For this installment of TWBITW, we have to give a shout-out to Kyle aka The Emotron, who suggested that we write about an obscure but highly influential ’90s duo called The Moog Cookbook. Thanks, Kyle! We’d heard of these guys before, but until we really dug into their music and their shtick a bit more, we didn’t fully appreciate their weirdness.
The Moog Cookbook was started by a couple of guys named Roger Joseph Manning Jr. (best-known for his work with the power-pop bands Jellyfish and Imperial Drag) and Brian Kehew, a more behind-the-scenes producer/engineer/keyboard tech guy who’s worked with everyone from Fiona Apple to The Who. They bonded over their shared love of vintage synthesizers, at a time (the grunge era) when synths were extremely uncool and therefore relatively cheap to collect. They also shared a fondness for the many novelty albums that got churned out in the late ’60s and early ’70s featuring pop songs of the day performed on early synths like the Moog, back when those synths were concerned mind-blowing and futuristic and not, y’know, cheesy.
Anyway, Manning and Kehew decided to put their large collections of antique synths to good use and record a modern-day version of those old novelty synth records like Moog Plays the Beatles and Switched-On Bach, featuring space-age bachelor pad versions of more recent songs like “Buddy Holly” and “Are You Gonna Go My Way?” Dressing up in ’50s sci-fi spacesuits and calling themselves The Moog Cookbook (after an actual cookbook, Moog’s Musical Eatery, published in the late ’70s by the wife of pioneering synth designer Robert Moog), they released two albums’ worth of cheesy synth goodness before more-or-less mothballing the project and getting back to more serious pursuits. (A third album of previously unreleased material, Bartell, came out a few years ago, but it mostly featured stuff they’d recorded years before).
Although Manning and Kehew did perform a handful of concerts as The Moog Cookbook–dressed in their spacesuits and using their aliases Meco Eno and Uli Nomi–we haven’t been able to find any live video of the duo in action, which is a serious bummer. But they did make one music video, for their version of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” which gives you a pretty good idea of what a great mix of kitsch and instrumental awesomeness these guys produced (wait for the wacky solo at about the 2:55 mark).
By the way…yes, a lot of folks have accused Daft Punk of ripping off Moog Cookbook’s look. And yes, it’s hard not to notice the resemblance. That’s all we’re saying.
Also: for the record, we far prefer the Cookbook’s cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to their take on “Black Hole Sun.” That’s some funky shit, guys!
- The Moog Cookbook on MySpace
- The Moog Cookbook on Roger Joseph Manning Jr.’s official site
- Great article on Brian Kehew from Performing Musician
- Recording the Beatles (book co-authored by Kehew on The Beatles’ recording equipment and techniques)