RIP Gershon Kingsley, an unheralded pioneer of electronic music

If dig into the history of electronic music and synthesizers, you’ll quickly come across some early pioneering musicians.

For example, there’s Della Derbyshire, a composer of experimental electronic music who worked for the BBC in the late 50s and through the 60s. You’ll know her as the creator of the famous Dr Who theme.

Wendy Carlos worked with synth engineer Bob Moog to popularize his new creations by released a series of classical works arranged for the new devices in the late 1960s. She also scored A Clockwork Orange for Stanley Kubrick in 1971

And then there’s Gershon Kingsley. Wait–who?

Kingsley was a composer for theatre and ballet for much of his career before he stumbled on electronic music in 1966. While was working as a staff arranger for Vanguard Records, he was assigned an album project entitled The In Sound From Way Out. (No, not the Beastie Boys album, but know you know where they got that title).

For ’66, this was…out there.

With its bleeps and bloops and loops combined with the work of live musicians, the record was all about futurism in music.

Kingsley became besotted with creating new unimaginable soundscapes and soon became wrapped up with Bob Moog and his crew. The result was a 1969 album entitled Music to Moog By. If you go to record shows, you might find synth aficionados looking for vinyl copies of this one.

Kingsley electronic experiments continued into the early 1970s ranging from forays into classical music, movie scores, and television. If you’ve ever watched a PBS program originating from WGBH/Boston, he’s the guy who created its sonic signature in 1971. It’s still being used today.

But let’s back up just a bit to 1969 for a piece of music entitled “Popcorn” that appeared on Music to Moog By. It went like this.

In 1972, “Popcorn” was later covered by Hot Butter, which was an instrumental cover band led by an American keyboard named Stan Free.

For many people, the Hot Butter version of “Popcorn” was their first exposure to this new synthesized music. Imagine how different this would have sounded coming out of an AM radio in the early 70s.

That version became a massive hit single in countries all over the world, including Canada. (For some reason, it sold over a million copies in France alone.)

“Popcorn” has been covered many different times, ranging from Crazy Frog…

…to Muse. Yes, them.

Kingsley continued to work in music for the remaining decades of his life. Amongst that was a re-release of “Popcorn” on the Beastie Boys Grand Royal label.

Kingsley died December 10 at the age of 97.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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