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|Stereo Action||The Story
|Robert Drasnin||Voodoo Interview|
|Outer Space Exotica||Article|
NOTE: An edited version of this article originally appeared in Cool and Strange Music! Magazine, Issue #8, in February 1998. It was revised and expanded in April 2001. When the original article was published, most of the albums mentioned had been out of print for decades. Since then, a handfull have been reissued legitimately on CD, and limited quantities of bootleg copies of several titles have appeared on LP and/or CD.
Nothing represents "space age pop" more literally than music with an explicit outer space theme, or "outer space exotica." Music in this genre, typically of the instrumental variety, was arranged for several LP record albums from the late 1940’s through the early 1960’s. In general, the most successful examples contain adventurous arrangements of music written especially for the album. Often, electronic instruments and other novel effects are present, and these sounds are integrated effectively into the music. The least successful albums typically have some electronically generated sounds, but are otherwise lackluster compositions or mundane, syrupy renditions of popular standards with celestial titles like "Star Dust" and "Out of This World." Whether the music in the record grooves is inspired or dated, the album cover jackets typically feature imaginative period artwork and are collectable in themselves.
Beginning in 1914, a landmark suite was composed by Gustav Holst called "The Planets," and it was orchestrated in 1917. The suite was so far ahead of its time that it still remains today as the best loved and most influential musical depiction of outer space. This Twentieth Century Classical work defined the "sound" of outer space. Thus, it certainly could not have been ignored by the composers and arrangers of the "outer space exotica" albums that would emerge decades later.
(click the album cover for a larger view)
The very first record album of "outer space exotica" was "Music Out of the Moon" on the Capitol label, and it was arranged and conducted by Les Baxter. It is one of three groundbreaking record albums released in the late 1940's with original compositions by Harry Revel and featuring Dr. Samuel Hoffmann on the eerie Theremin. The other two were "Perfume Set to Music," also arranged and conducted by Baxter, but released on RCA Victor, and "Music for Peace of Mind," released on Capitol, but arranged and conducted by Billy May. All three of these albums were originally issued as individual three-record sets of 78 RPM records, and later issued as ten-inch LP albums. The two on Capitol were later combined as a single twelve-inch LP record. Les Baxter's instrumentation on "Music Out of the Moon" was unusual and experimental. The Theremin, wordless voices and a piano are prominent in a relatively small group of varying instrumentation including violins, harp, organ, woodwinds, and percussion. At times, a mild swing/jazz aura dominates, and at other times, the mood is rapturous. The overall result is a listening experience that lives up to the title, albeit in a quaint and somewhat dated manner. The amazing cover, featuring a scantily clad young woman seemingly emerging from a moon-like surface, was revolutionary in its time.
In 1953, a ten-inch album called "Impressions of Outer Space" by Larry Elgart was released on the Brunswick Label. Although borrowed from "Startling Stories" magazine, the artwork on the front cover is as good as it gets, with spacemen floating around a spectacular crater-worn asteroid. With its incredible cover and its unquestionable rarity, this album commands especially high collector's prices today. However, the music certainly does not deserve to be ignored, and it consists of eight original compositions, including five by Charles Albertine. This music is absolutely nothing like the dance band music with which Elgart is typically associated. It features Elgart’s eloquent alto saxophone solos and an ensemble of five saxophones, trombones, piano, string bass and percussion. The compositions, which are serious in nature and beyond conventional category, create an appropriately strange, forbidding and mysterious mood. Each piece paints an abstract, extra-terrestrial musical portrait, with subjects such as an "Airless Moon," a "Gravitational Whirlpool" and "Space Intoxication." With its unconventional instrumentation, compositions and arrangements, the music on this record is as striking as the cover art that envelops it.
In 1955, a record entitled, "Harry Revel's Music from Out of Space," arranged and conducted by Stuart Phillips, was released on MGM. It has a magnificent, standout cover, which depicted a mysterious woman with long, floating hair, suspended in space amidst orbiting spheres. The liner notes reference the three previous Revel Theremin albums, and stated that this work was, in some respect, a continuation of those works. In fact, this fine album does have much in common with the previous three. Unfortunately, the Theremin is not present on this album, and it suffers in comparison to the former albums due to that fact. It features a mostly wordless chorus very similar to that on "Music Out of the Moon," but a standard size orchestra replaces the small instrumental group. At times, a concerto-like effect is produced with a piano in the foreground. The orchestra produces a lush sound, which at times is reminiscent of a movie soundtrack from the era. Tempo and mood changes occur often in the pieces, and swing or jazz music touches can sometimes be detected. Overall, outer space is depicted as a slightly strange, but definitely inviting place to visit.
In the 1950s, Walter Schumann was well known for his records of popular music featuring a precise choir of virtuoso voices. In a marked departure from his usual projects, he collaborated with the noted film composer Leith Stevens to created a masterpiece, "Exploring the Unknown," which was released in 1955 on RCA Victor. It is a highly original album punctuated with marvelous, chilling narration by Paul Frees (written by Rip Van Ronkle!) over wondrous choral and orchestral sounds. It begins with an exciting countdown and blast-off, and then portrays adventures in outer space. The shrill rush of voices that represent the blast-off itself produces a truly spine-tingling moment. Even though it is a fantasy, everything is executed with utter seriousness, and it all works!
In 1956, Sid Bass arranged and conducted "From Another World" on the short-lived RCA subsidiary label, Vik. The cover itself, featuring a headshot of a happy woman in a fishbowl helmet overlaid with squiggles representing electronic waves, is a '50s classic. The record contains popular standards with celestial titles, and heavy doses of exaggerated reverberation, especially at the beginnings and endings of the pieces. Today, both the musical arrangements and the simple electronic effects they employ sound dated. However, it is this dated quality that is the most entertaining aspect of the music today; it is a unique artifact of outer space inspired dance music of the period.
About the same time of the Sid Bass album, an almost identically titled album was released on the budget label, Tops: "Music From Another World" by the Jay Gordon Concert Orchestra. Outwardly, it seems promising enough, but the music makes the Sid Bass album seem like a masterpiece in comparison! The cover art pictures a stereotypical 1950’s suburban young couple dazzled at the sight of some sort of otherworldly phenomenon, pictured as a multi-colored Spiro graph. The liner notes start with the words: "Jet-propulsion, man-made satellites, rockets to the moon – all bring us within reach of another world!" However, the music clearly falls short of the packaging. The sound quality is muddy, and the music never comes close to the launching pad. The most otherworldly pieces have the titles, "Deserted Ballroom, " "Chant of The Amazon," and "March of The Pink Elephants." Enough said.
Four early albums by Ferrante and Teicher have outer space titles and covers. It is no coincidence that they are among the most ambitious and noteworthy albums by the famous piano duo. The cover of "Soundproof" on Westminster features a photo of a flying saucer against an alien background taken directly from the movie "Forbidden Planet." On "Soundblast," also on Westminster, a rocket in space graces the cover. Inexplicably, the stereo version of "Soundproof" contains the music of the album "Soundblast." The music on the mono "Soundproof" (dated 1956) was never released in stereo in any fashion. The piano duo was apparently not well known when the above albums were released, as the fronts of the covers do not mention their names. When the duo achieved enough recognition to move to the larger ABC Paramount label, they released "Heavenly Sounds in Hi-Fi" with a beautiful woman in a celestial atmosphere on the cover. They also released "Blast Off," which has a crazy cover with the two of them looking goofy in space suits, and blasting off somehow on top of a piano! The concept of all four of these early albums is similar; "prepared pianos" are utilized to provide strange and enchanting musical sounds. This appealing approach features manipulated tape effects as well as the muting, strumming and tapping of the actual piano strings themselves. The duo eventually abandoned such artistic endeavors in favor of more mainstream efforts with large orchestras. A few years after its initial release, "Heavenly Sounds in Hi-Fi" was reissued as "Heavenly Sounds" with a new cover and catalogue number. However, this was more than merely a straight reissue; a string orchestra had been overdubbed onto the original recording!
Space was in the news just after Russia's launch of the world’s first practical satellite, Sputnik, in 1957. As a result, the USA was compelled to speed up its own space program. Around this time, several highly original outer space records were produced. Les Baxter's "Space Escapade" on Capitol is a shining example. The music of "Space Escapade" constitutes a suite entirely composed, arranged and conducted by Les Baxter, and it was recorded in late 1957. The album is worthwhile for the cover front alone, with two fishbowl-helmeted astronauts holding space cocktails amidst three tinted space beauties on a misty planet. The back of the cover features a nice sketch depicting some of the subject material, and every selection is detailed in the liner notes. Although exaggerated reverb is utilized in the recording at times, the orchestrated music does not sound especially weird, and no electronic instruments are utilized. The music is pure 1950's fantasy, depicting an ultra pleasant future, with lovers rocketing around the cosmos, visiting strange but inviting places while sipping exotic space cocktails. In fact, "The Commuter" sounds very much like the melody to the 1950's commercial jingle "See the USA in your Chevrolet." After all, the cars of this era were given tail fins and other trimmings to make them look like rockets! A relatively nearby future was apparently envisioned in which people would be driving around in rockets instead of cars. Les Baxter’s music perfectly captures this warm feeling of optimism for an exciting and carefree future. It should be noted that there are differences in the mono and stereo versions of the album. For example, although the stereo version has its own merits, it is obviously missing the sounds of the celesta in certain parts, and it is also missing the "whooshing" wind sounds in the "Winds of Sirius."
Russ Garcia's "Fantastica," subtitled "Music from Outer Space" and released on Liberty in 1958, is a bold and spectacular musical journey not for lovers, but for serious (armchair) adventurers! Garcia masterfully composed and conducted this musical suite depicting "fascinating, exciting sounds from other planets." His unique ensemble omits violins and includes woodwinds, trombones, a harp, percussion, and highly effective "electronic devices and effects created by Ted Keep, Liberty's chief engineer." Flutes are prominent in the arrangements, and some sort of electronic sine wave generator, which produces tones from earthshaking bass sounds to earsplitting trebles, appears with regularity. The flutes sometimes flutter furiously, as in "Nova (Exploding Star)," to great effect. Occasionally, there are electronic beep-like sounds as on the pieces "Lost Souls of Saturn" and "Water Creatures of Astra." "The Monsters of Jupiter" paints a vivid, bone-chilling picture that begins with a fast-clicking sound panning back and forth between the stereo channels, and then bold trombones create an aura of impending danger. Strange electronic sounds follow, including a high-low-high frequency sinusoidal sound, and then kettledrums indicate the approaching footsteps of these leviathan beasts. The cover of this amazing album features a great Spiro graph and an Earth-like globe in space, with the title "Fantastica" emblazoned in comet-like lettering at the top. Without a doubt, this is one of the very best outer space records ever made.
Another 1958 release, Ron Goodwin's "Music in Orbit" on Capitol, was recorded with great fidelity in England with a huge orchestra. Like Baxter's "Space Escapade," "Music in Orbit" was also a suite of original compositions with a lighthearted outer-space theme. However, most of the selections, with titles such as "Jumping Jupiter" and "Martians on Parade" are perhaps a bit less sophisticated. In fact, "Sally the Satellite" sounds very much like the title piece of Goodwin's previous, strictly earth-bound album, "Music for Swinging Sweethearts." There are no "space effects" such as exaggerated reverberation or any other electronically produced sounds. Although the music is less cohesive and appealing than that of "Space Escapade" in general, it is not bad overall. About one third of the album is wonderful; especially the first two selections and a glimmering, rapturous piece of true outer-space music on the second side entitled "The Milky Way." The cover of the album should receive special merit. The front is a marvelous vision of a rocket blasting off from a moonscape, with the Earth pictured in the starry background. This moonscape is pure fantasy, and it features white mountains and an arch-like rock formation. The back of the cover has a bizarre drawing that looks like a doodle depicting some sort of fantastic daydream. Incidentally, this album was released under the title, "Out of This World!" on the Parlophone label in England with a totally different cover picturing the firey takeoff of a rocket.
"Music for Heavenly Bodies" on Omega is another mixed blessing. It features the "Electro-Theremin," designed and played by Paul Tanner, and, unlike the regular Theremin, it was operated with slide control. According to the liner notes, "its sounds are pure sine waves without any harmonics, making it an ideal instrument with which to test your audio equipment." Credit for the record is split three ways between arranger, Warren Baker (not Barker), Tanner, and Andre Montero and his orchestra. The "Electro-Theremin" is usually backed by a sea of strings, resulting in a peaceful, "floating in space" experience, which is not particularly adventurous. However, the album has its moments. "Holiday on Saturn," perhaps the most appealing piece, is a seductive, mysterious and throbbing bolero, which features a diverse group of percussion instruments; it is ironic that this number contains the smallest quantity of "Electro-Theremin" on the whole album – only a few brief seconds! The last selection, "Out of This World," which is doubtlessly the most over-utilized standard in this genre of music, receives a surprisingly spaced-out treatment. It starts off in an abstract manner, and maintains a mysterious mood throughout; it's too bad that much of the other selections did not receive such interesting arrangements. In any case, the cover is especially noteworthy; it pictures a naked woman floating in the cosmos. The original pressings, which are unquestionably rare, are housed in a boxed jacket with a gold foil back. Later pressings have a standard jacket with the same front, but yellow-colored paper replaces the gold foil on the back.
Jimmie Haskell's "Countdown" is similar in concept to Baxter's "Space Escapade," but the music is totally different in its execution. Both albums have original, lighthearted music and wonderful covers. Both have marvelous, campy front covers, and fanciful commentary on each selection accompanied by sketches on the back. The Haskell cover front features an astronaut (who could have come right from the "Space Escapade" photo set) sitting with one gloved hand on keyboard rocket controls, and the other holding a small oscilloscope. A countdown is overlaid over the astronaut, and a rocket is blasting off in one corner of the jacket. The back of the cover has sketches of bubble-helmeted musicians surrounding the words. But, whereas Les Baxter utilized a more-or-less standard orchestra, Haskell features a unique combination of sounds: a mellow 1950s Rock and Roll band and many excellent electronic effects. The electronic effects are not detailed in the liner notes, but one of these sounds very much like Paul Tanner's "Electro-Theremin." The record begins (surprise! surprise!) with a countdown, then rocket engines are heard, after which drums and guitars are heard along with multiple electronic sound effects. Occasionally, an echoing or rippling piano, jaunty tenor saxophone, or flute section is also present. Additionally, Theremin-like, wordless female voices are sometimes used to create a heavenly effect. The titles, such as "Hydrazine," "Astrosonic," and "Asteroid Hop," fit the music perfectly. On the final track, "Homeward Earth," a soft and pleasant mood is achieved with mandolin-like electric guitars, subdued electronic effects, and the heavenly voices; the journey ends with a feeling of peace and satisfaction.
RCA Victor released an outer-space adventure record in 1958. Unlike the earlier "Exploring the Unknown," however, this record was intended for children. "Adventures in Sound and Space," credited to Col. Erhardt, and with music by Marty Gold, is probably the first children's record produced in spectacular stereo. It sounds like an elaborately produced radio adventure drama. Although it can't compare to the fabulous "Exploring the Unknown," it is a worthwhile and entertaining artifact of the period. Marty Gold's musical background is always appropriate and enjoyable.
Esquivel's first album recorded in America, "Other Worlds, Other Sounds" was released on RCA Victor in 1958. It has a great cover with a space nymph prancing on top of a crater-scarred sphere. As with Esquivel's "Exploring New Sounds" album, which was released a year later, it contains music that is not explicitly from outer space, but nevertheless groundbreaking and fantastic in its own right. However, as successful as the cover artwork on "Other Worlds" (LPM/LSP 1753) is, it was largely borrowed from another album released earlier in the same year. The Ames Brothers' "Destination Moon" (LPM/LSP 1680), features the singing quartet against the same background painting! In the case of the Esquivel cover, it is tinted green, and in the other case it is tinted blue, and more of the painting is visible. The rocket visible on the quartet's cover has been painted-over on the Esquivel cover. Although the Ames Brothers produced a mainstream pop music sound of the period, this record was one of their more adventurous efforts. It is coincidental that Esquivel and the Ames would unintentionally share this cover background in 1958, and that in 1960; they would be grouped together in real-life for the album "Hello Amigos."
The Three Suns album "Swingin' on a Star" was released on RCA Victor in 1959. The trio is pictured on a swing suspended against a starry background on the front cover. The back cover has a great sketch of them sitting and playing their instruments in a hilarious open space craft accompanied by the guest soloist, King Curtis, who is playing his saxophone through his space helmet! How unfortunate that sound cannot travel in space! Although the space theme doesn't go much farther than the cover artwork and the title selections, the album is among the Suns' best.
Pete Rugolo's "Music from Out of Space" on Mercury is an album of mostly standards apparently clothed in outer-space arrangements. However, this is not exactly the case. Mercury took two previously released; strictly terrestrial Rugolo albums, "Music for Hi-Fi Bugs" and "Out on a Limb," juggled the selections, and re-assembled them into two "new" albums. These were titled "Music from Out of Space," and "Rhythm Meets Rugolo." Whereas the previous incarnations were released only in mono, both of these were available in mono and stereo. As with most Rugolo albums, the music on these albums is masterfully arranged in a pleasantly offbeat manner, and the orchestra consists of some of the best West Coast jazz musicians of the period. The principle connection to outer space in the music of "Out of Space" is the title of the first track: "Stereo Space Man." However, this piece is in fact the same as the title piece from "Music for Hi-Fi Bugs," but with a name-change. Given that "Out of Space" contains previously released material, the most unique thing about it is the campy picture on the front cover, which has Rugolo looking perplexed in a fish-bowl space helmet underneath out-of-focus lights representing stars!
The next batch of "outer space exotica" records appeared in the early sixties, the time of John Glenn's actual journey into orbit. One of these, "Futura," an album of original music by Bernie Green, was among the very best albums in RCA Victor's "Stereo Action" series. Nearly every selection offers some unique and creative sound. The album was stated to be an attempt to predict what music would sound like in the year 1970. That, of course, would prove to be an impossible goal. However, it did manage to foreshadow something that would come even later: it featured an innovation called the "animated tape," in which separate notes were played on an instrument and recorded on tape. The tape was then duplicated and sliced up to create different lengths of these notes, and then spliced together to create a melody. The process of sampling acoustic musical sounds and subsequently utilizing these sounds in the construction of a musical piece would later become commonplace. Digitally sampled and synthesized music would make this process far less painstaking in the real future.
"The Twilight Zone" by Marty Manning on Columbia is another great album. Although it took its title, theme song and concept from the television series, it is not a soundtrack album. It effectively features unusual electronic instruments, such as the martinot and ondioline, and sound effects incorporated into a diverse group of cleverly scored pieces. A few of the pieces include a mysterious instrument called the "serpent." An ethereal wordless female voice is utilized on top of these sounds, and the effect is much like that achieved on Frank Hunter's legendary "White Goddess" album on Kapp, from 1959. On parts of the album, a fluttering flute sound is heard that is reminiscent of that on "So Rare" on Esquivel's album, "Infinity in Sound," which was recorded months earlier. Regardless, this album has its own unique merits and it is an unqualified success. The highlight of the album is an adaptation of "Night on Bald Mountain," which is a musical torrent of wild and crazy sounds, including thunder, shrieks, and assorted electronic sounds.
Another tremendous outer space record from the period is Frank Comstock's 1962 album "Project Comstock: Music From Outer Space" on Warner Brothers. It is a unique album from a man better known for his masterful but slightly more conventional arrangements for Les Brown's big band and the Hi-Los. The cover has a saucer-like freestanding spaceship in front of a misty orange background. The orchestral music features Paul Tanner on a new electronic Theremin, along with an electric violin, a novachord, and a few other sparingly used electronic effects. The real surprise is Elliott Fisher's electronic violin, which is present on only four selections; it sounds magnificently and incredibly out of this world, and it should have been more heavily utilized. Fisher's unique sound can also be heard on the selection "Woman in Space" from Mel Henke's album "La Dolce Henke," which was also released on Warner in 1962. The best selections on "Project Comstock" are the three that Comstock wrote especially for the project. "Galaxy," which begins and ends with a nice electronic wave effect, features the electric violin and pleasantly conveys the feeling of floating in space. "The Dark Side of the Moon," begins with ominous percussion and deep, dark strings, and then the Theremin is heard along with echoing vibes, and organ, and an assortment of other bizarre sounds. "Journey to Infinity," has a dramatic and exotic melody, a brief burst of rocket engines, and a great ending with electronic effects and bass notes on the Theremin. The remaining selections are mostly the usual standards, but they are likely to be their definitive outer space interpretations. Although the music is sometimes dark and ominous, it is occasionally lush or slightly cute, and almost always eerie in a unique and wonderful manner.
Attilio Mineo's chilling and mysterious "Man in Space with Sounds" was packaged for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair and released on World's Fair Records. It had been recorded some time before, and was available only in mono. The cover is highly colorful and spectacular. The completely original music is performed by a large orchestra and includes many spectacular electronically produced sounds. The strings are often dissonant in an appealing manner; they are at times dark and ominous, and at other times they create a nervous tension. The diverse electronic effects are at times pulsating and echoing like instrumentation for radar, control, or warning systems; at other times they are hum or buzz like motors. The electronic sounds come and go, but when they are present, they are not merely effects; they are loud and very much an integral part of the music. The whole effect is absolutely mesmerizing, and it seems to depict a frighteningly sterile and automated future. Two different versions of the album were released with the same, exact cover. On the first, numbered 55555, an appropriate-sounding narrator introduces the selections in light of the World's Fair. On the second, numbered 66666, the narration is missing. Titles suggest sites and events at the World's Fair, but the most spectacular item from the fair, the famous Space Needle, is inexplicably not referenced.
Another record packaged for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair and released on World's Fair Records was "Music Out of Century 21" by society bandleader Vincent Lopez. The record seems promising, with a nice painting of the Space Needle adorning the front of the cover. Although the arrangements are by Attilio Mineo and the compositions are by Mineo's wife, the music bears no resemblance whatsoever to the "Man in Space" album. The music is disappointing given that does not sound not much different than typical society big band music of the period. It is hard to believe that the same man behind the extraordinarily weird and wonderful "Man in Space" created these relatively mundane arrangements.
Two more records from the early sixties are Richard Marino's "Out of This World" on Liberty's Premier series, and Bobby Christian's "Strings for a Space Age." "Out of This World" has a unique cover with four circular die-cut holes cut completely through, exposing a custom insert from both sides. It features the usual celestial-titled popular standards, with three sopranos for wordless vocals, and some nice electronic effects. One effect sounds similar to the "Electro Theremin" and another sounds like some sort of unusual electronic organ. The slightly exotic string arrangements are laid-back and easy listening in nature, although not saccharin sweet. The whole effect is tasteful and calming, if not tremendously adventuresome in nature. "String for a Space Age" is a mixed bag, and the whole project seems to emanate from the previous decade. Even the cover has the look of the 1950s; a rocket blasting fire and smoke is featured alongside an alluring woman's face in space. On side one, the usual popular standards are once again featured with reverb-laden percussion sounds on top of syrupy string arrangements. However, side two is altogether different and much better, as it is devoted to an original "Space Suite." This excellent suite is reminiscent of a typical soundtrack to an early-to-mid 1950s science fiction movie.
Finally, Dick Hyman and Mary Mayo created a completely unique and incredible album on MGM entitled "Moon Gas." The liner notes declare it, "a glimpse at the possible sounds of the 22nd century." This record pre-dates Hyman's outer space Moog records by several years, and it also anticipates those albums with Moog-like sounds from time to time. Original copies (especially in stereo) are rare, highly sought after collector's items. Hyman wrote the arrangements and contributes numerous otherworldly organ sounds. Mayo creates a wide variety of both wordless and worded vocals, all of which are seamlessly integrated into a marvelously out-of-this-world atmosphere. Electronically generated sounds are used effectively as are electronic instruments such as the martinot and ondioline. Vinnie Bell contributes a nice variety of strange sounds on his electric guitar coupled with the "complicated home-made equipment" attached to it. The effects include a very early use of Bell’s famous "waterfall" effect. The cover front appropriately features a moon maiden within a mist.
Outer space oriented records produced after this period are generally quite different in nature, as they often rely heavily upon synthesizers and other then-current musical developments. They belong to categories such as "The Now Sound," Electronic Music, Moog Music, etc. A relatively innocent era had ended, and new era had begun in which changes in popular music often mirrored the revolutions and upheavals in society.