Mort Garson / Jaques Wilson - "Wozard of Iz" album:

    Typical record finding story. One day in the hallway of my building, near the trash... someone had left a huge pile of records that they were obviously throwing out. Since they weren't covered in empty crack vials and rat urine yet... and being an on-again-off-again vinyl junkie, I leafed through them and found it to mostly be a 70's rock-centric collection with some very popular titles and a few odd items (like an original copy of Sun Ra's 'Astro Black' - score!). Amongst the Kansas and Dan Fogelberg was also an odd record with a funny cover. It appeared to say "The Wozard of Iz" in faded letters on the front, and on the back were some photos of a man with a funny mustache and glasses in front of a bunch of old electronics keyboards and wires, and some text about how the "contemporary moog-man attempts to fuze words with wires and create a contemporary version of a children's classic." Interesting. I put it aside for future investigating.
    On the day I actually decided to give it a spin... my ears and eyes bloomed to a brilliantly warped, counter culture, drug-marinated version of The Wizard of Oz that sounded like "Cats" on a bad trip... fused with a maddening moog/electronic score. I looked on the web and found that the album is by one Mort Garson, a kind of electronic music pioneer who made quite a few really wonderful records but mostly stayed out of the limelight. And it turned out that "The Wozard of Iz" was a pretty rare recording that was highly sought after. How it ended up in the trash bin in the hallway of my building is just another one of life's little mysteries.
   Mort Garson was a hippie-ish electronic music scientist and guru, who specialized in the more extreme possibilities of the moog. One of his most ambitious projects was a single spoken word LP for each sign of the zodiac, set to an electronic score. He also recorded the moog album "Electronic Hair Pieces" - that one with the great cover. "The Wozard of Iz" was one of his later recordings, and was a collaboration with Jacques Wilson (who apparently wrote and conceived the project). The musical, which might have been intended to go beyond just a recorded album, is a psycho-electronic re-working of "The Wizard of Oz" that sounds like the soundtrack to the greatest LSD/freak-out/moog/synth/electronic musical that never was. This oddity is a hysterical and typical leftist/hippie commentary on the socioeconomic human condition of the average American in 1968, and uses the analogy of Dorothy taking a "trip" from Kansas for a brighter and better world where one can really be "free."
    The record begins over a kooky electronic score, while a male voice (with a deep Brooklyn accent) intones:
    "This is the story of why Dorothy began her search for the Wonderful Wozard of Iz!  Or somewhere... over... what rainbow?  Our Dorothy... locked into one suburban acre of negative vibrations... boxed in with a pair of authority symbols; a hypnotized aunt, and a mesmerized uncle, who had turned life off... and turned the television set... on... and on ...AND ON!!!"
    Then the music builds and builds as another voice commands Dorothy:
    "Congratulations Dorothy, you're about to join the ranks of other famous teenage drop-outs... like Shirley Temple, Candy, and Tallulah Bankhead!"
    To which a synthesized male voice in the background repeats over and over:
    "Leave the driving to us! Leave the driving to ussssss!" which the voice of Dorothy makes it's first appearance and sexily coos:
    "I'm out of the coffin... I'm out of the box... Kansas City isn't where it's at... it's a place where people throw rocks at dreams, and the dreams shouldn't be stoned... only the dreamer. I want to be in a place where I can see a stranger, and offer him a flower. I want that kind of power!"
    And that's just in the first few minutes. The record goes on and on and on like that. Dorothy meets a bag lady "on a bus" who tries to hand her some pamphlets written by an army general from "Normalville" ... but Dorothy convinces the army general to " his dog tags in for love beads..." and the lady on the bus eventually gets attacked by some "free press" pamphlets, and becomes The Wicked Old Witch in protest. Dorothy eventually decides to "...find the Great Wozard of Iz... because if I find out where the Woz was, I'd find out where it's at!" Then she gets advised by some more witches on busses to leave "Upset Strip" road in search of "the yellow green road" past the land of "surf and muscle tan" where she notes "...everyone has sunburned teeth from smiling so much." The scarecrow she eventually meets is an excessive consumer who buys too many American gas-guzzling cars and who has substituted "things" for "zing" and decides to follow Dorothy on her quest for the Wozard who can perhaps help him "think" instead of "thing." All the while, insanity-inducing electronic sounds bloop, swerve, echo and boom in the background. This LP is a (fractured) MASTERPIECE!
    The rest of the album goes all over the place... using plenty of instruments and a whole chorus of vocalists. The songs sound like they could be in ANY musical... and it's a wonder that the production never made it anywhere past an LP recording. The voice of Dorothy is provided by sometime Lee Hazelwood vocalist/partner Suzie Jane Hokum. There are rumors that this woman is actually Nancy Sinatra (it certainly sounds like her)... but looking at some of the discussions about this album on the web... it looks like the verdict is still undecided as to whether it is her or not. It could be... or it may be just a vinyl compleatist nerd's urban legend.
    Now I won't say any more about this great record except that you should keep an eye peeled for it... and hear it if you can. It's a total blast. When I first looked around the web, I found a site where some guy had uploaded every track from the album in mp3 form... and would send you a password for the mp3s if you emailed him nicely... but now I can't seem to find it. Maybe if you search around you can find it.

side 1:
1. Prologue - 3:05
2. Leave the Driving to Us - 2:50
3. Upset Strip - 2:25
4. Never Follow the Yellow Green Road - 2:40
5. Thing a Ling (Scared Crow) - 2:21
6. In-Man - 1:28
7. Man With the Word (Lyin' Coward) - 2:00
8. They're Off to Find the Wozard - 1:40

9. Blue Poppy - 6:27
10. I've Been Over the Rainbow - 2:10
11. Big Sur - 3:20
12. Killing of the Witch - 3:35
13. Finale - 1:04

various sleeve notes:
Electronic Music Composed and Realized by MORT GARSON
Odyssey Conceived and Written by JAQUES WILSON

Dorothy - SUZY JANE HOKUM* (possibly Nancy Sinatra)
Baddy Witch - JULIE HAAS
* courtesy of LHI Records

Copyright 2004 Mark Allen

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