Stowaway Heroes – Robert Moog

The last of our Stowaway Heroes for now is one of the fathers of electronic music, Robert Moog. He might not have actually made a lot of music himself, but his fingers have remotely touched more genres than you can name in the last few decades. Here he is, demonstrating his own creation:

Moog famously started out in the 1950s, selling kit Theremins, launching his first modular synthesiser in 1964. After a couple of years of early devices, he met Walter (later WendyCarlos, who provided many people’s first taste of the Moog Synthesizer with Switched-On Bach (1968):

Picking a Moog Synthesizer classic from later in his career is difficult, as his devices turned up on music by everyone from the Beach Boys to Gary Numan. So instead, I think we should keep it predictable, and go with Kraftwerk‘s breakthrough hit from 1974, Autobahn:

Sadly, Robert Moog passed away relatively young in 2005, but his legacy – and company – are still going strong, and you’ll find his sounds throughout the last fifty years or so of pop music. So he’s well-deserving of his place amongst the Stowaway Heroes.

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Stowaway Heroes – Delia Derbyshire

Time for another of our Stowaway Heroes now. This week, one of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s most important and influential musicians. Delia Derbyshire is the person who brought Ron Grainer‘s Doctor Who theme music to life in a quite extraordinary way.

Derbyshire joined the BBC in 1960, and stayed for thirteen years, working on numerous well-known and loved series and one-off shows, one of which was The Last Caravans, an episode of The World About Us, for which she composed the brilliant Blue Veils and Golden Sands:

Little is known of her work after leaving the BBC, although following her untimely death in 2001 an extensive collection of tapes were found in her attic and digitised. Perhaps her most famous non-BBC work was as a member of the group White Noise, who released the early electronic album An Electric Storm in 1969.

Delia Derbyshire‘s musical career was a lot shorter than it really should have been – somebody this influential should definitely have a back catalogue of albums to their name. Maybe one day she will. But for now, with a career shrouded in mystery, she is one of the most important of our Stowaway Heroes.

Stowaway Heroes – Shep Pettibone

One of the most important names of the 1980s is Shep Pettibone. You’ll know him from multiple remixes and production credits, but there’s a good chance that you don’t actually know anything about him. Me neither, frankly, so let’s start with something we can all agree on – the brilliance of his 1986 remix of Love Comes Quickly, by Pet Shop Boys:

The New York-based DJ would work with Pet Shop Boys a number of times between 1986 and 1988, working on ten tracks in total. But by 1986, Pettibone was already half a decade into his career, having cut his teeth on Afrika Bambaataa‘s Jazzy Sensation in 1981:

His CV for the late 1980s is impressive to say the least, including remixes and production work for Art of NoiseThe B-52sBee GeesBrosDavid BowieDepeche ModeDuran DuranDusty SpringfieldElton JohnErasure, FalcoGeorge MichaelJanet JacksonNew OrderRun DMCWhitney Houston and many others. But his most prolific collaborator seems to have been Madonna, who used his services no less than sixteen times between 1985 and 1993. Here’s Into the Groove:

His mixes were undeniably of their time, with huge drum fills and solos, and a lot of orchestral hits – so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that his remix work dried up somewhat in the 1980s. But if you’re looking for someone who heavily impacted the sound of a particular era, Shep Pettibone should be very high on your list.

Stowaway Heroes – Ian Levine

This is the first, and potentially also last, mention here for an unlikely Stowaway HeroIan Levine is a divisive personality, who has been involved in three main spheres that are relevant to this blog: first and least relevant is northern soul. If you’re not familiar with what that means… well, frankly, you are:

Yes, Fatboy Slim joins the ranks of Soft Cell and many others who have appeared on this blog previously as acts who have been influenced by northern soul, the gentle black American pop music that surprisingly took the north of England by storm in the late 1960s.

By the mid-1970s, Levine was one of the better known DJs who was bringing northern soul to Blackpool, and in more recent years, he has put his name to several compilation albums covering the era.

Over the decade or so that followed, he also made his name in the world of television show Doctor Who, writing the theme for the 1981 spin-off K-9 and Company, and also being responsible for this awful and rather tasteless charity single to try to persuade the BBC to bring the main series back in 1985:

Astonishingly, Hans Zimmer helped out on fairlight for that recording, along with a lot of people for whom this hopefully wasn’t the highlight of their career.

More specifically though, for this blog, Levine was the man who produced this hit single for Evelyn Thomas, later also covered by Erasure:

While the electronic parts of the song are almost depressingly simple, there’s a lot to be said for the vocal performance. His subsequent remixes for Pet Shop Boys (of Paninaro and It’s a Sin) definitely deserve to be forgotten, as does this (subsequently deleted) shockingly misogynistic tweet about the casting of a female Doctor Who:

CHRIS CHIBNALL MAKES ME WANNA VOMIT He has put the final nail into Doctor Who. RIP

But for all of that, I think we can agree that Ian Levine has influenced this blog in his own way, and for that we should be grateful!

Stowaway Heroes – Daniel Miller

Our first stowaway hero is Daniel Miller, boss of Mute Records, and one of the most influential and seemingly hands-off individuals in the world of electronic music. In his late twenties, he was working as a film editor, and scraped together enough money to buy a synthesiser. His resulting 1978 solo double a-side single T.V.O.D. / Warm Leatherette, released as The Normal, is fundamentally brilliant:

It’s not clear to me whether Miller actually intended for Mute to become a fully fledged record label or whether it was all supposed to just be a one-off, but always way ahead of the curve, he also came up with his own virtual group Silicon Teens, who released a couple of great singles including Memphis Tennessee:

But of course, Mute is most famous for the astonishing roster of artists who were signed over the decades that followed, including mainstream acts such as Depeche ModeYazooMobyNick CaveNew Order, underground and cult successes including Fad Gadget and I Start Counting, and even (briefly) Kraftwerk. And he didn’t completely keep his hands off their output either – here’s his take on Erasure‘s Supernature:

He also presented a radio show on Berlin’s Radio Eins and remains well respected throughout the music industry, despite the slightly questionable sale of Mute to EMI for £23 million in 2002 (which was fortunately rectified by a split in 2009). It’s rare for someone so influential to turn up in so many places but be so unknown. So he’s a worthy first hero for this blog – hats off to Daniel Miller.

Coming soon – Stowaway Heroes

This blog might be five years old and rapidly approaching school age, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do new things here every once in a while. Starting next week, and for the next few weeks, we’ll have a series of Stowaway Heroes, people who aren’t necessarily directly credited for having huge hit singles, but have somehow shaped the sounds we’ve been listening to around here.

The names will remain a secret for now, so stay tuned!