A 10-Hour Playlist of Music Inspired by Robert Moog’s Iconic Synthesizer: Hear Electronic Works by Kraftwerk, Devo, Stevie Wonder, Rick Wakeman & More

It’s no secret that we love elec­tron­ic music here, espe­cial­ly that made with the ear­li­est instru­ments to hit con­cert stages and record­ing stu­dios. The most promi­nent of these two, respec­tive­ly, would be the Theremin and the Moog syn­the­siz­er, two devices invent­ed by engi­neers who were not them­selves musi­cians. Iron­i­cal­ly, these have remained two elec­tron­ic instru­ments with the most har­mo­nious­ly musi­cal voices—simulating the warmth and qua­v­ery vibra­to of the human voice while also lend­ing every­thing they touch an eerie, oth­er­world­ly air.

What often goes unre­marked is the close, near­ly direct influ­ence of one upon the oth­er, as David McNamee at The Guardian notes. Often thought of now as a nov­el­ty, the Theremin in its day received seri­ous treat­ment in the hands of clas­si­cal per­former Clara Rock­more, who inspired Robert Moog, then only 14 years old, to build his own ver­sion of Leo Theremin’s device in 1948. “God­fa­ther of elec­tron­ic music” Ray­mond Scott took Moog’s instru­ment and wired it “into a key­board-con­trolled con­trap­tion Scott called the Cla­vivox, which had a pro­found influ­ence on Moog.”

Moog con­tin­ued to build Theremins (a ver­sion of one went on tour with the Beach Boys to play “Good Vibra­tions”). But he is most famous for his syn­the­siz­ers. Ini­tial­ly, he had “no inter­est in repli­cat­ing exist­ing instru­ments. They were machines for cre­at­ing sound that sound­ed elec­tron­ic.” Moog first designed a cum­ber­some stu­dio-only appa­ra­tus, debut­ing in 1964, and his com­pa­ny’s “mas­sive, frag­ile and impos­si­ble to tune” mod­u­lar syn­the­siz­ers had lit­tle pop­u­lar appeal, or afford­abil­i­ty. “Few of Dr. Moog’s ear­ly cus­tomers,” McNamee points out, includ­ing “sound artists, chore­o­g­ra­phers, and stu­dios” were “inter­est­ed in play­ing con­ven­tion­al melody on the instru­ments.”

This makes all the more impres­sive the achieve­ments of Wendy Car­los, who showed the Moog’s capa­bil­i­ty for dynam­ic range and musi­cal pre­ci­sion with her huge­ly pop­u­lar adap­ta­tions of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven on the Moog syn­the­siz­er in 1968 and sub­se­quent years. But by 1970, the Min­i­moog, the inventor’s first portable key­board, had made ana­log syn­the­siz­ers acces­si­ble to musi­cians worldwide—even though lat­er con­sumer-grade instru­ments retained some of the odd prop­er­ties of the orig­i­nal, like the “shon­ky” pitch con­trol that sends Moogs qua­ver­ing off key. (In its ear­li­est incar­na­tions, “mak­ing the things stay in tune seemed a low pri­or­i­ty.”)

There’s no over­state­ment in say­ing that the Moog’s move out of the hands of elite engi­neers and onto the stage and rock stu­dio changed music his­to­ry for­ev­er in the 70s and 80s. Com­pre­hen­sive accounts of the Moog rev­o­lu­tion fill books and fea­ture-length doc­u­men­taries. The most direct expe­ri­ence comes from the music itself, of course, and to that end, The Guardian com­piled the playlist above of “Moog heroes”—featuring reli­able elec­tro-stars like Gary Numan, Kraftwerk, Tan­ger­ine Dream, Rick Wake­man, and Her­bie Han­cock, as well as more eso­teric Moog com­posers like Ital­ian hor­ror-film mas­ters Gob­lin. Gior­gio Morodor’s Moog grooves with Don­na Sum­mer are promi­nent, as are more recent dance hits from Depeche Mode, Franz Fer­di­nand, and LCD Soundsys­tem. Sur­pris­es come in the form of lit­tle heard tunes from clas­sic rock artists, like Neil Young’s “Com­put­er Age” (fur­ther up).

We’ll all find bones to pick with this list. Astute music nerds will notice right away that not all of these songs fea­ture Moog syn­the­siz­ers, and at least one, the Rolling Stones’ “2000 Light Years from Home,” actu­al­ly uses an instru­ment that pre­dates Moogs, the Mel­lotron. One might then rea­son­ably refer to the playlist as in some degree “Moog-inspired.” Miss­ing here are essen­tial con­tri­bu­tions from Bob Mar­ley and the Wail­ers and the recent­ly-depart­ed Bernie Wor­rell of Par­lia­ment-Funkadel­ic, from the eter­nal grooves of African pio­neers like William Ony­bear (top), and arguably, from Sui­cide and elec­tro-psych rock­ers Sil­ver Apples (who built their own syn­the­siz­er). These and oth­er per­haps cru­cial omis­sions aside, The Guardian’s “Moog heroes” playlist more than makes its case for the his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance and utter­ly dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ter of the Moog and its imi­ta­tors and musi­cal chil­dren.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How the Moog Syn­the­siz­er Changed the Sound of Music

Watch Her­bie Han­cock Rock Out on an Ear­ly Syn­the­siz­er on Sesame Street (1983)

Dis­cov­er­ing Elec­tron­ic Music: 1983 Doc­u­men­tary Offers a Fun & Edu­ca­tion­al Intro­duc­tion to Elec­tron­ic Music

The Scores That Elec­tron­ic Music Pio­neer Wendy Car­los Com­posed for Stan­ley Kubrick’s A Clock­work Orange and The Shin­ing

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (5)
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  • Nigel J Watson says:

    Josh, this music lover real­ly appre­ci­ates your efforts. Many thanks.
    Is there any way to hear the playlist on YouTube?

  • Toad says:

    “We’ll all find bones to pick with this list.” Look at you, toss­ing in a (ter­rif­ic) William Onye­a­bor track because the playlist neglect­ed to do so, also men­tion­ing Sui­cide and Sil­ver Apples…very respectable bone-pick­ing indeed!

    Too bad Wendy Car­los’s copy­right is so assid­u­ous­ly enforced; her music, is basi­cal­ly nowhere to be found on YouTube, Rhap­sody, iTunes, etc. She can do what she wants, it’s up to her, but it seems to me she’s silenc­ing her own music for younger gen­er­a­tions com­ing up.

    The playlist is thought­ful and inter­est­ing, but watch that first step, it’s a doozy…starting with an 18-minute Popol Vuh track isn’t for the idly curi­ous.

  • Andy Dorian says:

    Any Moog playlist that does not include any Rush makes a mock­ery of its maes­tria by Ged­dy Lee…and los­es much cul­tur­al sig­nif­i­cance

  • Justin Case says:

    Not so sure there was a moog on Star­ship Troop­er.

  • Luis says:

    I don’t get this “open cul­ture” where, in order to access it, you have to access a *closed* plat­form such as Spo­ti­fy.
    It’s not that open, right?

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