The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Day of the Mellotron *

* (rerun)


‘I am willing to claim that almost every exotic instrument played by whomever in the Rolling Stones, and recorded after they entered the Olympic Studios in November 1966, actually were played on the keyboard of the Mellotron. Whether it was a trombone, saxophone, French Accordion, you name it. Even the much debated lead guitar on Let It Loose. Yes, and even the percussion track on Sympathy For The Devil. When the Rolling Stones left Olympic Studios for the basement of Nellcote, the Mellotron was gone. Left behind. Because Brian Jones was dead. Nobody needed the sounds of the sixties anymore. If it, the Mellotron, turns up on later albums, then you know the track itself probably was recorded in the sixties.’ — godgammeldags.nu


Inside the Mellotron



‘The Mellotron is an electronic musical instrument invented around 1960 to provide the sounds of violins, cellos, flutes, choirs, horns, pretty much anything, from a keyboard. Given the technology of the day, the reasonable way to do this was with strips of magnetic tape. So the Mellotron uses a strip of magnetic tape, a pinch roller, tape head, pressure pad, and a rewind mechanism for each note on the keyboard. ‘The heart of the instrument is a bank of parallel linear magnetic audio tape strips. Playback heads underneath each key enable the playing of pre-recorded sounds. Each of the tape strips has a playing time of approximately eight seconds, after which the tape comes to a dead stop and rewinds to the start position. ‘A major advantage of using tape strips, as opposed to tape loops / cassettes (cf the Birotron) is that the Mellotron can reproduce the attack and decay of the instruments recorded on the tape. ‘A consequence of the eight second limit on the duration of each note is that if the player wants to play chords that last longer than eight seconds, he/she has to release different notes in sequence in a process that has been compared to a spider crawling across the keyboard. ‘To our modern day technological sensibilities this cumbersome mechanical contraption seems kludgy as can be, especially you’re watching the tape rewind operation, but the fact is that no modern technology keyboard can come close to the quality of presence so characteristic of the Mellotron sound. Why is this? Because the tape playback mechanism is the musical instrument. It matters less what is recorded on the tape. ‘Among the early Mellotron owners were Princess Margaret, Peter Sellers, King Hussein of Jordan and Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. The instrument was, and still is, a centerpiece of the psychedelic rock, art rock, and progressive rock movements.’ — Don’s Mellotron Page

Read a economical but comprehensive history of the mellotron here


Trailer: ‘Mellodrama’




‘The Beatles were introduced to the Mellotron by Mike Pindar of the Moody Blues who are thought to be the first rock band to employ the instrument in a popular song. The Beatles’ first use of Mellotron sounds was on the song Tomorrow Never Knows where they used reel to reel recorders to record Mellotron brass and string sounds which, along with other sounds, were then brought into the studio. The heavy weight of the Mellotron prevented the machine from easily being transported. The Beatles hired in a machine and subsequently (and more prominently) used it on their single “Strawberry Fields Forever” (recorded November-December 1966). The Beatles continued to compose and record with various Mellotrons for the albums “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band”, “Magical Mystery Tour”, and “The Beatles” (White Album). ‘Other artists utilizing the Mellotron on hit records in this period included The Zombies (“Changes”, “Care Of Cell 44”, “Hung Up On A Dream”), Donovan (“Celeste”, “Breezes of Patchule”), Manfred Mann (several Mike D’abo-era recordings, including “So Long Dad”, “There Is A Man” and “Semi-Detached Suburban Mr. James”), The Rolling Stones (“2000 Light Years from Home”, “We Love You”, “Stray Cat Blues”), Deep Purple (“Anthem”), The Bee Gees (“World”, “Every Christian Lion-Hearted Man Will Show You” & “My Thing”), Traffic (“House for Everyone”, “Hole In My Shoe”), Pink Floyd (“A Saucerful of Secrets”, “See-Saw”, “Julia Dream”, “Atom Heart Mother” and “Sysyphus”), Procol Harum (“Magdalene (My Regal Zonophone)”), The Pretty Things’ S.F. Sorrow, Cream’s “Badge”, “Anyone for Tennis”, The Left Banke’s “Myrah”, Marvin Gaye’s Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) (Chamberlin), Nilsson’s “The Moonbeam Song”, and The Kinks’ (“Phenomenal Cat,” “Autumn Almanac,” “Sitting By The Riverside,” “All Of My Friends Were There,” “Animal Farm,” “Starstruck,” “Days,”), David Bowie’ “Space Oddity”. ‘The Mellotron was crucial to shaping the sound of the progressive rock genre, and it featured in the sound and recordings of more bands of that era than not. Among the more prominent examples are King Crimson, Yes, Led Zeppelin, Rush, Genesis, Hawkwind, ELP, and Tangerine Dream, but even such unexpected bands and artists of the period as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Neil Young, and Bob Dylan used the instrument in their recordings. After all but dying out during the punk and New Wave era, the instrument had a great rebirth of popularity in the ’90s that continues until today. Some of the recent and current artists who have used the Mellotron extensively include Guns N’ Roses, The Mars Volta, Black Moth Super Rainbow, Sigur Rós, Dinosaur Jr, Pulp, U2, Primus, The Smashing Pumpkins, Marilyn Manson, Counting Crows, Oasis, Barenaked Ladies, Sheryl Crow, Tori Amos, Lenny Kravitz, Nine Inch Nails, Stone Temple Pilots, Modest Mouse, Ayreon, Muse, Pearl Jam, R.E.M., Red Hot Chili Peppers, Soundgarden, Screaming Trees, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Prick, Grandaddy, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Charlatans, Paul Weller, Radiohead, Porcupine Tree, Anekdoten, Air, and Opeth.’ — 120 Years of Electronic Music

The site Planet Mellotron has an extensive discography of all known post ’50s recordings using the Mellotron that in some cases include reviews and anecdotal evidence.


(top to bottom: Robert Fripp, Tarantula, ELP, John Lennon, Mike Pinder (Moody Blues), Barclay James Harvest, Tangerine Dream, Rick Wakeman/Yes, Ian McDonald/King Crimson, Brian Jones, Michael Quatro, PJ Harvey, Paul McCartney, Peter Baumann, John Paul Jones/Led Zeppelin, Jon Lord/Deep Purple, Julian Cope, Graham Bond, Geddy Lee/Rush, David Sylvian, Tony Banks/Genesis, Rick Wright/Pink Floyd


The instrument



Mellotron Information Central
The Melloman – DIY Mellotron
All Things Mellotronic
Make a Mellotron out of four Walkmans
Tapeworm, a Mellotron-like synthesizer
Mellodrama: The Mellotron Movie
The Mellotron Symposia
Mellotron Sounds
How a Mellotron works @ candor chasma



Robert Wyatt ‘Seasong’

John Lennon’s Mellotron experiments circa ’68

The Flaming Lips ‘Race for the Prize’

Rolling Stones ‘We Love You’

Big Star ‘Kangaroo’

Moody Blues ‘Legend of a Mind’

Blur ‘Badhead’

Bee Gees’ ‘Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You’

Dinosaur Jr. ‘Thumb’

Kinks ‘Phenomenal Cat’

Dzyan ‘Khali’

King Crimson ‘The Court of the Crimson King’

Roxy Music ‘Street Life’

Family ‘Peace of Mind’

Pavement ‘Transport Is Arranged’

Genesis ‘Watcher of the Skies’

Tom Waits ‘In the Colosseum’

Led Zeppelin ‘The Rain Song’

Daniel Johnston ‘Syrup of Tears’

Family ‘Voyage’

Fiery Furnaces ‘Restorative Beer’

Hawkwind ‘The Golden Void’

Sparks ‘Thank God It’s Not Christmas’



p.s. Hey. I’m traveling back to Paris from Marseilles today, and, hence, not able to be here enough to do the p.s. You get this post from several years back about my possibly all-time favorite musical instrument, the god-sent Mellotron. Be with it. I’ll be back to p.s. with you and deliver a new post tomorrow.


  1. Hey Dennis!!

    Okay, wow, it’s literally been 3 months since we’ve last talked. And it’s been me again. It’s an anxiety thing, sometimes I lapse into these periods of silence. I’m really sorry about this. ANYWAY.

    How are you? What’s been happening in your world?

    In mine… I feel like whenever I “resurface” here, I do something completely different than before, haha. So even though I’m still working as a gender psychologist with a small number of clients, I’m also about to start a proofreader training course and I’m so very excited because this is finally something I actually really, truly feel like doing. For the sheer pleasure of it and not because I already have a paper and “why not”.

    Other than this, SCAB’s 7th issue was just born and I’m very proud of it. When/if you want to take a look, it’s right here:

    But okay, okay: how are you, really? It’s so nice to be here again!
    Love washing everything away like the blood in The Shining’s elevator scene!

  2. Once more my plea to anyone living in the L.A. area — please contact me about the books, DVDs and CDs I have for sale. Money needed BADLY

  3. Great selection of images — don’t forget Alex Chilton and Chris Bell of Big Star — mellotron a galore on all three LPs, some of the most devastating mellotron strings ever on ‘Kanga Roo’ from Big Star Third. And an iconic LP cover mellotron appearance (see Wikipedia entry for that album for the cover of Third, co-starring the mellotron at Ardent Studios in Memphis, one of the first US studios to buy their own)

  4. Kind of a rich kids’ plaything but the Mellotron was used extensively on Tangerine Dream – Phaedra, so it’s defo on the side of the angels as far as I’m concerned.

  5. hey dennis. hope you ejoyed yr screenings and the walk through of ZDB.
    I read Berg this week and I found the prose challenging at first but was able to get with it after about 30 pages. The extended prose scenes left me a little lost at times but I felt that Quin directed me back to the narrative action just as my mind was starting to wander. Her writing is captivating and funny. I loved the scene of Gerb wearing Judiths clothing and a drunken Berg trying to make it with him. SO funny.
    Besides that not much new with me. I have an idea for a new story but im not sure if it would be interesting for more than 1000 words. Also still dragging my ass with the final section of the story I was writing over the spring and summer. Heres hoping this post will encourage me to get back to work.
    stay safe in Paris. yrs truly, Ian

  6. Good to see this old favorite again. So much good music from this fine instrument. I still have a (discreet) soft spot for the old prog bands.

    Look forward to hearing Marseille stories, Dennis. Not a great weekend air-wise here, still waiting for the wind to change. I saw Vivarium, the new movie with Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg. Kind of Warmerdam lite, softened for an American audience.


  7. Hey Dennis – Enjoyed the reruns of John Waters and the mellotron. I’d forgotten a number of these songs that feature the instrument so prominently. Some super fine tunes here.

    How was the Marseille trip? — in case you haven’t already answered that question. Any sort of travel these days seems like a delight, at least from a U.S. perspective.

    And how’re things with the film script for Giselle? Was she happy with the latest version?

    I’ve really been struggling lately to find the emotional/intellectual bandwidth for writing, still haven’t quite found the voice for the new book, which is compounding things. Been watching some Pialat films lately b/c a number are about to leave the Criterion channel and been enjoying them. You a fan of his work?

  8. There’s one Mellotron sound I love: a cross between an organ and synthesized strings. You probably know exactly which one I mean. I’m happy that the DAW I use to produce music has a preset which is close to it, although it’s labelled “analog strings pad.”

    How was your weekend trip? What’s it like traveling in France now?

    The New York Film Festival is showing a documentary called THE MONOPOLY OF VIOLENCE, which was inspired by the yellow vest protests in France. The NYFF just started streaming films to the press today, including that one. I haven’t seen it, but its one Letterboxd review praises it to the skies as an intro to anarchist thought. I did catch a program of shorts and was very impressed by Simon Liu’s latest short, a sort of cyberpunk dystopia with animation and distorted imagery shot in Hong Kong. Are you familiar with Liu’s work? I will be watching Tsai Ming-liang’s DAYS tomorrow.

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