Moog Cookbook's Newest Mock Rock Recipe

Duo that brought you muzak versions of alternative rock hits now take aim at the '70s.

Moog Cookbook's Joseph Manning Jr. got a lot of interesting and often positive reaction to the band's first tongue-and-cheek alternative covers album, but none were as memorable as Green Day singer Billie Joe Armstrong's.

"I know [Green Day producer] Rob Cavallo, and when he was in the studio with Green Day, a friend brought in the first Moog Cookbook album with our cover version of 'Basketcase' on it," said Manning (Jellyfish, Imperial Drag) of his band's funky keyboard deconstruction of the punk tune, which Cavallo proceeded to play. "Billie Joe walks in and goes, 'oh no, Muzak did a version of our song! This is the worst day of my life!' But then when somebody explained to him what it was, he was like, 'oh, that's cool.'"

Manning paused, then delivered the puchline: "I guess it was suddenly much hipper because we're a cool synthesizer band."

On the one hand, you can't really blame hapless Billie Joe for confusing the Moog Cookbook's computer boogie covers of alternative rock tracks with the more sanitized versions you'd hear in a Wal-Mart bathroom. On the other hand... "We're really just having fun and putting our own spin on things," said Manning of the band's latest Moog-assisted assault on '70s rock, Ye Olde Space Bande (Oct. 28).

Picking up where their 1996 debut, which offered electraboogie versions of Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun" and Weezer's "Buddy Holly" left off, the Moog Cookbook take on the classic rock canon on their latest tongue-in-cheek effort. Steppenwolf's call-to-arms "Born to Be Wild" is mellowed out with a space-beep solo, Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" gets a funky organ facelift and let's just say Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" never sounded this white and funky.

"We were looking for tunes everybody would know and that were popular enough that they had a memorable guitar riff that we could parody," said Manning of his and partner Brian Kehew's intentions. Manning said the pair received calls from managers of Soundgarden, Neil Young and Tom Petty congratulating them on their oddball covers.

This time the group brought in some high-profile friends to help out in their post-modern, Switched On Bach-style endeavor. (Bach [1968] was an electronic rendition of some of the classic composers' work played on moog synthesizer.)

For the new Moog Cookbook album, Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh contributes Eddie Van Halen-esque synthesizer to Van Halen's "Ain't Talking 'Bout Love," which also features solo rocker Michael Penn talking in a computer voice. Former MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer adds some blazing guitar synthesizer to Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love," which features E of the Eels contributing an "astronaut voice intro" while former Go-Go Charlotte Caffey plinks some jittery synthesizer on Chicago's "25 Or 6 To 4."

Manning and Kehew are avowed fans of legendary composer Henry Mancini ("Peter Gunn Theme," "The Pink Panther"). "The whole pay-off is what we get from the art of arrangement and taking good songs and making them more interesting or more comedic or stylistically different than anybody would have thought," Manning said.

But the duo also enjoy having an outlet for music that makes people smile. "It's hard to inject humor into Jellyfish, or [Manning's recently splintered group] Imperial Drag because the majority of audiences don't understand duality," Manning said. "Everything is either Lenny Kravitz or it's Weird Al. Humor is a very big part of my life, though. The weird thing is that when people hear this album, they're not sure if they're supposed to laugh."

The album also features the songs: "Cat Scratch Fever" (Ted Nugent), "More Than a Feeling" (Boston), "Ziggy Stardust" (David Bowie), "Hotel California" (The Eagles) and "Rock 'N' Roll All Night" (Kiss).

Manning, who said he likes to use the 100 or so classic sythns he and Kehew have collected for their distinctive, unique sound, summed up the Moog Cookbook experience this way: "Comedy albums are supposed to make you laugh. They're loaded with inside jokes and if you get them, that's great." [Thurs., Oct. 2, 1997, 9 a.m. PDT]