The Rise & Fall of Silver Apples: The 1960s Electronic Band That Built Their Own Synthesizer, Produced Two Pioneering Albums, and Then Faded into Obscurity

In the late 70s and ear­ly 80s, a hand­ful of musi­cal duos emerged who would have tremen­dous impact on post-punk, alter­na­tive, new wave, and exper­i­men­tal elec­tron­ic music. Bands like Sui­cide, NEU!, and the Pet Shop Boys made far big­ger sounds than their size would sug­gest. Before them all came Sil­ver Apples, a duo who should right­ly get cred­it as pio­neers of elec­tron­ic exper­i­men­ta­tion in pop song form. Like many a pio­neer, Sil­ver Apples had no idea what they were doing. They also suf­fered from a string of some of the worst luck a band could have, dis­ap­pear­ing after their sec­ond album in 1969 until a mid-90s redis­cov­ery and brief return.

Band­mem­bers Sime­on Coxe and Dan­ny Tay­lor formed the band in 1967 from the ruins of a rock group called The Over­land Stage Elec­tric Band, which fell apart when Coxe began exper­i­ment­ing with old oscil­la­tors onstage. All of the mem­bers quit except Tay­lor, and Coxe set about build­ing his own syn­the­siz­er, “a machine nick­named ‘the Sime­on,’” Daniel Dylan Wray writes at The Guardian, “which grew to con­sist of nine audio oscil­la­tors with 86 man­u­al controls—including tele­graph keys—to con­trol lead, rhythm and bass puls­es with the user’s hands, feet and elbows.”

Coxe was the only per­son who could play the Sime­on, and he sang as he did so, his weird, war­bly voice com­ple­ment­ing his machine, as Tay­lor played pro­to-Krautrock beats behind him. “I had heard the word syn­the­siz­er,” he says, “but I had no idea what it was. We were dirt poor and used what we had, which was often dis­card­ed world war two gear.” They were essen­tial­ly mak­ing up elec­tron­ic pop music as they went along, iso­lat­ed from par­al­lel devel­op­ments hap­pen­ing at the same time. They named the project after a line by William But­ler Yeats (many of their lyrics were writ­ten by poet Stan­ley War­ren). Around the same time, com­pos­er Mor­ton Sub­ot­nick released his ground­break­ing all-elec­tron­ic album, titled—after Yeats—Sil­ver Apples of the Moon.

It was Sil­ver Apples’ fate to be over­shad­owed by oth­er releas­es that came out imme­di­ate­ly after their 1968 self-titled debut, such as Wendy Car­los’ Switched on Bach and Ger­shon Kingsley’s hit “Pop­corn,” both of which pop­u­lar­ized Robert Moog’s mod­u­lar syn­the­siz­ers. Moog him­self became so fas­ci­nat­ed with Coxe’s sin­gu­lar cre­ation that he vis­it­ed the Sil­ver Apples stu­dio to see it for him­self. The band’s man­ag­er scored them their very first gig play­ing for 30,000 peo­ple in Cen­tral Park, “pro­vid­ing a live sound­track to the Apol­lo moon landing—broadcast on enor­mous screens beside them,” writes Cian Traynor at Huck mag­a­zine, “as peo­ple took their clothes off in the rain.”

This mag­i­cal experience—and oth­er brush­es with fame, such as a one-off record­ing ses­sion with Jimi Hendrix—was no indi­ca­tion of a bright future for the band. For their sec­ond album, they were allowed to pho­to­graph them­selves inside the cock­pit of a Pan Am jet. The inclu­sion of drug para­pher­na­lia in the pho­to, and of a crashed air­plane on the back, prompt­ed a law­suit from the air­line. The album was pulled from the shelves, the band shut out of the indus­try, and a third album, The Gar­den, remained unre­leased until 1998.

For a look at how musi­cal­ly for­ward-think­ing Sil­ver Apples were, see the short doc­u­men­tary about their rise and fall above. They end­ed up influ­enc­ing neo-psy­che­del­ic elec­tron­ic bands like Stere­o­lab and 90s duo Por­tishead, whose Geoff Bar­row says, “for peo­ple like us, they are the per­fect band…. They should def­i­nite­ly be up there with the pio­neers of elec­tron­ic music.” Tay­lor sad­ly died in 2005, just after Coxe had par­tial­ly recov­ered from a bro­ken neck suf­fered the year of their 90s resur­gence. But Sil­ver Apples music is immor­tal, and immor­tal­ly oth­er­world­ly and strange, even if its cre­ators nev­er quite under­stood why. “To me and Dan­ny,” says Coxe, “it sound­ed per­fect­ly nor­mal and was a nor­mal pro­gres­sion into the areas we were try­ing to go.”

As so much exper­i­men­tal elec­tron­ic pop music that emerged around the same time proves, Coxe was more right than he knew. What Sil­ver Apples did turned out to be a “nor­mal” musi­cal devel­op­ment, though they had no idea that it was hap­pen­ing when they made their aston­ish­ing­ly groovy, spaced-out records.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Daphne Oram Cre­at­ed the BBC’s First-Ever Piece of Elec­tron­ic Music (1957)

The His­to­ry of Elec­tron­ic Music in 476 Tracks (1937–2001)

Pio­neer­ing Elec­tron­ic Com­pos­er Karl­heinz Stock­hausen Presents “Four Cri­te­ria of Elec­tron­ic Music” & Oth­er Lec­tures in Eng­lish (1972)

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

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Comments (3)
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  • Alain Cliche says:

    Great arti­cle, but the Pet Shop Boys have no rel­e­vance in elec­tron­ic music.

  • Josh Jones says:

    Says who? It’s pop music, but that’s what Sil­ver Apples thought they were mak­ing. They’re as rel­e­vant to elec­tron­ic music in that regard as New Order or OMD, which is to say, pret­ty rel­e­vant. The impact of “West End Girls” was huge. Peo­ple still con­stant­ly remix and ref­er­ence that track. I’d say that’s rel­e­vance, but per­haps you define the word dif­fer­ent­ly?

  • Jim Wood says:

    My wife and I saw them twice in 1968, and were impressed. In the 80s, I was work­ing for Mor­ton Sub­ot­nick, and men­tioned them to him (won­der­ing which Sil­ver Apples came first). He said he’d heard of them but nev­er actu­al­ly heard them.

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