Exploring Mort Garson's Occult Moog Music

Mural at Mars Bar, NYC 2008
SliceofNYC via Flickr

The 1960s and early 1970s ushered in a new Age of Aquarius, and also jump-started mainstream America's love affair with the occult, making once taboo subjects like witchcraft and devil worship suitable conversation material for a suburban cocktail party. Anton LaVey was getting plenty of press with his Church of Satan, and it seems like Americans everywhere were suddenly interested in topics like astrology and ritual magic.

People were eagerly abandoning the clutches of mainstream religions and instead devoting time to books on astral projection and spell casting, and it wasn't long before popular music began to reflect the public's interest in magic and the occult.

The Chicago-based psychedelic rockers Coven released their infamous Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls album in 1969, and Black Sabbath scared people's parents the following year with their doom-laden debut, but more than just hard rockers were getting in on the action. Music created on Moog synthesizers was also becoming popular with the public around the same time, so perhaps it was inevitable that the occult and early electronic music would soon meet.

Enter Canadian-born composer Morton Garson, an artist with a very strange résumé, including writing songs for Brenda Lee and Cliff Richards before arranging two albums by Doris Day. Throughout the '60s, Garson was featured on numerous albums by soft-pop and easy listening artists, before becoming one of the first arrangers or composers to use the newly available Moog synthesizers.

Garson recorded an astrology-themed album featuring the instrument for Elektra Records, as well as a few other early electronic-music oddities, before recording a 12-album series of astrological electronic music on A&M Records -- one album for each sign of the Zodiac.

In 1971 Garson recorded what might be regarded as his masterpiece, an occult-themed album aptly named Black Mass by "Lucifer" (the name under which Garson decided to attribute the album). The record is now widely collected by fans of early Moog music and collectors of occult-music oddities. Sporting a menacing-looking black cover with strange symbols on one side and a sigil of Baphomet on the other, the album was not for the easily shaken. The tracks had equally sinister-sounding names like "Voices of the Dead" and "Exorcism," making Black Mass one of the spookiest albums of the early-'70s, and a classic of early occult and electronic music.

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