Essential additions to an Incredibly Strange Music Collection.
I thought I’d write an article this holiday season about some of my favorite albums in the “Space Age Bachelor Pad” genre.
Space Age Bachelor Pad music, also known as “space age pop” was generally instrumental, happy, and short. Some of this music was designed to show off the power of new stereo speakers. Wikipedia tells us- “Space age pop was inspired by the zeitgeist of those times, an optimism based on the strong post-war economy and technology boom, and excitement about mankind’s early forays into space.” Engineers and composers were pushing the limit and trying to make the home listening experience as dynamic and as exciting as they could. They were experimenting with putting microphones in cans, the difference between recording close up and far away, microphones hanging from ceilings, moving in the room while the performance was happening. Sometimes jazz standards and classical pieces would be remained in a peppy, optimisitc and playful way, generally cutting intros and solos to keep them tight and snappy.
Henri Mancini and Dick Hyman would utilize sounds and moods first explored in this thrilling genre to score film. Some of this music resembles music from cartoons, and Carl Stalling (who worked on both Disney’s Merry Melodies and Warner Brother’s Silly Symphonies) even reused music from the Raymond Scott catalog in his compositions for Looney Tunes.
The most familiar of these is also perhaps the most iconic space age pop tune of all, “Powerhouse.” This instantly recognizable tune was in countless cartoons at moments of confused frenzy, a confidant character strutting down the street, or scenes of construction or moving conveyor belts.
My favorite rendition appears on Space Age Pop Volume 1, recorded by Sid Bass, though a very interesting “free jazz” version is on Ted Kooshian’s Standard Orbit Quartet’s Underdog, and a cool percussion heavy xylophone rendition is on Space Capades from Ultra Lounge recorded by the Bobby Hammack trio.
Conductor Gert Jan Blom said that the effect of having a real orchestra play Powerhouse in front of him, with over 20 horns and percussion was “better than sex.” ( Liner notes to Raymond Scott: Chesterfield Arrangements 1937-1938)
Some lump this music together with “elevator” music and lounge. I’m just one listener, but I would disagree. I think elevator music is designed to calm and be unnoticed in the background. When I think “lounge,” I think vocals, and imagine a sultry singer leaning on a piano and crooning into a old fashioned microphone. What makes Space Age Pop what it is: NO lyrics, fun and zest in every note and element of the production, and an insistent, hummable melody that is high in the mix played on keyboards and mallet instruments.
Modern bands who are kicking ass and taking names, continuing the Space age pop tradition. Many of these discs were released in the 90s, so they aren’t exactly Modern… but I don’t care, I’m living in the past and loving it. If you like Keyboards- this is a list for you, I’m a keyboardophile and this list shows it.
Medeski, Martin and Wood
This band has fans in the Jazz world and the “jam band” scene. My favorite album is the one I consider to be the most optimistic Shack Man. “Is there Anybody who Loves my Jesus?” “Think,” “Spy Kiss,” and their iconic song, maybe what they are best known for, the bouncy, repetitive, tempo crescendo orgasm that is Bubblehouse- borrowing a formula from house music but setting it to a playful hip hop beat and sounds almost like a DJ Shadow or RJD2 tune.
Another fantastic album from them is their most avant garde and Psychedelic: The Dropper. I usually slip the first track, which is a bit too wild for me, but I love the rest of the album, Long rambling wild Miles Davis like songs, and the middle is a lovely lounge intermission “Note Blue” with the happiest organ riffs and gentle swinging guitar noodling. Many tracks also have Marc Ribot!
Vampiros Lesbos by Manfred Hübler and Siegfried Schwab
This isn’t a band name, sadly, but a soundtrack that became more famous than the film. This is crazy 70s european soft core Horror porn with fantastic fun music. Jammy organs, horns, noir electric guitars, and electric piano grooves. The tracks aren’t ruined with any dialogue or horny vampire moaning, the only track with vocals is “the Lion and the Cucumber.” Its some satanic chanting by an Troll. “There’s no Satisfaction” is pure Go-Go bliss! Dig it!
Other awesome tracks are “Dedicated to Love” and “Kama Sutra.”
The pretty cooing ladies who are swooning and saying “aaaahhh,” “hey!” or “oh yes!” in the background blend in with samples of monkeys and birdsong. Slide guitars, vibraphones, sitars and flutes make this tiki tiki album perfect for a bubble party. Uh Oh has the amazing tracks “Papaya Freeway,” Sweet Cinnamon Punch.”
Their followup, Buzzzz contains “Chop Sockey,” and “Good Little Demon.” If it were possible for this band to play live it would be a fantastic show. Perhaps they perform some semblance of the album by playing backing tracks and playing mallet instruments live along with them.
Action Figure Party.
I found that I like everything Greg Kurstin puts his hands on, including Geggy Tah, Lily Allen and this gem of an album. This has guest appearances from many musicians known for playing rock and pop, but who like to play Jazz when Greg Kurstin calls; such as Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Yuval Gabay from Soul Coughing. Miho Hatori, Sean Lennon, and Theremin Virtuoso Pamela Kurstin make contributions too.
“Pong Baby” is some crazy funk. “Gamera” has outrageously catchy keyboard riffs and a delightful drum riff. Wheres the moment is sheer delight. “George and Cindy” sounds like closing credits to a 60s TV show about teenagers in love, and “Flow” and “No Sleep” provide welcome respite with slower tempos and a chiller mood. Bonkers good record.
The Bad Plus
Not so much a jazz band, as a experimental progressive band playing music in the “jazz idiom.” They are known for eclectic rock covers such as “Smells like Teen Spirit” and “Iron Man,” and when they put their own spin on the mood and timing, such as in Bowie’s Life on Mars or Blondie’s “Heart of Glass,” the results are remarkable. These are truly covers that pay loving homage to their originals.
They can push the limits of grandiosity to the extreme such as in Queen’s “We are the Champions.” It works… for a few listens. I think they shine on original compositions like “Prehensile Dream, ” Anthem for the Earnest and “The Empire Strikes Backwards” all from their amazing album Suspicious Activity. My favorite album from them is their first: Give. “Boo Wah” is some outrageous odd time signature exploration, that might make Sun Ra scratch his head. “1972 Gold Medalist” is a simple prodding two chord adventure that I will never tire of.
Tracks like “Basin Street Blues” from Some of my Best Friends are Djs combine hip hop and drunken jazz. He has a rhythm section going on one LP and then a trumpet solo on another one and he scratches and mangles it to pure ear candy. Often his use of “funny vocal samples” is hackneyed, I would prefer he leave the tracks instrumental every time. I have had the opportunity to see him live twice and each time was thrilling. I think the samples are better suited to a live show setting, and when the albums final mix goes out the tracks would be improved by removing them.
“Stomping at Le Savoi” and “Vacation Island” are two other fun tracks I recommend, but alas, also have funny samples.
Ursula 1000 is an electronica artist who makes fun dancey remixes of old songs, mixes the best from the world of “loungetronica- and samples everything, including samba, mambo and big band. I think his best tracks are definitely in the space age bachelor pad tradition. “Beatbox Cha Cha” from Kinda Kinky is one of his best, the other standouts are “Mucho Tequila,” and “Samba 1000.”
“Funky Bikini,” “Mambo 1000,” and “The Shake” are highlights from his debut The Now Sound of Ursula 1000. He has also released “mixtape” style releases with him mixing the music of others, Ursadelica and All Systems are Go Go.
I also want to mention Magma.
Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh and Kohntarkosz Anteria are the two albums I have heard from them.
This sounds nothing like space age bachelor pad music, and it was released in the 70s, but I’m going to write about it here anyway because its so incredibly wild and intense. This is French Choral Orchestral psychedelia. They sing in a made-up language that sounds Germanic. Its Crazy.
But wait there’s more. Many many more artists are exploring these fun sounds, combining them with hip hop, vocals, and acid jazz: including Stereolab, Combustible Edison, The Cardigans, Valella Valella, Belaire, Nous Non Plus, Lemon Jelly, Euphone, The Lounge Lizards, Morricone Youth, Mr. Scruff, Prefuse 73, Max Tundra, Ulu, The Avalanches, Marco Benevento and the Bird and the Bee (also a Greg Kurstin project.) if you play music that is strange and instrumental, please tell me about it!