — musician, arranger, or just plain listener. An embarrassment of riches so to speak — for with such an extremely varied musical palette at his disposal the arranger is most likely to fall into the common trap of writing too much.
No other instrument known today is capable of producing so many diversified sounds that can be so completely wild and yet so completely controlled. It can wail like a banshee or be soft and mellow like a muted cello. It produces a bass line so clear and devoid of confusing muddying overtones that the result can range from pleasant subtleness to absolutely terrifying power.
The Moog Synthesizer is not, as some people think, an instrument to take the place of all other instruments any more than the electric organ supplants the piano. But when used with other conventional instruments the Moog increases the range of tonal combinations and musical sounds (and unmusical sounds) in the conventional by a huge percentage. Consequently the coming years must see an ever increasing use of this extremely versatile and unusual instrument. We have finally left behind the days when “electronic music” meant only a few strange bleeps and bloops and unearthly wails; now we have learned to integrate the Synthesizer with the orchestra as an instrument capable of holding its own as a true musical factor.
Hayman, not to be confused with the more jazz-oriented popular pianist Dick Hyman even though they both made Moog albums, may speak with authority on the subject of musical arrangement: that was his job at the Boston Pops for decades, and his work is heard on possibly countless albums. His entertaining electronic albums express a warm, wide-eyed welcome to innovations like the Moog Synthesizer, even though his work was primarily in very traditional forms. Genuine Electric Latin Love Machine is popular with DJs because it’s bizarre arrangements of songs like “The Peanut Vendor” and “Hare Krishna” (from the musical Hair) are ripe with vibrant breaks for sampling.
The enormous success of Wendy Carlos’ Switched On Bach LP in 1968 inspired so many imitators it would take a serious collector to track them all down. Moog arrangements of everything from Bacharach to Hank Williams were featured for entire albums, and many more like Genuine Electric Latin Love Machine rehashed familiar hits like “The Girl from Ipanema” or “Gentle on my Mind.” Few of these records are actually any good, leading over time to a popular disinterest in the instrument.
Additional models — especially the smaller, easier-to-use MiniMoog — sustained the instrument’s popularity for a period into the 80s, but it seems the primary appearance of the Moog Synthesizer today is in the form of samples. This album was sampled by the Unibroz in 1998 (“Sippy Cup”) as well as by Fantastic Plastic Machine the same year. Other Moog samples appear prominently in tracks by Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, J Dilla, Busta Rhymes, Black Milk, Quasimoto, Beck and others. Ironically, many are taken from covers of popular tunes like the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” or classical works like Claude Debussy’s Claire De Lune, making the actual origin of the musical inspiration difficult to trace. We suppose this is the way of the modern world.