The musical duo Perrey and Kingsley (Jean-Jacques Perrey, b. 1929 and Gershon Kingsley, b. 1925), are pioneers in the field of electronic music. Before their collaboration, starting in 1965, electronic music was considered to be purely avant-garde.
Their most recognizable work to Disney fans is 1967's "Baroque Hoedown" which was rearranged into the theme music for the Main Street Electrical Parade, first at Disneyland and presently at Disney's California Adventure. Some of their songs, such as "Little Man from Mars," can be heard in Disneyland's Tomorrowland at Star Trader gift shop.
German-born Kingsley fled Nazi Germany for Israel and began his career in music as a pit conductor for Broadway musical shows after graduating from the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music. Perrey was a French accordion player and medical student who abandoned his studies after meeting Georges Jenny in Paris in 1952. Jenny was the inventor of the Ondioline, a vacuum tube-powered keyboard instrument that was a forerunner of today's synthesizers and was capable of creating an amazing variety of sounds. Its keyboard was suspended on special springs that made it possible to introduce a natural vibrato if the player moved the keyboard from side to side with their playing hand. The result was a beautiful, almost human-like vibrato that lent a wide range of expression to the Ondioline. The keyboard was also pressure-sensitive and the instrument had a knee volume lever as well. Jenny hired Perrey as a salesman and demonstrator of the new instrument. As a result, he later came to the attention of French singer Édith Piaf who sponsored him to record a demo tape that later allowed him to work and live in the United States between 1960 and 1970.
Their first meeting
Perrey and Kingsley came together during Kingsley's stint as a staff arranger at Vanguard Records, an independent label in Santa Monica, California that specialized not in avant-garde music, but in folk music. At that time, Perrey was experimenting with tape loops, which he had been introduced to by the French avant-garde musician Pierre Schaeffer. Each loop was a laboriously hand-spliced assembledge of filtered sounds, pitch-manipulated sounds and sometimes even animal calls. The end result of their first collabrative effort in 1966 combined Perrey's tape loops and his inventive melodies with Kingsley's complementary arrangements and instrumentation. The resulting album was filled with tunes that sounded like music from an animated cartoon gone berserk. Titled The In Sound From Way Out!, the album was released on Vanguard Records that same year. Since this was decades before the advent of widespread digital technology, each tune took weeks of painstaking editing and splicing to produce.
The twelve rather whimsical tracks bore names like "Unidentified Flying Object" and "The Little Man From Mars" in an attempt to make electronic music more accessible to the general public. The offbeat titles and happy, upbeat melodies added a genuine sense of humor to popular music years before another notable musician, Frank Zappa, would do likewise. In fact, "Unidentified Flying Object" and another of the album's cuts, "Electronic Can-Can" eventually became theme music for "Wonderama," a Metromedia Television children's program of the early 1970s. The late 1970s would see "Unidentified Flying Object" used as the theme to Jeopardy! 1999, a now-famous skit from Saturday Night Live. Though most of the melodies were original, two borrowed from the classics. "Swan's Splashdown" was based on Pyotr Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" while "Countdown At 6" borrowed from Amilcare Ponchielli's "Dance of the Hours," much as Allan Sherman did in 1963 with his hit recording, "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh." The final cut on the album, "Visa To The Stars" is co-credited to "Andy Badale," who would go on to fame as Angelo Badalamenti, arranger of the music in many of David Lynch's movies. In contrast to the rest of the album, "Visa To The Stars" is a more serious gesture and lacks the unusual sound effects of the other eleven cuts. It is highly reminiscent of the style of Joe Meek and his hit, "Telstar" by The Tornados. Perrey's Ondioline carries the melody throughout.
Hollywood takes notice
Their second and final collaborative effort came in 1967 with the release of Spotlight On The Moog (Kaleidoscopic Vibrations). This was a similar sounding effort, but instead of all original compositions, the album was mostly versions of popular songs of the day. In this album, Perrey's tape loops and effects were added in post-production after Kingsley's orchestrations were recorded, a technique now commonly used by electronic artists to this day. The album was one of the first to use the new Moog modular synthesizer, a massive, complicated electronic instrument resembling an old-style telephone switchboard. In fact, the Moog album was released a year and a half before the release of Walter Carlos' ground-breaking Switched-On Bach. The album also bore two notable singles. "The Savers" would go on to fame in 1968 as the Clio Award-winning music for a television ad for No-Cal diet drinks, and in 1972 as the theme to the American television game show The Joker's Wild. About the time "The Savers" was being used on television, engineers with the Walt Disney Company were at work on a new parade at Disneyland, the "Main Street Electrical Parade." The idea was to cover floats with thousands of electronically-controlled colored lights and to set the show to music. Paul Beaver and then later Disney musician Don Dorsey helped rework a Perrey-Kingsley composition called "Baroque Hoedown," an upbeat, almost sparkling number best described as "harpsichord gone country." It would become the underlying theme song of the parade for the next three decades at Disneyland, Magic Kingdom, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris and is still in use today at its new home, Disney's California Adventure.
Several segments of Sesame Street produced in the 1970s also made use of music from The In Sound from Way Out! as did other television programs, such as The Red Skelton Show.
Their impact today
Though Perrey and Kingsley never enjoyed tremendous commercial success, their music inspired a generation of musicians and was and is used extensively in advertising. Moog Indigo, a Jean-Jacques Perrey solo album from 1970 featured a cut called "E.V.A." This slow, funky track is one of the most sampled in hip-hop and rap music history. In the U.S., it is currently being used in a TV ad for Zelnorm, a prescription medication for, of all things, female irritable bowel syndrome. The same album produced "The Elephant Never Forgets" which is still being used as the theme of the Spanish Televisa comedy, El Chavo Del Ocho. Even the Beastie Boys (who asked permission from Perrey and Kingsley) used both the title and cover art of P & K's first album for their own The In Sound from Way Out! album in 1996, while Smash Mouth (who did not ask for permission) borrowed the opening riff from "Swan's Splashdown" for their 1997 hit, "Walkin' On the Sun." Gershon Kingsley's biggest contribution to mainstream pop music came in the early 1970s as the composer of "Popcorn," the single biggest hit of the German "phantom band" Hot Butter led by American musician Stan Free.
Their work for Vanguard is available on a three-CD set called The Out Sound From Way In! The Complete Vanguard Recordings. The bonus CD features two remixes of "E.V.A." by Fatboy Slim, remixes of "Winchester Cathedral" and "Lover's Concerto" from Kaleidoscopic Vibrations as well as "Electronic Can-Can" and "Unidentified Flying Object," each by techno artists Eurotrash.
Perrey has recorded two fairly recent CDs, Eclektronics - recorded in 1997 with musician David Chazam (Basta, 2000), and Circus of Life - recorded in 1999, with musician Gilbert Sigrist (PHMP, 2000). Perrey is currently recording a new CD entitled The Happy Electropop Music Machine with musician and arranger Dana Countryman. Information and sound samples can be found at http://www.jeanjacquesperrey.com/jjp/news/news.html
Perrey lives in his native France and is in high demand for lectures and concerts all over the world.
Gershon Kingsley lives in New York City and is semi-retired, but is still passionate about music.
- Official Jean Jacques Perrey website, with interviews, photos, videos and more
- Official Gershon Kingsley website with photos and audio clips
- Vanguard Records website
- VH1 information page
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