Remembering Robert Moog

Thursday, August 21, 2014
Remembering Robert Moog

On this date in 2005, the world of music lost one of its great innovators, a man whose advancements in the world of electronic instruments cannot be understated and whose last name can instantly bring to mind any number of wonderful musical moments from the 1960s and beyond.

Born in New York City on May 23, 1934, Robert Arthur Moog – known to his friends as Bob – thought of himself as an engineer and a toolmaker, telling an interviewer in 2000, “The musicians are my customers: they use my tools.” Just barely into his teens when he built his first theremin, Moog started his own company in 1953 in order to manufacture the instruments on a larger scale, resulting in Raymond Scott requesting that he design some circuits for him. The company continued to grow over the course of time, but its most significant advances came on the heels of Moog presenting a paper on voltage-controlled electronic music modules at a 1964 Audio Engineering Society conference: he built his first customized modular systems the following year, and by 1967 he had introduced the first production model of the Moog synthesizer.

The Moog synthesizer earned a great deal of counterculture street cred as a result of setting up a demonstration booth at the Monterey International Pop Festival: in short order, the instrument could be heard on songs by The Doors (the title track of Strange Days), The Monkees (“Daily Nightly” and “Star Collector”), and The Supremes (“Reflections”), as well as albums by The Byrds (The Notorious Byrd Brothers), The Rolling Stones (Their Satanic Majesties Request), Simon & Garfunkel (Bookends), and, lest we forget, The Beatles’ Abbey Road. Arguably the biggest break for the Moog, however, came courtesy of Wendy Carlos’s 1968 album, Switched-On Bach, which quickly became one of the highest-selling classic music recordings ever released up to that point.

Where else can you hear the Moog? Well, let’s see: how much time have you got? For awhile in the late ‘60s and ’70s, it was all the rage, with Carlos’s album spawning numerous imitators, many of which prominently featured the word “Moog” in their titles in order to capitalize on the synthesizer’s success. You can hear it all over Stevie Wonder’s early ‘70s output, including Music of My Mind, Talking Book, and Innervisions, it was a gift to prog-rock that’s kept on giving, and you can hear it used everywhere from Kraftwerk’s Autobahn to Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” from Tangerine Dream’s Phaedra to The Beach Boys’ Love You to Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love.” Seriously, this is definitely a situation where the phrase “and the list goes on” is extremely apropos.

To celebrate Moog’s memory, we’ve put together a playlist which is – and please note that we’re admitting this outright – in no way all inclusive of every great song to feature music from the man’s musical instruments. We’re sure you’ve got your own favorites, and we’d love to read them in the comments…but while you’re writing them, at least you’ve got a solid soundtrack to keep you company.