📜 Feature Command Records, Anyone?

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As it was explained to me by "Fred" (the senior jazz announcer at the first station I worked at back in the mid-'80s), Command "specifically engineered records to make your $35 Montgomery Wards portable phonograph sound real good"; and he’s correct. Rather than capture the concert house ambience to recreate the illusion of stereo in your living room (understand that back in the late 1950s it was enough just to get a hi-fi stereo console into your living room…let alone be overly concerned with any finer points of stereophonic imaging such as dampening low frequency standing waves or breaking up midrange waves to increase definition), Enoch Light (Command’s proprietor) quickly spearheaded the idea that to the layperson the following mantra would spell aural success for the then-new stereophonic LPs:

~ The word, stereo, means that what you hear in the left speaker should be different than what you hear in the right ~

Enoch basically shoved stereo — or rather his idea of stereo — into your ears. There were no subtleties. In fact some of the early Command LPs were imaged entirely hard left and hard right thus leaving a sonic void of nullity in the middle.

command-1.jpg


To do this Enoch visually exaggerated the two-dimensional aspects of stereophonic sound reproduction by emphasizing close-miking techniques to better control sonics. To that end, the close-miking did add presence to the instruments and by pushing nearly all instruments up front in the mix, he produced a flatter, brighter sound at the expense of natural soundstage depth and definition. As a kid these were my favourite sounding LPs. However, as I matured and was able to purchase quality sound reproduction equipment, I later concluded that those Command LPs did not exhibit realistic sound on quality equipment: trumpets sounded glassy, saxophones sounded squawky — and that was through a tube amp using warm EL84s. I don’t have any CDs of these things but could only imagine how a digitized version, mastered to contemporary in-your-face commercial pap standards, would surely decalcify ½ of your spinal column in short order at 92db.

Ironically enough, all that close-miking actually sounds dynamite in monaural (as single-channel sound reproduction moves more direct air by way of delivering a single-point-source of aural punch, which, in the end, was part of what Enoch was after).

Of note, also, was the packaging, which was a trend setter in the hype department. Check this out (from RS 826 SD):

Listening to this record can be a shocking experience. It can be exhausting…No record like this has ever been made before. The music is so pure, so totally true, that it is possible to reproduce music of such great intensity that it actually approaches the threshold of pain.

(To which one of my 1990s LP friends — who for all intents and purposes was of the school that all "pop" music made prior to 1967 was of marginal consequence — stated that the only really painful thing with Command records is the music itself.)

command-1-1.jpg


In the end, once beyond all the silly ping-pongy stuff, Command, if for nothing else, was the 1959-66 label of Tony Mottola, the 1959-69 label of Dick Hyman, and contained the entirety of Doc Severinsen’s 1960s LP output — and there’s some really good stuff in there.

For those interested, the label has been done to death over in the Hoffman forum (particularly their early-'60s fad of recording onto 35mm film).
 

Murray

Well-Known Member
My uncle had a few records by "Enoch Light and The Light Brigade" in his collection. He was the first in my family to own a stereo - a huge cabinet which also contained a color TV - which he purchased around 1966. I was very young at the time, but I clearly remember how wowed everyone was by this new-fangled stereo effect.

I had to laugh at the excerpt from the packaging. It sounds like it came from a vintage Sears Roebuck catalog! :laugh:
 

Harry

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I have some examples of a later iteration of Enoch Light on his own Project 3 label. Apparently he left Command after it was sold and started his own label, Project 3. These records were used often in the production library at the radio stations I worked for. They were mostly instrumental tracks that often worked well as backing tracks for local commercials and promos. The titles I have in my collection are all gatefold:

PR 5027SD THE BEST OF HOLLYWOOD 68 69 - Popular movie themes like "Rosemary's Baby", "Windmills Of Your MInd" and "Hang 'em High"
PR 5043SD SPACED OUT - Moog sounds on pop songs like "Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da", "Walk On By", "Knowing When To Leave"
PR 5048SD PERMISSIVE POLYPHONICS - Features "Marrakesh Express", "Mas Que Nada", and "Scarborough Fair"
PR 5051SD HIT MOVIE THEMES - With "Airport", "M*A*S*H", "Patton", and "Theme From 'Z'".
PR 5084SD BEATLES CLASSICS - back to the Beatles with "Eleanor Rigby", "Hey Jude", "Let It Be" etc.

I'm sure I have a few of the Command records around here too. They were also used a good deal as production background music. I think I have the COPPER PLATED INTEGRATED CIRCUIT record. That was used often!
 
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Rudy

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I don’t have any CDs of these things but could only imagine how a digitized version, mastered to contemporary in-your-face commercial pap standards, would surely decalcify ½ of your spinal column in short order at 92db.
We used to say similar about some of Bill Inglott's mastering for Rhino--it had so much high frequency content that it could zap mosquitos at 3,000 yards. 😁

My dad had a Project 3 LP among his records, but I can't recall anything on the Command label. Although little of it was sonically "correct," that era of stereo records is fascinating to look at in hindsight.

Some labels took advantage of the two channels, RCA going so far as to create a short-lived Stereo Action series that featured music ping-ponging and drifting between left and right channels. (I have Esquivel's Latin-Esque album on CD from that series, and also a Stereo Action sampler with various artists, not including Esquivel.) This series was ironic for RCA since they were among those who made some of the best-sounding classical recordings, using two and then later three microphones (recorded on three-track decks) to give us some of the most natural sound available. (Mercury did similar with the Living Presence series and, I believe, London also may have done the same.)

Some labels presented us with left/center/right due to the three-track recording, including most of the early A&Ms recorded at Gold Star, and RCA's popular series Living Stereo records as well. Some were released as stereo that were never intended to be released that way--the recordings were made on a two-track machine, but were intended to be mixed into mono; in a rush to get stereo product out, some labels simply dropped those onto vinyl as-is, giving us hard left/hard right channels.

Thankfully the gimmicky mixes settled down by the 70s.
 

Harry

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There are some of these in YouTube. Here's the full SPACED OUT album:


I think a station I listened to played "Knowing When To Leave". It sure sounds familiar.
 

Rudy

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Funny the album includes the Moog.

One of my Bacharach articles included a link to something I didn't even remember playing--there was a duo of albums called Switched-On Bacharach, played on the Moog synthesizer, that I received as gifts back in the 70s. I believe the artist was Christopher Scott. It was a real surprise to see the first of those two albums available on Qobuz...and honestly, after sampling a few tracks, I don't remember a single note from that album. 😁
 

Harry

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A little more digging as I was becoming obsessed with the "Knowing When To Leave" track, reveals that I was right. I opened up my copy of the SPACED OUT album. It's a DJ white label radio station copy, and sure enough, scribbled on the label is the opening timing written next to "Knowing When To Leave". That tells me that this was an on-air copy used by the old WFIL-FM back around 1969-70. The engineers there would spin actual records and the DJ voices were all pre-recorded, using air talent from the big WFIL-AM station.

This station played two instrumental tracks every hour. One was the third record from the top of the hour, and the other was the second record after the bottom of the half-hour. The station was tightly formatted that way and yes, I still remember it. I used to amaze friends and relatives as I told them what kind of record was coming up next.

Anyway, now I'm sure that not only was this record in rotation and that I liked it a lot, it might be the first time I ever heard "Knowing When To Leave".


Liner notes for this track:

3. KNOWING WHEN TO LEAVE
Emotional tension rises to a fever pitch in the introduction
to this tune from Promises, Promises, as a repeated rhythmic
is bandied back and forth, first by marimba on the left, the
piano (right), and finally by saxes (left) and a brass led
ensemble (right). A short rhythm section interlude then clears
the air for Mel Davis' magnificent trumpet solo. Voices and an
explosive ensemble soon envelop the sound, yielding only to
the sheer power of Urbie Green's trmbone. Dick Lieb's genius
as an orchestrator is evident throughout, particularly in his
handling of the voices and the various elements of the
ensemble sound. Notice too the rich texture achieved by the
reproduction of the voices on both the left and right channels,
the brute strength of the trumpets of Bernie Glow and Mel
Davis, and the cohesiveness of the all-star rhythm section
assembled here. As the arrangement heads home, Mel Davis'
trumpet is heard (on the left) flying above the ensemble,
answered on the right by Phil Bodner's alto sax. The last
moment belongs to the voices, as they repeat the lyrical
message of this great Bacharach tune.
 
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Michael Hagerty

Well-Known Member
Contributor
A little more digging as I was becoming obsessed with the "Knowing When To Leave" track, reveals that I was right. I opened up my copy of the SPACED OUT album. It's a DJ white label radio station copy, and sure enough, scribbled on the label is the opening timing written next to "Knowing When To Leave". That tells me that this was an on-air copy used by the old WFIL-FM back around 1969-70. The engineers there would spin actual records and the DJ voices were all pre-recorded, using air talent from the big WFIL-AM station.

This station played two instrumental tracks every hour. One was the third record from the top of the hour, and the other was the second record after the bottom of the half-hour. The station was tightly formatted that way and yes, I still remember it. I used to amaze friends and relatives as I told them what kind of record was coming up next.

Anyway, now I'm sure that not only was this record in rotation and that I liked it a lot, it might be the first time I ever heard "Knowing When To Leave".


Liner notes for this track:

3. KNOWING WHEN TO LEAVE
Emotional tension rises to a fever pitch in the introduction
to this tune from Promises, Promises, as a repeated rhythmic
is bandied back and forth, first by marimba on the left, the
piano (right), and finally by saxes (left) and a brass led
ensemble (right). A short rhythm section interlude then clears
the air for Mel Davis' magnificent trumpet solo. Voices and an
explosive ensemble soon envelop the sound, yielding only to
the sheer power of Urbie Green's trmbone. Dick Lieb's genius
as an orchestrator is evident throughout, particularly in his
handling of the voices and the various elements of the
ensemble sound. Notice too the rich texture achieved by the
reproduction of the voices on both the left and right channels,
the brute strength of the trumpets of Bernie Glow and Mel
Davis, and the cohesiveness of the all-star rhythm section
assembled here. As the arrangement heads home, Mel Davis'
trumpet is heard (on the left) flying above the ensemble,
answered on the right by Phil Bodner's alto sax. The last
moment belongs to the voices, as they repeat the lyrical
message of this great Bacharach tune.
Holy cow---the channel switches in the intro sound like alternating channels shorting out. Need this as a palate cleanser:

 

Harry

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Holy cow---the channel switches in the intro sound like alternating channels shorting out.
Yeah, that's what we were discussing here, the extreme stereo separation on these Command and Project 3 records. They were often used as demonstration records to show off how one speaker could have some sounds and the other could have other sounds. And played on console stereos of the day, the separation was a couple of feet at most.
 

tomswift2002

Well-Known Member
Some labels presented us with left/center/right due to the three-track recording, including most of the early A&Ms recorded at Gold Star, and RCA's popular series Living Stereo records as well. Some were released as stereo that were never intended to be released that way--the recordings were made on a two-track machine, but were intended to be mixed into mono; in a rush to get stereo product out, some labels simply dropped those onto vinyl as-is, giving us hard left/hard right channels.

Thankfully the gimmicky mixes settled down by the 70s.
Shout! Factory briefly revived this format in 2010, albeit with video on DVD! In 2010 Shout released the “C.O.P.S The Animated Series Volume 2” with the episode ‘The Case of Mace’s Romance’ mixed into hard right/left, even though the series was designed for mono (you definitely wanted to watch this episode on your TV speakers or have your surround system set to stereo, otherwise the surround gives a ton of echo, with the voices coming from one side of the room or the special effects from only one side). In the days of S-VHS & Betacam SP we used to do this for the linear audio, especially in news, since news was broadcast in mono, so the voice was on track 2, since that was the inside track and then the background track was on 1, since 1 was the track on the very edge of the tape and that part could sometimes get snagged in the mechanism, and if it did, it didn’t hurt your vocal. And then the VTR would be set to send out a mono signal (they could be set for stereo if the station was broadcasting a stereo movie/TV series, but those were usually on a separate VTR).
 

AM Matt

Forum Undertaker
Wonder if The Ides Of March had something to say about Enoch Light?? The medley "Wooden Ships" (remake of the Crosby, Stills & Nash 1969 song) & "Dharma For One" (remake of the Jethro Tull 1968 song) (from 1970 "Vehicle") (audio only & album track)
 

Michael Hagerty

Well-Known Member
Contributor
Yeah, that's what we were discussing here, the extreme stereo separation on these Command and Project 3 records.
I get that, Harry. I read the posts first. But there‘s “extreme separation“ and then there’s what sounds like the wires being ripped from the pan pots on the mixing console.
 

Harry

Charter A&M Corner Member
Staff member
Site Admin
I get that, Harry. I read the posts first. But there‘s “extreme separation“ and then there’s what sounds like the wires being ripped from the pan pots on the mixing console.
And I get what you're describing. I thought the same thing as I listened in headphones.
 

JOv2

Well-Known Member
Thread Starter
class-1.jpg


More hype: The above propaganda was discovered in a Doc Severinsen SS LP! I particularly like DIMENSION 3 -- "which introduced the fantastic illusion of a third center speaker...3 sepearte musical messages coming from only 2 stereo speakers". Oh, good grief. Let's see, Enoch has his third channel potted to the middle. Big deal. Every studio with a 3-track had been doing that since inception. Even better is SOUND IN THE EIGHTH DIMENSION -- where according to the handbill, Command engineers essentially invented the 8-track studio recorder.

Here are a few decent Command samples:


The Hellers - It's 74 In San Francisco (by EarpJohn)
 

Harry

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At one time, I had this album:

1643552665222.png

It may still be buried in a box of c-list records in one of our closets. Now here's the really odd part: my copy was mono.

Yep, a stereo "demonstration" type record in mono. I remember my parents brought it home one day and I put it on my new stereo and read along with the gatefold liner notes telling me stuff like a piccolo was on the left here and a trumpet on the right at this point, and notice the clarity of the trombones over there... But the record was mono. I tried with all my might to hear this separation of sound that the notes were gabbing about, but it was mono.

I wish I still had it just to prove my point. I don't see a mono listed on Discogs. Leave it to my parents to have found the world's only mono copy - it was probably $1 cheaper at Sears!
 

Bobberman

Well-Known Member
I had a couple of Tony Mottola albums one of them was called "The Tony Touch" which I believe was a Compilation it had a few nice Bacharach covers and standards of the Day I bought mine used in a collector's store for a dollar but it didn't look or sound like it was used much
 

Rudy

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I particularly like DIMENSION 3 -- "which introduced the fantastic illusion of a third center speaker...3 sepearte musical messages coming from only 2 stereo speakers". Oh, good grief. Let's see, Enoch has his third channel potted to the middle. Big deal. Every studio with a 3-track had been doing that since inception. Even better is SOUND IN THE EIGHTH DIMENSION -- where according to the handbill, Command engineers essentially invented the 8-track studio recorder.
I did get a good chuckle out of those jacket notes. 😁

Even into the mid 60s, some stereophonic records were still an afterthought. Part of me is wondering if all this multichannel hype was a way for record labels to not only introduce the mechanical parts behind the sound (like Command Records' description on the jacket, or RCA's innersleeves showing how stereo records worked), but also promote it so that they could phase out monaural records. The more reluctant (perhaps tone deaf) listeners out there, dang it, wanted to hear individual sounds in each speaker of their stereo system if they were going to pay to upgrade from monaural!

In that sense, too, those types of listeners were lost on the sound capabilities of true stereo recording as done by the classical labels--a simple pair (left, right), or trio (left, right, center fill), of microphones, could relay a lot more than left/right information. It would be a decade later when the audiophile community would begin explaining how true-to-life some of those original stereo recordings were--they could not only position orchestral instruments left to right, they could also convey the depth, along with some sense of the size, of the venue through the location and timing of the reverberation. Although for them, listening wasn't done on the typical consoles that many families had, and it would take a decade or more for many listeners to finally have the ability to hear these characteristics if they wanted to, once audio moved out of living room furniture into dedicated left and right speaker cabinets.
 

JOv2

Well-Known Member
Thread Starter
These records were used often in the production library at the radio stations I worked for.
The first station I worked for (1983) had a "Dungeon" (where I got the term!) -- which was the place where all LPs that were no longer acceptable for broadcast were sent to languish and await their unknown future. That's were I discovered the Command booty. These were used in early days of FM stereo broadcasting. I discovered the station, prior to going all classical / jazz, programmed non-rock pop back in the '60s.

RCA going so far as to create a short-lived Stereo Action series
Those were the zenith of "stereo run amok" LPs. I recall reading in one of those Stereo Action liner notes that the arranger must include the stereophonic imaging as a part of the orchestral score!

One of my Bacharach articles included a link to something I didn't even remember playing--there was a duo of albums called Switched-On Bacharach, played on the Moog synthesizer, that I received as gifts back in the 70s. I believe the artist was Christopher Scott. It was a real surprise to see the first of those two albums available on Qobuz...and honestly, after sampling a few tracks, I don't remember a single note from that album. 😁
That's quite an endorsement! 🥴

Liner notes for this track:

3. KNOWING WHEN TO LEAVE
Emotional tension rises to a fever pitch in the introduction to this tune from Promises, Promises, as a repeated rhythmic
is bandied back and forth, first by marimba on the left, the piano (right), and finally by saxes (left) and a brass led
ensemble (right). A short rhythm section interlude then clear the air for Mel Davis' magnificent trumpet solo. Voices and an
explosive ensemble soon envelop the sound, yielding only to the sheer power of...
Oh, man! I'd forgotten about the famous play-by-play antics courtesy of Command's "inflated prose" department. A hallmark of Command LPs was that they all exhibited glossy exteriors and were all gatefolds -- which they had to fill with something... Voila`! I remember a neighbor around the corner telling me that the Command LPs sold for a buck more.

At one time, I had this album:

View attachment 7317

It may still be buried in a box of c-list records in one of our closets. Now here's the really odd part: my copy was mono.

Yep, a stereo "demonstration" type record in mono. I remember my parents brought it home one day and I put it on my new stereo and read along with the gatefold liner notes telling me stuff like a piccolo was on the left here and a trumpet on the right at this point, and notice the clarity of the trombones over there... But the record was mono. I tried with all my might to hear this separation of sound that the notes were gabbing about, but it was mono.

I wish I still had it just to prove my point. I don't see a mono listed on Discogs. Leave it to my parents to have found the world's only mono copy - it was probably $1 cheaper at Sears!
That is fascinating -- particularly so given that this was 1968, the year monaural received its death knell. Actually, SOUND IN THE EIGHTH DIMENSION was full circle irony for Command: Their claim is that the 8-channel recording process heightens definition between left and right speakers -- which in effect is creating the very stereophonic soundstage that Enoch eliminated with his hard left/right antics nine years earlier. Command being Command they hyped it a step further by stating the listener can also distinguish sounds "in front of" and "behind" is pure fiction and not possible with a two-channel left-right orientation.

In that sense, too, those types of listeners were lost on the sound capabilities of true stereo recording as done by the classical labels--a simple pair (left, right), or trio (left, right, center fill), of microphones, could relay a lot more than left/right information. It would be a decade later when the audiophile community would begin explaining how true-to-life some of those original stereo recordings were--they could not only position orchestral instruments left to right, they could also convey the depth, along with some sense of the size, of the venue through the location and timing of the reverberation. Although for them, listening wasn't done on the typical consoles that many families had, and it would take a decade or more for many listeners to finally have the ability to hear these characteristics if they wanted to, once audio moved out of living room furniture into dedicated left and right speaker cabinets.
Touche`! You've articulated this far better than I ever could. Thank, Rudy.
 

Harry

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I have that SWITCHED-ON BACHARACH album too. I don't think I ever listened to it and had filed it in the Bacharach section. Recently I removed it to the c-list box in the closet just to make room on my record shelves.
 

Rudy

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I have that SWITCHED-ON BACHARACH album too. I don't think I ever listened to it and had filed it in the Bacharach section. Recently I removed it to the c-list box in the closet just to make room on my record shelves.
I know my mother bought it for me, probably as a gift. She was the big Bacharach fan in the family, and through my grandmother (the classical music afficionado) who discovered the Tomita Snowflakes are Dancing record, it was a mashup of interests. It probably never stuck with me since I really only knew the few Bacharach songs from his own records, unaware of so many others he'd co-written with Hal David and others. At that point, I would latch on to familiar tunes and the unfamiliar usually didn't stick with me. But it's also a telling sign that I remembered not one note from that record!

That's quite an endorsement! 🥴
I occasionally wonder if my memory is failing me...yet there were truly some forgettable albums out there. Then again, many I listened to as a kid from my dad's collection, I don't recognize beyond one or two tracks. The covers are more familiar than the music inside.
 

Rudy

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Command being Command they hyped it a step further by stating the listener can also distinguish sounds "in front of" and "behind" is pure fiction and not possible with a two-channel left-right orientation.
It actually is possible but of course, it's nothing like having surround sound with four or more discrete speakers, where the sound can be placed front to back/left to right based on the level at the mixing console. (Or like the more recent Dolby Atmos, where each sound is an "object" that can be placed within a 3D space...almost convincingly. 😐)

There are some phasing issues that happen in both live and recorded music that make it possible for sounds to appear beyond the flat plane of the speakers, usually behind but occasionally off to the sides and in front of the speakers also. Part of what we hear is also miniscule timing issues--tympani at the back of an orchestra are 10? 15? feet further back from the concertmaster (first violin, or first clarinet in a symphonic band), and good mic setups will capture that--the simpler, the better (like a 2- or 3-mic recording of an orchestra, not today's multitracked classical recordings).

As I mentioned above, it wasn't until some audiophiles with top notch equipment were able to get the most out of those LPs, and noticed they could hear some semblance of depth in the stereo image. Whereas the bulk of listeners thumped and tweeted those records out of consoles in their living rooms and were oblivious.

There were also some technologies that were able to make sound appear to our left or right sides. The Carver Sonic Hologram did this, as did the Polk SDA-series speakers where the signal from one channel was fed to the other speaker, but out of phase to a dedicated set of drivers. The idea with both is that there is crosstalk between what we are hearing through speakers--we hear the left speaker primarily with our left ear, but we also hear some of it with the right ear. That out of phase signal sent to the right speaker's dedicated drivers was an attempt to cancel out the sound from the left speaker. And vice versa for the other channel. A popular demo track at our local dealer was Steely Dan's "Hey Nineteen," where the guitar seemed to sit somewhere along the left wall of the room.

I never really registered any of these other than anything as a gimmick, even though I did build a similar device (the Omnisonic Imager, which came both assembled and in kit form). It basically added out of phase signal to the opposite channel in an attempt to "widen" the image. It could do some weird stuff with depth also.

Another gimmick was Q Sound, which somewhat created a phony surround experience with stereo music. One of Sting's albums used this (can't remember the album title, but I think "All This Time" was the hit from the album), and despite all the fuss made about it (all the reviews I had read were mentioning it), the general public never really cared.
The real irony here is Command Records describing the ability to place instruments front to back using multitrack. I suppose they could have done this through some phasing trickery, yet I doubt the engineers were aware of this sort of thing back in those days or if they were, it was an unwanted side effect. Their claims I would tend to take as marketing hype, and I doubt many, if any, of the engineers of those records are still around to tell us how they really were recorded and mixed. This type of claim is what makes those records so amusing today. 😁
 

Rudy

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Bobberman

Well-Known Member
Funny the album includes the Moog.

One of my Bacharach articles included a link to something I didn't even remember playing--there was a duo of albums called Switched-On Bacharach, played on the Moog synthesizer, that I received as gifts back in the 70s. I believe the artist was Christopher Scott. It was a real surprise to see the first of those two albums available on Qobuz...and honestly, after sampling a few tracks, I don't remember a single note from that album. 😁
I remember mentioning those Switched on Bacharach albums by Christopher Scott they got a lot of radio play on MOR/Easy listening stations where I lived one TV station used The track "I say a little prayer for you from that exact lp as theme music for one of their midday local productions back when I was just a tot
 
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