wax Poetics

Gershon Kingsley

The Fifth Cup

Released 1974
record label Fifth Cup Co.
Written by Robbie Busch

Theodore Bikel - The 5th Cup
Theodore Bikel - The 5th Cup

There is no doubt that The Fifth Cup is a secret weapon of the highest order. It’s a quintessential thrift-store find that is at once classic and obscure. It has the kind of home-pressed look that instantly grabs your attention as a curiosity. When you read the names involved, the mystery deepens. Why would Gershon Kingsley, maestro of the Moog, Norman Simon, schlocky Love Story lyricist, and Theodore Bikel, hammy folksinger/actor, be involved in this rinky-dink operation? These guys were at the height of their popularity in the early ’70s. But, as almost laughably ridiculous as the package seems, once you drop the needle, it all melts in your mouth like your mother’s chicken soup. Kingsley was the mastermind behind this Passover Seder rock opera and it seems as if he was trying to “out-Axelrod” Axelrod. The sprawling, epic sound leans toward repeated themes, intense choral arrangements, and has the funky backbeat that is so often recognized as a David Axelrod staple.

Jimmy Young is the drummer here, and while he may not be an Earl Palmer or Johnny Guerin, he does a great imitation of them, enabling this piece to veer away from the cheese that it could so easily have become towards a sort of Jewsploitation soundtrack of biblical proportions. The fat funky breaks and steady bass (John Miller) keep the soaring Moog and acid rock guitars (Cliff Morris) in check. Kingsley is the man on the Moog, who, along with partner Jean-Jacques Perrey, brought the world The In Sound from Way Out! in 1966. After the international hit of “Popcorn” in 1972, Gershon wanted to go even further out, and he reconnected with his Jewish roots. Oddly enough, he’s been quoted as saying, “I am a religious composer who doesn’t like religion.” He prefers to re-imagine the Red Sea as 110th Street, where Moses has to get his people across before the bad mutha of a Pharaoh can destroy them. The standout track has to be “What Does It Take (The Ten Plagues),” where Gershon and his merry band of studio musicians really lock into the funky side of God’s wrath.