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A Listener's Guide

Ten Basic Space Age Pop Albums


Ritual of the Savage, Les Baxter
The textbook for countless exotica recordings. First recorded in 1951, Ritual of the Savage contained all the essential ingredients we would come to look for: primitive rhythms, melodies from far away places, song titles evoking a mythical land of mystery, savagery, and romance, and a call to long-repressed passions. Yet not too dangerous: after all, the white couple on the front cover were clearly not too, too far away from the safety of the country club dance. The source of the original "Quiet Village."
*Several cuts available on The Exotic Moods of Les Baxter compilation

Exotica, Martin Denny
The source of the best-selling cover of "Quiet Village" and the album that gave a name to a whole nameless genre. Denny improved upon Baxter's example: instead of a studio string orchestra, his was a nightclub combo somewhere between cocktail piano and cool jazz; instead of Burbank, he came from America's newest state and safe tropical resort, Hawaii; and he added a whole range of environment sounds--mostly screeches and caws of imaginary exotic birds, suggesting that the deep, dark jungle really was lurking just outside the door.
*In print on Scamp

Latin-esque, Juan Garcia Esquivel
Stereo was the Space Age's outstanding contribution to the musical scene, and no arranger embraced stereo with the imagination and skill of Esquivel. Latin-esque is the most action-filled of RCA's great Stereo Action series, and the one album where Esquivel enjoyed the freedom to go to the extremes of his concepts. He took channel separation to the limit, placing orchestras in sound stages blocks apart. As Byron Werner has put it, this is the music George Jetson would listen to if he were a bachelor.
*Most cuts available on Bar-None compilation, Music for a Space-Age Bachelor Pad

Music from "Peter Gunn," Henry Mancini
One of the first albums of the music from a television series, "Peter Gunn" remains among the top 100 best-selling albums. Although not the first crime jazz recording, it's certainly the most famous, and for decades since, no private eye's outfit has been complete without a smoky saxophone and slinking guitar riff.
*In print on RCA

Persuasive Percussion, Enoch Light
Esquivel may have been the finest artist of the stereo canvas, but Enoch Light was the most influential. Light was an engineer at heart, and he put as much or more work into the technology of the recording as the music itself. Read the liner notes from any album on Command, the label Light founded to showcase his stereo recordings, and you might think you were holding a hi-fi test record--what another company referred to as "an obstacle course for your phonograph needle." Persuasive Percussion ranked until recently among the top 25 best-selling albums of all time, and it spawned a whole slew of recordings that met (or claimed to) its five criteria: (1) prominent, persistent, and at times pernicious use of percussion; (2) blatant use of channel separation and the full range of audio frequencies (with real instruments, though, not electronic circuitry); (3) simple, striking abstract cover graphics; (4) gatefold cover; (5) detailed liner notes emphasizing what the music will do to your stereo system.
*In print on Varese Saraband

Music, Martinis, and Memories, Jackie Gleason
At the far end of the spectrum from the hi-fi nuts who loved Stereo Action and Command records were those folks who bought their stereos at the furniture store, and felt that like other pieces of furniture, it should be seen and not heard. Or rather, that music shouldn't get in the way of things. Film and television comedian Jackie Gleason to take the starch out of what had been known as light music and aim for a less discriminating audience who saw music as a means to an end: "Music to Change Her Mind," as the title of one of his albums puts it. More serious musicians such as Andre Kostelanetz and Mantovani recast their stuff as "mood music" to ride on Gleason's coat-tails. D.L. Miller and Ethel Gabriel saw gold and mined it with their countless 101 Strings and Living Strings albums. Later, when space-bachelors and their girls got hitched and had kids, it would evolve into "easy listening"--safe and sanitized versions of popular hits that you'd feel comfortable bringing into the house (preferably through the Reader's Digest, the Longines Symphonette Society, or the Columbia House Record Club). And still later, sex would insinuate itself again through the Mystic Moods and other "sounds of love" recordings. Coming full circle back to Gleason's vision of make-out music for the guy from Poughkeepsie.
*In print on Capitol

Blast Off, Ferrante & Teicher
Before they made their own contributions to easy listening (and a mint), Art Ferrante and Lou Teicher were dissecting, cannibilizing, and mutating pianos to produce other world-ish sounds that many electronic musicians only dream about. For a short spell in the late 1950s, the pair took a break between playing to the concert hall crowds (before) and playing the to Sears crowd (after) and recorded a series of albums (on Westminster, Columbia, and ABC) that can still astonish today's most jaded listeners. Blast Off is perhaps the best-known of these works, not the least for its kooky cover of F&T in space suits. In addition, this album is representative of the work of many other instrumentalists such as Leo Diamond and Les Paul, who stretched the limits of their instruments (and taping technology) to come up with sounds fit for the space age.
*In print on Varese Saraband

The In Sound from Way Out, Jean-Jacques Perrey and Gershon Kingsley
A landmark recording that brought electronic music to the attention of the popular audience. Kingsley, an early experimenter with the Moog synthesizer, produced the record with French tape wizard Jean-Jacques Perrey, taping an enormous range of sounds played mostly on the Ondioline and then painstakingly splicing them together. Madison Avenue latched onto the result, using most of these numbers in a variety of TV commercials (and earning Perrey and Kingsley two Clio awards). Disney adopted "Baroque Hoedown" as the theme for one of its main attractions at Disneyland. Perrey and Kingsley's success with this album paved the way for many other electronic musicians, including Walter Carlos and Mort Garson.
*In print on "The Essential Perrey and Kingsley" on Vanguard

Whipped Cream and Other Delights, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass
"Herb Alpert? A Top 10?" I had the same doubts when choosing this one, but there's no denying the overwhelming impact the Tijuana Brass had on the later years of Space Age Pop. The TJB placed three albums, including this one, among the Top 100 best-sellers, and spawned clone groups on virtually every other label save Deutsche Grammaphon. Their bouncy blend of brass and rock is arguably at the roots of what became known as the "now sound," and TJB hit songs such as "A Taste of Honey," "What Now, My Love?," "Spanish Flea," and "Tijuana Taxi" provided material for many, many Space Age Pop records of the mid-to-late 1960s. "Whipped Cream" insinuated itself into our cultural foundations through its daily use on that classic piece of late-60s television, "The Dating Game." And mail-order record buyers throughout the country flocked to the happy, clean-cut sound of the TJB, which sounded a million miles away from that ugly stuff on the news. Which is why you can't walk into a thrift store today without stumbling over a TJB record.
*In print on A&M

Havana 3 A.M.,Perez Prado
If you were to draw a timeline of the Space Age Pop era, you could put a mark down about every two years for a new Latin dance craze. There was the rhumba, the conga, the mambo, the cha-cha, the pachanga, the boogaloo, the jala-jala, and finally, the salsa. Serious Latin fans will pick Tito Puente or Machito over Perez Prado every time, but he grabbed a piece of the American ear with his hit, "Mambo No. 5" in 1953 and held on through the mid-1960s with greater success than any other Latin artist. Although Havana 3 A.M. doesn't include his biggest hit, "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White, it earns a place on the list in recognition of the major role that sex and gambling played in the style and economics of the lounge scene.
*In print on Bear Family.


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