11/4/09

Of Moogs and Popcorn


Say what you want about the song "Popcorn", it's an amazing pop culture artifact if only for its longevity and international success. The song was a hit literally around the world from Ireland to the Ukraine to Taiwan.  Unfortunately for the composer, Gershon Kingley, a lot of the time foreign bands were covering the song with no royalties paid.  "Popcorn" simply crossed too many borders to keep track of!

It has historical significance since it was one of the first examples of a successful synth pop song.  Kingsley wrote it in a whopping 30 seconds, and put it on an album Music To Moog By (1969), which easily could have gone  unnoticed along with so many other "Music to (fill in the blank)" albums of its ilk..  

Upon its release in 1972 by Hot Butter, literally hundreds of cover versions sprouted up around the globe.  This site has a pretty good list of them chronologically, with audio clips. WFMU has 79 versions of the song as well.  The song was used in a variety of media: several films [see Shriek of the Mutilated (1974)], the Digger video game in 1983, a Pampers commercial in 2001, etc.

This sound clip is from a version by Klaus Wunderlich


What about the song's composer? Well, Kingsly was born in Berlin but fled to Palestine (in an area that would later become Israel) with the rise of Naziism and worked on a kibbutz. He taught himself piano and came to America to attend Juliard. When he was declined, Kingsly instead graduated with a degree in music from the L.A. Conservatory of Music.   Gershon Kingley is in the front row (image source).


It wasn't long before Kingsley hit it big on Broadway. He was directing and was making waves as a composer for the theater, particularly the Jewish productions.  But the real history begins when Kingsley starts messing around with the moog and putting together some experimental sounds.  The 1966 album The In Sound from Way Out contained the typical bachelor pad hi-fi space-age weirdness.  The sound clip is from the song "Spooks In Space".

Dig the press release from Vanguard Records:
It's electronic sound of pop music from the future. A sample of the strange new pleasure of a world which belongs to the space age. A sample of the electronic "Au Go Go" that might be heard soon from the juke boxes at the interplanetary way stations where space ships make their rest stops.
Madison Avenue was chomping at the bit to get Kingsley's sounds into their commercials.  Soon, he was composing sounds for everybody from Coca-Cola to Hanes stockings to Aquanet.   Here's a clip from a Luden's Cough Drop commercial:


Riding high on the subsequent success of "Popcorn", Kingsley then began to move away from the moog. He'd made space age pop accessible to the masses, and now was moving on to greener pastures in standard classical music.


Of interesting note to Retrospace readers: Kingsley composed the soundtrack for Silent Night, Bloody Night (1974) and the theme music for the game show Jokers Wild.  The Jokers Wild theme was called "The Savers" and can be heard here. The music was replaced in 1974 by an Alan Thicke composition called "Joker's Jive". Yes, that's right, we just connected the dots from a 1930's Palestinian kibbutz to the dad on Growing Pains.  You can thank me later.

5 comments:

  1. I love Popcorn by Hot Butter. I had it on 45 when I was a kid.

    Thanks for the great post.

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  2. Great post, I had no idea about the history behind the song!

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  3. A very interesting piece of Pop culture...Good Job!

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  4. The Herb Alpert version of Popcorn is worth tracking down. Actually you'll find it on my blog if you dig about a bit.

    And Gershon's version of Paperback Writer is a peach too

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  5. Good post. Popcorn was a very big hit when I was a kid.

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