Taking a lunch break from Corporate Hell to complete Day 23 of my “28 Day Challenge” (click HERE). This is also a good opportunity then to enjoy a quick selection from my Cornball collection of records, namely the ‘Music In Orbit: Out of the World Instrumentals by London’s Finest Orchestra‘ by Ron Goodwin.
Back when I first started collecting records I was very indiscriminate about it. I piked them by the roadside or bundles of them for a $1.00 at church bazaars and garage sales. I didn’t really care what it was, I just brought it home. Kelly will yell you, I’m compulsive that way.
Anyway, when I reorganized this collection about a year ago I decided to cull a lot of this crap out of my collection, maybe for a future garage sale of our own. Those records are currently sitting in a stack (a well organized stack mind you) on the bottom-most shelf by the kitty litter box, separate from the rest of the collection.
A few days ago, I dug through this collection again just for shits and giggles and low and behold, there it was in all it’s campy glory. And I’m sure glad I did too because every track is the quintessential representative of some background music you’ve heard in any number of Science Fiction movies one place or another. In fact, this type of music has it’s own bizarre genre attached to it: “Space-Age Exotica”.
You can’t make that shit up.
Released in 1958 on Capitol Records, these 12 unique compositions literally shuttle around genres and tributaries that are all well considered, but not within the boundaries of one single record. Oscillating between standardized symphonies, flamboyant vignettes and twisted genre convulsions that even recall Al Caiola’s ‘Music For Space Squirrels’ (1958) – yup, it’s a thing – in one way or another, Ron Goodwin and his London Orchestra branch out into various directions, not all of them truly exciting, some of them even too bland and normal for a travelog, but the scattered obscure parts, colorful melodies and vertiginous heights make this a worthwhile effort that deserves a closer inspection of its weaknesses and triumphs.
Unfortunately, all hopes for a crazy and over-the-top Space-Age lift-off are crushed right within the opener ‘Departure’, although its name promises excitement and adventures considering the encompassing topic. There’s nothing wrong with Goodwin’s depiction though: brass fanfares, whirling string, uplifting flutes and sharp cymbals altogether paint both a fibrillar and joyous prelude, with the only galactic texture being the punctilio of the xylophone. The great melodies, however, make the opener a superb joyride where Goodwin overcomes the omitted effects with the power of serration and hooks, a motif that reappears time and again over the course of this album. ‘The Moon’, for instance, is aglow with mauve-tinted super-sets of strings that are much more romantic and simmering than cold and mysterious. A most transfiguring mélange and curious intermission as it exchanges excitement for contemplation.
It is ‘Sally The Satellite’ which resurrects the uplifting vibes, and more so, transplants a mountainous hillbilly guitar into the harp-accentuated string fest. Suddenly, it’s ragtime, and no-one saw that coming.
Uniting an energy this raw with the mellifluousness of symphonic veils is a feat that is only justifiable in Space-Age records. No cosmic interludes or dizzying tone sequences are evoked, but this synergy alone is colorful enough. Meanwhile, ‘The Venus Waltz’ says it all in its title already: fountained string fibers pour into the interstices of the flute- and glockenspiel-accentuated realms, and if Goodwin’s piece were to appear in a large and shuffled playlist, chances are that I’d mistake it for an Italian symphony.
The album gains bonus points soon enough though, or what else is there to say when a title such as ‘Mercury Gets The Message’ materializes? Bona fide alto flutes tumble over a jazzy double bass rhythm that is only cautiously interpolated with sun-dappled guitars and galactic vibes. Goodwin surprises yet again with a style-breaking iteration before ‘The Sun’ finishes side A in a gorgeously exhilarative fanfare that is magnificently awash with powerfully good-natured strings and festive mallet instruments, gongs and flutes. It’s the source of life, our solar system’s light bulb that is worshiped here in the possibly greatest piece of the album.
As if the orchestra wanted to shake off the vivacious majesty of ‘The Sun’, Side B’s opener ‘Jumping Jupiter’ turns out to be a cheeky turmoil of pluvial strings, harp interstices and hi-hat rhythms that are once more rightfully at home in light music instead of orchestral realms. Not particularly otherworldly, the piece is lively enough to enchant. ‘Martians On Parade’, however, is it: the greatest Space-Age gem of the album. Awfully cute – and pitched – vocals, military march surroundings, stacked flutes and scything dark matter horns impose a Bohemian twilight and trigger the right synapses, making this a wonderfully weird synergetic symphony to sing along with.
While ‘The Milky Way’ allows a superb motionless gaze of awe and wonder via twinkling mallet instruments, solar-powered harps and minimalist segues of enigmatic strings and quiescence, ‘The Rings Around Saturn’ is a marimba arrangement at its heart and rounds off the arpeggiated aorta with flute flumes, double bass backings and an all-male doo-doo Space-Age choir – what a delight! Afterwards, Playtime On Pluto shuttles between a clandestine photometry, ebullient cauldrons full of harps and stacked horn helixes before ‘Return My Love’ tumbles back into earthbound spheres. Downwards-spiraling glitters, oneiric flutes, Honky Tonk pianos and auroral strings are multiplexed, leaving a smiling listener behind on Earth.
On a completely different note, the cover for this album is all marked up and held together with generations worth of masking tape, but it does have this amazing illustration on the back by Burt Shonberg.
How or why I thought this album was not worthy of a place of honor in my record collection is simply beyond me at this point. Maybe I’ve matured (or, immatured maybe?) as a collector or maybe my musical interests have changed. I dunno.
But I love this album and it has once again been resurrected from the Island of Forgotten Records and once again. Furthermore, I’m also going to have to see about finding more of this “Space-Age Exotica”.
This shit is dope, yo!