How the Top 40 Hit “The Minotaur,” Fueled The Progressive Rock Era

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In 1969, a jazz artist by the name of Dick Hyman scored a top 40 hit entitled “The Minotaur.” The song made heavy use of a new instrument that was starting to gain popularity. That instrument became know as the Moog Synthesizer.  It was a monophonic keyboard which meant a musician could only play one note at a time. Utilizing an instrument that could only play one note at a time may have seemed a bit ridiculous for established piano players and keyboardists. However, the instrument’s ability to bend the notes put a virtual guitar like sound in the hands of keyboard players.

The genre of progressive rock began in the mid 1960’s although some rock historians may argue it began earlier than that depending on how you want to define the concept of progressive rock. What is clear, is that in the early 1960’s most bands who had begun experimenting with various sounds were limited by the recording technology of the time and the limitation of instruments. The Beatles changed everything with the recording techniques they pioneered on the Sgt. Peppers album. The Beatles use of bouncing tracks on to different parts of the recording tape was a major step in the development of multi track recording. It clearly inspired artists like Frank Zappa in widening the creative filed from a technical standpoint.

The development of synthesizer technology was just around the corner in the mid 1960’s. Bob Moog was a pioneer in the field of synthesizers. Robert Moog’s series of Moog synthesizers would change the playing filed in the rock and roll world.

New technology and ideas are developed all the time. Its a shame that some of the greatest ideas in history have faded into the oblivion because of failure to market them. Robert Moog’s first Moog Synthesizer was clearly a breakthrough in instrument technology. However, advertisements in trade magazines or word of mouth can have a limited impact. Musicians needed to hear the new world of musical possibilities that the Moog Synthesizer had to offer.

In 1969, Dick Hyman’s creative compositional skills and arranging ideas resulted in a fascinating track entitled “The Minotaur.” The song was issued on an album that explored the sonic possibilities of the Moog Synthesizer, The album was entitled The Electric Eclectics  it was the follow up album to  MOOG: The Electric Eclectics of Dick Hyman. Both groundbreaking records were released in 1969. The track The Minotaur was released as a single. The song became a top 40 hit, which is not easy for an instrumental.

“The Minotaur,” song’s commercial success and popularity had an impact on the growth of progressive music in the latest 1960’s and early 1970’s. Keith Emerson was one of the first musicians to take what Dick Hyman did and utilize the sound in his own music. The sound of the early Moog Synthesizer is almost hard to separate form the sound of Emerson Lake & Palmer.

In the same way Dick Hyman ‘s “Minotaur,” song helped spread the sound of the Moog and inspired Keith Emerson, the concept of using synthesizers in the way Keith Emerson applied it to ELP’s music inspired other developing progressive rock bands to explore the use of synthesizer technology.

Not all bands that were developing a progressive sound embraced synthesizer technology. The band Queen vehemently opposed synthesizers. Queen would actually write in the liner notes of their albums that no synthesizers were used on their records.

Rock and roll history is lined with stories of ground breaking moments. Dick Hyman’s use of the Moog Synthesizer on his track “The Minotaur,” along with song’s commercial success led to a new generation of rockers that fell in love with the sonic possibilities and creative freedoms that the synthesizer offered.

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