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Brad Miller/Mystic Moods Orchestra
One of the most successful ventures of the space age pop era, the Mystic Moods Orchestra was in some ways only a by-product of Brad Miller's passion for recording and reproducing sound as purely as possible.
Growing up in Southern California, Miller became interested in railroading in his teens. After a few years of hanging around rail yards and learning all the lore of steam and diesel engines, he decided to record the sounds of some of the last steam locomotives operating on a major rail line. Eventually, around 1958, he and his friend, Jim Connella, formed a company called Mobile Fidelity Records and started cutting records from these field recordings, which they through railroading magazines and model train shows. Sound effects recording was quite the rage at the dawn of stereo, and one of these albums of train sounds was even reviewed favorably in High Fidelity magazine.
A few years later, Ernie McDaniel of San Francisco radio station KFOG decided to put one of Miller's albums, "Steam Railroading Under Thundering Skies," and an easy listening album, on separate turntables and broadcast them together. His late-night stunt produced a barrage of listener phone calls--most of them positive, much to his surprise. He later related the episode to Miller, who was inspired by the idea.
Working with arranger Don Ralke, Miller recorded a series of tunes, most of them Ralke originals, played by a string-laden orchestra, then mixed in a variety of environmental sounds he had collected. He took several months fine-tuning the blend, then cut a deal with Philips to release it under the title of One Stormy Night, credited to the Mystic Moods Orchestra.
You might expect that, appealing to the intersection between easy listening fans and sound effects mavens, One Stormy Night would have sold in the dozens. It certainly made no bones about getting people interested in the music. As the liner notes disclosed right up front,
This is not merely an album of recorded music. It is more, much more. Now for the first time, a truly unique listening experience awaits you, and experience that will not only capture your attention but your emotions ... This then is your special album, ready to transport you to a new world of time and space ...Who needs LSD when there's a record like this?
In keeping with the finest sound geek traditions of space age pop, not much space is wasted on the music ("These are lush orchestrations--persuasive, romantic, smooth [yadda, yadda, yadda]--performed by the popular[!] Mystic Moods orchestra"). Instead, over half the space goes into mind-numbing detail about microphones (EV models 666 and 665, in case you were wondering), tape machines, 4-channel mixers, etc.
Just as Eddie McDaniel learned, though, people dug this stuff. One Stormy Night was Philip's best selling album of 1965, and the demographics were to die for. Middle America bought it; hippies bought it; Young Republicans bought it.
Working with producer Leo Kulka, Miller quickly rolled out a series of One Stormy Night clones: Nighttide, More Than Music, Mexican Trip, Mystic Moods of Love. The last title hinted at the real attraction of these records. Much as Martin Denny discovered when he tossed a few fake bird noises into his performances, there seems to be something about the combination of music and outside sounds that gets people's mojo working.
Don Ralke wrote most of the material and did all the arrangements for the first few albums. John Tartalgia did a few more, then Larry Fotine became the primary arranger when Miller and Kulka moved to Warner Brothers. The musical content shifted to mellow covers of current hits ("Love the One You're With"), and Warners modified the packaging of the albums to make sure there was no mystery that these were records to serve as the preamble or accompaniment to getting it on. Erogenous came with an inner sleeve that, when pulled out, showed a nude couple in soft focus. Another include a free pair of panties.
Miller founded his own label, Soundbird, in 1974, and reissued many of the Mystic Moods albums, as well as albums of environmental sounds without music and more train recordings.
To audiophiles, Miller will remembered most for founding Modile Fidelity Sound Labs in the late 1970s. He and Gary Giorgi cut a set of albums using top grade vinyl, JVC's best cutting machines, and a half-speed mastering technique. The results made the original Philips albums sound like wax cylinders. They convinced ABC Records, MCA, and other labels to license a number of their albums for audiophile remastering and reissue under Mobile Fidelity's label.
Miller eventually handed over the day-to-day management of Mobile Fidelity, but the label became recognized as the gold standard for records, not just for the meticulous quality of material and methods used for producing them, but for their exceptional packaging, designed to make it easy to keep the record in archival condition even when knocked around like most records are.
Mobile Fidelity resisted--or ignored--the switch to CDs well into the 1990s. At a time when most companies were phasing out their LP lines, Mobile Fidelity spent a million dollars on a new record pressing facility. The tide was too strong, however, and the label was inevitably sucked into the undertow, going out of business finally in 1999.
For more about Brad Miller and Mobile Fidelity, go to A Brad Miller Page.
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