If you don’t already know the significance of this album, it’s easy to scoff, sneer, or pshaw this album into fucking oblivion. Cause, even for 1971, that band name is odder than homogenized duck milk. And when those first synth notes vibrate into your ear holes, you’ll probably ask yourself what the fuck is wrong me. “Has this motherfucker finally lost it?” you might think, “Has this vulgar music lover finally walked off the perilous edge into fucky-ville?” This could all very well be true. But what if I told you that without this album Stevie Wonder’s song “Superstition” wouldn’t exist (or that Stevie Wonder’s four most popular albums [recorded during what’s called “The Electric Lady Sessions”] wouldn’t exist)? What if I told you that some of your favourite albums from The Doobie Brothers, Gene Parsons, Randy Newman, Wilson Pickett, The Isley Bros, Billy Preston, Bobby Womack, and Gil Scott-Heron wouldn’t be what they are without this album? Not enough for you? Good. What if I told you that this album is so significant to the history of Electronic Music that if it didn’t exist the entire genre wouldn’t just be different, wouldn’t just be decades behind what it is today, but might not exist at all? Now there’s that sting I’m looking for. Because, all that shit I just said? It’s as real as the fucking nose on your face.
This album deserves its recog-fucking-nition.
Back in 1971, two eerily smart motherfuckers named Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff made a band named Tonto’s Expanding Head Band. Now, who is the fuck is Tonto? No, I’m not referring to the racist and cringeworthy native sidekick in The Lone Ranger. Tonto, or T.O.N.T.O. (The Original New Timbral Orchestra), is a synthesizer. But it’s not just any synthesizer. This motherfucker is the first, largest (at twenty feet in diameter and six feet tall), multitimbral (meaning each note can have its own distinct timbre) polyphonic analogue synthesizer. When Stevie Wonder heard this album and Tonto’s deliriously wondrous tone, he had to have it and hired Malcolm and Robert as his secret weapons. Tonto is the monster lurking in the shadows on albums that determined what pop music would be for the next decade.
The album is a synth masterpiece. It’s a monolith. It’s one of the most influential albums of all fucking time. It’s two dudes exploring the hidden realms of psychedelia on a spacecraft of their own making (Note: Tonto is the only instrument on this album). Some of this album can be hard to digest. Parts of it sound, despite being made in the ’70s, like it’s from the future. Luckily, Tonto sits in the National Music Centre in Calgary. What’s more, it can be played. Think about that for a fucking second. This is like picking up Jimi Hendrix’s guitar and playing out a few riffs. In the culture of velvet ropes and yellow tapes, you can actually play a piece of history. So you can scoff at this all you want. You can think I’ve wandered into wonderland with this album. Or you can follow my little white fluffy tail and discover one of the building blocks to some of the greatest music ever made. Fair warning, we’re all mad here. “’You must be,’ said the Cat, ‘or you wouldn’t have come here.’” Lewis Carroll