Psychedelic Lunch

Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch” series, where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore psychedelic tunes from the 60’s and 70’s. Weekdays At Noon EST. Enjoy the trip!

The Zodiac Album Cosmic Sounds 1967

The Zodiac was a one-shot musical group in the late sixties. The group was formed by Elektra Records for the recording of the album Cosmic Sounds, a concept album about the different horoscope signs.

The idea began in 1967 with Jac Holzman, the head of Elektra Records. Elektra was primarily a label for obscure folk-rock artists like The Incredible String Band. It had just gained major success with The Doors’ debut album in January of 1967. Holzman hired Alex Hassilev, a member of The Limeliters, to produce the album. Hassilev brought in Mort Garson, whom he had just formed a production company with, to write the music for the album. Hassilev and Garson had planned to do a series of concepts following Cosmic Sounds. Garson wrote music for one of the other intended albums, The Sea, but Rod McKuen, who was supposed to have been on the project, left and did his own version with Anita Kerr. Hassilev temporarily left the project to produce The Dusk ‘Till Dawn Orchestra’s Sea Drift album, which incorporated part of The Sea’s intended theme.

After Sea Drift, work on Cosmic Sounds at last began. Garson brought in a group of musicians for the group. Exactly who they all were is unknown. (Garson, who may be the only one who knows, has never been interviewed about the album). Little known Jazz artist Paul Beaver, who had done music effects for films, was chosen to perform the electronic instruments. Beaver was very into electronic music. He and Hassilev went to an AES (Audio Engineering Society) convention to borrow a Moog synthesizer from its creator, electronics guru Robert Moog. Beaver did some work for the Moog company. He sold a Moog to Monkees drummer Micky Dolenz. Dolenz, with Beaver, recorded the Moog on two Monkee songs that were featured on the group’s fourth album Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd., which was released just after Cosmic Sounds.

Emil Richards, who had worked with several famous musicians (including Frank Zappa, Marvin Gaye, and Harry Mancini) was chosen to provide an assortment of percussive instrumental surprises throughout the album. Bassist Carol Kaye and “Drummer Man” Hal Blaine, both top on-demand session musicians, were The Zodiac’s rhythm section. Both had worked with Phil Spector and Brian Wilson. Bud Shank, a top flute performer, was also brought in. Jacques Wilson wrote the album’s narration and folk artist Cyrus Faryar was chosen (suggested by Hassilev) to speak to narration over the album’s exotic instrumentation.

Cosmic Sounds was released in November of 1967. The album would go on to become a cult classic. The Zodiac itself split up. Hassilev would continue producing albums, and would keep performing with The Limeliters. Richards continued offering his percussive services to other artists. Faryar did other albums. Beaver joined with fellow Moog artist Bernie Krause. As Beaver & Krause, the duo would record a few albums until Beaver’s death in 1975. Garson would do other Moog albums (including several sequels entitled Signs Of The Zodiac and Electronic Hair Pieces) and arrangements for records. His biggest claim to fame would be the writing of the National Geographic theme. Other members continued working the session circuit. Richards, Blaine, Shank and Kaye have all been featured on records by artists over the years. In 2002, Water Records remastered and reissued Cosmic Sounds on CD, with a booklet featuring liner notes by 60s rock buff Ritchie Unterberger.

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