Harry’s Hundred: No. 84

Posted: February 11, 2012 in Music
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“Stratosfear” by Tangerine Dream (1976)

Electronic music started coming into the vogue with the release of “Switched-On Bach” By Walter Carlos in 1968.

Carlos, who later became Wendy, covered Johann Sebastian on the Moog synthesizer, and the result was a massive hit: Billboard’s Top 200 for more than a year, plus a spate of Grammys. Heck, my parents even had it on cassette. I think my dad just liked the term “Moog synthesizer.”

The success of “S-OB” paved the way for further explorations in the electronic vein, and some of the best to follow were by the German band Tangerine Dream, which actually has been Edgar Froese and a rotating cast of characters for nearly 45 years.

Tangerine Dream started as a rock group with decidedly experimental elements, as did many bands that later fell under the label Krautrock. (That’s not meant to be pejorative; one of those bands, Faust, actually named one of its songs “Krautrock.”)

By the mid-’70s, Tangerine Dream – Froese joined by Christopher Franke and Peter Baumann – was pure electronics, creating ethereal, mesmerizing landscapes of sound. That even held true when listening through a relatively low-end stereo, as was the case the first time I heard “Stratosfear,” at my friend JE’s house.

I remember picking up the album cover and marveling at the wide array of exotic-souding instruments played by the trio. All of them wielded the Moog synthesizer, of course, along with the likes of loop mellotron, digital sequencer and project electronic rhythm computer. Someone probably can program GarageBand for a similar approach these days, but Tangerine Dream’s state-of-the-art gear cost a small fortune at that point in time.

“Stratosfear” contains only four songs, but that’s three more than the band’s offering of the previous year, “Rubycon.”

The title track is indicative of how Tangerine Dream had managed to meld electronics with melody, constructing memorable hooks rather than mere drones. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) And the last part of the album’s closer, “Invisible Limits,” provides a bit of a change of pace by incorporating plain old piano and flute.

We always liked the title of “3 A.M. at the Border of the Marsh From Okefenokee” – who wouldn’t – and the layering of electronics manages to evoke the ambience of a swamp in the middle of the night.

Tangerine Dream went on to gain massive popularity by scoring Paul Brickman’s “Risky Business.” I’ve never seen the film, because I’ve avoided practically everything starring Tom Cruise. But I’ve listened the soundtrack, of course.

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