Revisiting the Weird World of Seventies Plant Music
In 2019, it seems almost inconceivable that a book could heavily influence pop culture, but that’s exactly what 1973’s The Secret Life of Plants did. Written by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, the book proposed that not only are plants sentient, but it’s possible they might even enjoy music. Of course, this theory was widely criticized by scientists, but it nonetheless became a bestseller, sparking a phenomenon and opening the floodgates for the plant music genre.
From Ann Chase’s A Chant For Your Plants to the Baroque Bouquet’s Plant Music, these records have largely been forgotten (except for Stevie Wonder’s soundtrack to the book’s adaptation). But with the reissue of Mother Earth’s Plantasia this summer, the genre has made an inkling of a comeback.
Originally released in 1976, Mother Earth’s Plantasia is the work of Mort Garson, made entirely on a Moog synthesizer. The record was so obscure it could only be purchased at a plant store called Mother Earth on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles (or, if you happened to purchase a Simmons mattress at Sears, it was given for free).
Garson had spent the previous decade working as an arranger and composer — including records for Doris Day and even the string arrangements on Glen Campbell’s “By The Time I Get to Phoenix” — but his world irrevocably changed when he purchased Robert Moog’s swanky invention. He’d use it to compose wonderfully weird records like 1967’s The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds and 1968’s The Wozard of Iz, but Mother Earth’s Plantasia became his magnum opus: ten earthy electronic tracks that may not exactly make your plants grow, but are delightful and groovy just the same.
The opening track to the album, “Plantasia” begins with a twinkle, a faint and friendly glimmering that guides the ears through a symphonic journey. The song builds to a psychedelic crescendo, almost like the soundtrack to a germination video that’s shown through a projector to a seventh grade science class.
So many records get reissued each year that you have to weed through them to find the gems. Like Gene Clark’s No Other, Mother Earth’s Plantasia is a cult classic that was long overdue for millennials. To them, houseplants are a must-have, like owning a tote bag or vacationing in Iceland. If you’re going to spend hundreds of dollars on cacti and snake plants, you might as well serenade them to a concerto.
“If you really care,” the owners of Mother Earth, Lynn and Joel Rapp, wrote in the record’s liner notes, “every pitch is scientifically designed to affect the stomata, or breathing cells of your plants, opening them ever so slightly wider and allowing them to breathe ever so slightly freer and thus, grow ever so slightly better. Talking to them? Well, we’ve always felt that talking to your plants is going to do more for you than it does for them.” Amen to that.