I’m not quite sure what it is exactly that I’m curating on my website… I still enjoy it, though.
Anyway, a LONG time ago, I was saving up my hard earned cash to purchase the latest CMJ Magazine that came with an audio CD full of upcoming bands. When I say upcoming, I mean it. Thanks to those CDs, I was the first to hear Portishead in my neighborhood. The first to hear the Dave Mathews Band. Even a little band called Oasis. Those monthly CDs were fucking GOLD for a music lover like myself interested in what was happening well passed what was playing on the radio. I wanted to hear what was going to be in a year or two. That was CMJ Magazine for me.
So, on some hot, sweaty July day in 1997, I scurried to the local mall and hit the bookstore. Frantically searching for that plastic bag-covered CMJ magazine. Long story short, I was listening to that purple CD an hour later in the uncomfort of my hot-ass bedroom (my Dad wouldn’t run central air). My trusty CD boombox that I got when I turned 16 was now blasting unknown music through my headphones into my subconscious back-up hard drive.
I remember being slightly disappointed in the CD. Not a lot of “new”. It looked like it was getting commercial-y. I mean Sarah McLachlan as the 1st cut? WTF?
Little did I know a gem of a song that would not only remain in my mental palace, but, like a virus, infect my daughter years later was about to rock my dirty, torn jeans off my me.
The last song on the CD. This song:
I was blown away.
The music sounded old and sampled, but still being… played? If that makes sense. There’s just no way they sampled a song that had everything they needed to make “Mr. Wilson”. Anyway, it was catchy, it sounded great, the production was horribly good.
So 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 (have daughter), 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 (daughter walks into office while I’m listening to this, walks out singing song), 2008, 2009, 2010 (I find the music video on youtube, first time seeing Optiganally Yours), 2011, 2012 (daughter asks for name of song about Mr. Wilson), 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 (writing this post).
The secret weapon to Mr. Wilson was the instrument and the fella playing it. The instrument is an Optigan made by Mattel. An instrument I hadn’t heard of until the internet got a little more mature (around 2004-2005). It’s like a consumer version of a Mellotron based on audio discs. The audio discs are pre-recorded sounds of instruments, bands and vocals. There are buttons that are actuated and, in turn, play certain portions, vocals or instruments on the audio disc. There’s also a melody keyboard.
Here’s a video:
These things are vintage. And if you haven’t thought of it yet, the audio discs are hard to come by.
BUT… there’s a fun twist. The guy that played the optigan on that haunting track “Mr. Wilson”, went on to try to archive the sounds from all of the optigan discs. As with most passion projects, his efforts turned into a company.
This guy is Pea Hicks.
Please be sure to follow him on YouTube under peahix.
Interesting videos and every once in a long while, you get to peer into his life.