Gary Numan, Cars 45 sleeve, 1980Bob Moog Foundation / Moogseum
As the 1970s progressed, many artists, regardless of genre, integrated synthesizers into their sound. They became lead instruments during the new wave invasion of the 1980s, for musicians such as Gary Numan. Even pop artists, such as Cliff Richard utilized their sonic flexibility to great success on the Billboard charts.
Over a span of 14 years, Utopia would morph from a six-piece progressive rock band featuring three keyboardists into a four-piece power pop outfit. Throughout this stretch there were two important constants: Todd Rundgren and cutting edge electronica applications. The original lineup was a fluid one, with most of the musicians having played on Rundgren’s numerous offerings as a solo artist.
The quartet format was solidified in 1976 with rhythm section members Kasim Sulton (bass/vocals) and Willie Wilcox (drums/vocals), both of whom Rundgren had met producing other artists. Keyboards and vocals were handled by former Moog product specialist Roger Powell, pictured above with Bob Moog in the cover photo. While the featured video is a shining example of progressive rock, the Ra album also featured material leaning in the band’s eventual poppier direction.
"Overture: Mountaintop and Sunrise / Communion With The Sun"
Released February 1977 by Bearsville/Warner Bros
Writers: Bernard Herrman, Todd Rundgren
• Keyboardist/synthesist Roger Powell's "Wall Of Moog" is showcased frequently on the album's opening track, starting with the first trumpet-like notes
• Powell had a distinct advantage over his contemporaries in that he was also an electronics engineer, able to modify synthesizer components to suit his needs
• Multiple tracks of synth arpeggios enter (0:15), created by the Moog's sequencer
• Multiple tracks of Moog create a big, brassy chord (0:57)
• A classic Moog lead sound plays an arpeggiated figure (1:04), and continues in support of Rundgren's guitar (1:58)
• Another section with the Moog supporting the guitar appears at (3:41), (4:32) and (6:21)
• Powell takes a dazzling solo in response to Rundgren's guitar, with a highly emotive Moog lead synth sound (5:30). An aggressive section with the Moog and guitar playing together follows
Electric Light Orchestra
Rock and pop music have always incorporated orchestral textures, but nobody did it more cohesively and successfully than Electric Light Orchestra. Founders Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood had already explored the classical/rock connection in The Move, Wood’s previous band which Lynne joined in 1972. ELO represented an expansion of that concept, and included Move drummer Bev Bevan.
During their original 13-year stretch as recording and touring artists they sold over 50 million records, landing 27 Top 40 hits in the UK. The original three members along with keyboardist Richard Tandy were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017.
Released May 1977 by United Artists
Writer & Producer: Jeff Lynne
# 7 Billboard Hot 100
• Keyboardist Richard Tandy employed numerous synthesizers over the years supplementing the band’s orchestral textures
• An ARP 2600 synthesizer provides the song’s intro, with the metallic, random sounds created using the synthesizer’s Sample & Hold and Ring Modulator functions
• Tandy’s Minimoog appears (0:14) simulating a ring tone from the United States. The sound was created by tuning the Mini’s Voltage-Controlled Oscillators (VCOs) to the actual frequencies found in the real thing
• Check out ELO's "Daybreaker" featuring Tandy using a more classic Minimoog sound for the main theme (@ 0:23)
Rush’s roots go back to 1968 with guitarist Alex Lifeson and original drummer John Rutsey, along with bassist/vocalist Jeff Jones. Bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee would first join as a last-minute replacement when Jones bailed on the band’s second gig. Lee was part of a revolving door of different musicians on different instruments, finally becoming a permanent member after a disastrous gig with another bassist/singer.
Rutsey would wind up leaving due to health issues and artistic differences, and eventually was replaced by Neil Peart just after their debut album had been released. Rush first incorporated synthesizers on their 1976 album 2112, with Hugh Syme playing electronic keyboards and synth guitar on one cut.
Lee would add synthesizers to his credits on their subsequent album A Farewell to Kings, playing both a Minimoog and a Moog Taurus pedal synthesizer. Their continued expansion into keyboard and synthesizer technologies would allow them to become what is arguably the biggest-sounding trio in all of popular music.
Released October 1978 by Anthem Records
Writers: Neil Peart , Geddy Lee , Alex Lifeson
Producers: Rush , Terry Brown
• The venerable Canadian rock trio incorporated Moogs early and often, embracing synthesizer technology in their constant quest to expand their sound
• Bassist Lee’s Minimoog would be combined with other synths into a custom-built, dual-keyboard rig that was a concert fixture for years
• The first Moog appearance in the accompanying video is a single note on the Moog Taurus, a foot-controlled synthesizer (1:45) , acting as a transition into the next section. Both Lee and Lifeson would use their Taurus pedals extensively on stage, eventually using custom Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI)-capable pedals to trigger their Moogs along with additional sounds
• The Minimoog shines in the instrumental section (1:47), with Lee playing a particularly expressive sound
• The Taurus pedals return for the next instrumental passage (2:18), followed by the Minimoog with a supportive, horn-like tone (2:27)
Akron, Ohio-based electronic new wavers Devo's roots go back to the late 1960s, as an offshoot of satirical art pieces by Gerald Casale and Bob Lewis, both students at Kent State University. Gerald’s brother Bob became part of the proceedings, and would remain in the band throughout their heyday. Mark Mothersbaugh joined around 1970, with a subsequent version of the band including his brothers Bob on guitar and Jim on a homemade electronic drum kit.
Jim Mothersbaugh would be replaced by Alan Meyers, who, along with the two pairs of brothers, constitute the classic lineup. Devo experienced a 10-year reunion phase in 1996 after a five year hiatus, and they received the first Moog Innovator Award in 2010. During their time away from recording and performing Mark Mothersbaugh became known for his soundtrack work, most notably the 13-year series Rugrats.
Released May 1980 by Warner Bros. Records
Writers: Gerald Casale , Mark Mothersbaugh
Producer: Robert Margouleff
#14 Billboard Hot 100, #14 Billboard Hot Dance Club Play
• Co-founder Mothersbaugh said it all: “…probably if you dissected my brain, there's probably a whole section that's Minimoog”
• The Minimoog, a vital part of the band's sound throughout their history, is responsible for two of the three electronic sounds in the neo-minimalist arrangement of the smash hit
• In the accompanying live video, Casale plays the bass hook on one Minimoog (0:15) while Mothersbaugh triggers the whip crack sounds on another Mini (0:17), created using the synthesizer’s Noise Generator
Born in 1948, Stephen Lawrence Winwood is an English singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. Prior to his success as a solo artist he was key member of Blind Faith, Traffic, and the Spencer Davis Group, with whom he got his start when he was only 14. Prior to joining Davis he was a staple on the Birmingham blues and rock scenes, backing legendary artists such as Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, Chuck Berry, and Bo Diddley when they toured the UK.
He was as talented a vocalist as he was keyboardist, and his singing style was inspired by Ray Charles. He grew weary of touring and first resigned from Traffic in 1969, but their record label pressured him into resuming as a solo artist, releasing his first eponymous solo album in 1977.
"While You See A Chance"
Released December 1980 by Island
Writers: Steve Winwood, Will Jennings
#2 Billboard Mainstream Rock, # 7 Billboard Hot 100
• Winwood’s second solo album (he played all the instruments on Arc Of A Diver) re-established him as a major star after first coming on the scene as a teenager with The Spencer Davis Group
• The Moog Multimoog synthesizer makes an early appearance (0:03), stating the first three notes of the song’s melody before continuing with a wistful, horn-like part
• The song takes off with the Multimoog grabbing the lead (0:28), with a brighter sound featuring a harder attack. Winwood uses the Multimoog’s metal mesh ribbon controller for subtle pitch bends, enhancing the melody throughout this passage, and adds harmonies with a second track of Multimoog (0:35)
• Winwood's synthesizer solo (2:19) displays superior musicality with continued tasteful applications of the pitch bend ribbon, with vibrato imparted by the synthesizer’s Low-Frequency Oscillator, injected with a control wheel to the right of the ribbon controller
New Jersey-born Gary Malcolm Wright was originally a child actor before going on to study both medicine and psychology in the US and Europe. He first came to musical prominence as the front man and primary songwriter for British heavy rock band Spooky Tooth. Starting in the early 1970s he racked up an impressive list of credits as a sideman for major artists such as George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Jerry Lee Lewis, Harry Nilsson, and Ronnie Spector.
In the early 1980s he got involved with film scoring, leading to re-recording of “Dream Weaver”, his most popular song, for 1992’s comedy blockbuster Wayne’s World.
"More Than A Heartache"
Released 1981 by Warner Bros. Records
Writer: Gary Wright
Producers: Dean Parks, Wright
• Multiple Moogs and other synthesizers were programmed for the album by Casey Young, most noted for his work with Yes on their 90125 tour.
• Features extensive use of a custom polyphonic “Mega Moog”, comprised of a Polymoog, four Minimoogs, and an Oberheim 4-Voice polyphonic synthesizer, all played from a single keyboard
• A Moog System 55 modular synthesizer is used for all synth bass parts on the album, with a Moog System 15 used for incidental sounds
English rockers New Order, formed in 1980, was comprised of Bernard Sumner (guitar/vocals), Peter Hook (bass) and Stephen Morris (drums) after their band Joy Division dissolved after the suicide of lead vocalist Ian Curtis. Keyboardist Gillian Gilbert would soon join them, and their integration of post-punk, electronica and dance music would make them one of the most influential bands of the 1980s.
The 1983 hit “Blue Monday”, featured here, would go on to become the best-selling 12-inch single in industry history. They returned in 1998 after a five-year hiatus to work on individual projects. Since then they’ve gone through both hiatuses and personnel changes, and New Order released their tenth studio album in 2015.
Released March 1983 by Factory Records
Writers: Gillian Gilbert , Peter Hook , Stephen Morris , Bernard Sumner
Producers: New Order
#5 Billboard Hot Dance Club Play
• Yet another winning combination of Moog synth bass and the classic “disco” alternating octaves bass line
• New Order bass parts, including this song, relied heavily on the Moog Source, a synthesizer with a computer memory for storing sounds, and a single data wheel for changing synthesizer parameters. This was in stark contrast to its knob-laden ancestry. It makes several brief appearances in the accompanying video
Philip David Charles Collins, born in 1951, grew up in west London. He was multi-talented, starting out on drums at the age of five while also working as a child actor. He joined Genesis as their drummer in 1970, and the band became a cornerstone of the English art rock movement. Collins moved out front as lead vocalist for the band when founding singer Peter Gabriel departed on a solo career. Collins would wind up on a similar path, embarking on his own solo career in the 1980s.
When taken as a whole, his work with Genesis, work with other artists, and his solo career allowed Collins to rack up more Top 40 singles than any other performer in that decade.
Released February 1985 by Atlantic
Writer: Phil Collins
Producers: Collins, Hugh Padgham
# 1 Billboard Hot 100, #8 Billboard Hot Black Singles, #4 Hot Dance/Disco Club Play
• Less than 25 years after the Moog synthesizer's first appearances, and within a few years of the introduction of MIDI, the sound of a machine-driven Moog bass has become part of the pop music production vernacular
• David Frank, sound designer and hit artist with The System, played and programmed the Minimoog synth bass part (0:49), subtly changing the synthesizer's Voltage-Controlled Filter (VCF) controls as the part is played, adding sonic interest to what would be an otherwise static sound
Pet Shop Boys
English synth-pop superstars Pet Shop Boys formed in 1981, consisting of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe. They first met in a stereo shop in the Chelsea area of London, quickly discovering a mutual love of electronica and dance music. They have sold more than 100 million records worldwide, earning them the spot as most successful UK music duo in the 1999 edition of The Guinness Book of World Records.
The Pet Shop Boys have been on the UK Singles Chart over 40 times, and their five Top 10 singles on the US charts established them as key players in the Second British Invasion of American popular music. Billboard magazine anointed them in 2016 as the top Dance Duo/Group over the four decades since that chart’s inception.
"West End Girls"
Released March 1986 by EMI America Records
Writers: Neil Tennant, Chris Lowe
Producer: Stephen Hague
# 1 Billboard Hot 10, #36 Hot Black Singles, #1 Hot Dance/Disco Club Play
• The original single version was released in 1984, then the song was re-recorded in 1985 for the Please album
• Even by the mid-’80s, Moog synthesizers from the ’60s and ’70s were still the go-to choice for classic synthesizer bass lines
• More recently, Lowe has utilized the Minimoog Voyager, the 21st-century counterpart to the original Minimoog, and the last synthesizer designed by Bob Moog before his passing in 2005
Special thanks to Anders Lundquist.