The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Day of the Mellotron *

* (restored)

 

‘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

 

____
Intro

‘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’

 

___
Users

 

‘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

 

_____
Further

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

 

______
Examples


Robert Wyatt ‘Seasong’


John Lennon’s Mellotron experiments circa ’68


The Flaming Lips ‘Race for the Prize’


Rolling Stones ‘2000 Light Years From Home’


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’


Tangerine Dream ‘Phaedra’


Pink Floyd ‘A Saucerful Of Secrets’


Sebadoh ‘Spoiled’


Guided By Voices ‘Old Bones’


XTC ‘Beating Of Hearts’


Sparks ‘Thank God It’s Not Christmas’

 

 

*

p.s. Hey. ** CAUTIVOS, Hi, and thank you! I understand the confusion, and, honestly, I love when writing and art confuses me, which probably explains why I choose the things I do for my posts. I think people feel intimidated by art unnecessarily and assume that it’s ‘over their heads’ or something, when that’s not true at all. It’s just as friendly as writing and music, for instance, but it has a stigma, and it’s a matter of ignoring that stigma and just looking at art for pleasure and enjoying the things you don’t understand about it. Or that’s my approach, I guess. ** _Black_Acrylic, Very different times indeed, sadly. Right, of course, bureaucracy and all that. I guess just enjoy your mom’s 24/7 company. You might even miss it soon. And, yay, my ears, my ears! Everyone, Fun sonic-style galore this lucky weekend because … Take it away, _Black_Acrylic: ‘The new episode of Play Therapy is online here via Mixcloud! Ben ‘Jack Your Body’ Robinson is here to bring you forgotten Italo, new Greek Acid and some obscure Belgian Synth-pop too.’ As always, super very highly recommended to one and all! Thank you, Ben! ** Jack Skelley, I want a cryogenic head. No, wait, maybe not. Sounded good for a second though. Maybe just the Xanax. I, of course, want Planet of Toys in digitised form. Any thought of doing an actual PoT vinyl or DC or even cassette album? I mean, you know, … See you in the morning. ** Dominik, I think maybe you were thinking about when we were writing the ARTE TV series because that was nothing but hell from above accompanied by much complaining on my end? The French also revere seemingly any French singer or band from their past no matter how trivial or mediocre. It’s very strange to me. There must be a million ‘legendary French singers’. It’s actually rare to get on a metro train here where there’s not some guy standing somewhere in the car singing songs or rapping or playing the accordion or guitar or violin, and, out of the endless times I’ve been in a car with these buskers, I think I can count the times it was enjoyable on one finger. I must be weird because the idea of swimming in warm oatmeal kind of excites me. It must be my theme park aspect talking. But thank you because I need to be productive instead, for sure. Love making carousels as thrilling to ride for adults as they are for 3 year olds, G. ** Brandon, Hi, buddy. Your binge sounds so delicious that I’m tempted to binge thereby myself, but I fear I have too much shit to do, sadly. There used to be a kind of good Classic Monsters Museum at the Universal Hollywood theme park, but I think they closed it a couple of years ago. Eek: your card. Mine has disappeared way too many times, and it’s really fucked when you do that over here when your card is American like mine is. Your Bauhaus night sounds like it more than made up. Did you see them play at that recent big retro 80s festival at the Rose Bowl? A bunch of my friends went and said they were shockingly awesome live even now. Things are intense and overly stressful/busy here at the moment, but I’m alright and finding the fun that’s hiding in all of that. Anything big or even especially nice happen to you this weekend? Hope so. ** Jeff J, Yeah, I hadn’t thought about him in a long time either before he popped up as a post candidate. ‘The Prophet’ is incredible,. Or I think so. ‘Black Sunlight’ is that OOP? Some press really needs to rectify that. Shit. I have a not very clear at all scan of the book that I’ll send to you this morning, so you’ll have that at least. The other book by him I’ve read is a collection of short stories, ‘The House of Hunger’. It’s good but it’s not in a league with ‘BS’ at all. I love Reverdy. I haven’t read him a long time, but I was really into him back when I was in the heat of my New York School reading/worshipping days. He was big for a lot of them. I love ‘Montauk’, yeah. I think it’s my second favorite Frisch. Awesome that it’s exciting you. xo. ** Bill, Indeed: what you wrote about Lye. Congrats on exiting the tunnel. I’m in one that looks like it’s to extend for months, so I envy you. I wasn’t that into Bressan’s films at the time, and I’ve been mildly curious to revisit them what with the revival you mentioned, but … hm. Have a lovely weekend in the sun! ** Okay. I’m a giant lover of the now archaic musical instrument known as the mellotron, to the point that I’ve wrenched this old post from the ruins of my pre-DC’s blog and given it an entire weekend to work its hoped for magic on you. See you on Monday.

12 Comments

  1. David Ehrenstein

    JUSTIFIED !

  2. CAUTIVOS

    Hello Dennis, a very illustrative post, it is worth taking an interest in it. The Mellotron instrument is curious, I didn’t know it had been used for so long.
    A beautiful spring day, lots of sun, although I would prefer a little more shade and a few degrees less. Here waiting for the first heat waves of summer. It has been impossible for me to stop for more than a moment in the posted photographs, curious to see PJ Harvey playing that instrument. I hope you are well, are you still in France? I would love to live in a country that is not so hot, although the proximity of the sea provides me with an additional breeze. All in all I’m ready to take the first dip of the year with the idea of ​​getting a nice tan. Good luck with your new projects and I hope that wherever you are you are as happy as possible and that you write, write something that in the future I can read and leave me stunned as in almost everything you write. Hugs and I hope to read you, to know if you are well and I would be happy to see you again by this means.

  3. Dominik

    Hi!!

    Thank you for the lovely weekend treat again! I love the photos, and I’m only a few songs in, but I like the music selection too.

    Oh, right! You’re right! It was indeed the ARTE TV series! Apologies.

    People only sing/play music at the stations but not on the actual trains here. There, they just walk around begging for money or selling trinkets.

    Well, you know, love could switch the coupon so that it allows you to turn a productive/average day into one where you feel like you’re swimming in warm oatmeal, haha! Excellent; I’d love to see a carousel full of laughing, excited adults, haha. Hell, I want to be one of them! Thank you! Love turning every single gun in the world into a bunch of asparagus right now, Od.

  4. Misanthrope

    Dennis, Bring back the Mellotron!

    Yeah, I hope your weekend is swell too. Kayla’s going with friends to a park and doing some sort of picnic thing. David…will be snorting percs all day. Me, just hoping to chill chill chill.

    Holidays are weird, but I’ll take the day off.

  5. Jack Skelley

    DennisTron: Yes!!!! Love this incl. pics of PJ Harvey and others on the ‘tron! You will have the Planet of Toys on digital file. Wanna put it out for the masses too. But will need assistance. So many other projects parked on the runway. See you in 3, 2, 1…

  6. Tosh Berman

    Wonderful selections you chose for Mellotron day. The Pavement, Guided by Voices songs are amazing. And you know, for whatever reason, I haven’t dipped into the world of those two bands/artists yet. And I love the John Lennon piece as well. Historically (and pleasure-wise), my favorite Mellotron players are Brian Jones and Robert Fripp. I love the Mellotron parts in King Crimson. And on top of that, visually, the mellotron is a beautiful instrument. Fantastic post. Thanks!

  7. Robert

    This is fantastic! Especially that picture of Peter Gabriel in his spandex flower suit. I used to listen to those early Genesis albums all the time when I was in high school. Seeing them live must’ve been a helluva experience. Now you’ve got me wanting to listen through Foxtrot again–there is something about the mellotron (and the organ they used) that has a fantastic super chunky sound.

  8. Bill

    Ha, I remember this post. A number of old favorites in the clips.

    I’m also a fan of this demo:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrXtmKGkSa4

    Sorry to hear about your tunnel status. Hope you have one of those coal miner helmet lights to light the way at least. As part of my emergence, I caught the big Genesis cover band doing Lamb, and they ended with… Watcher of the Skies.

    Bill

  9. Steve Erickson

    Have you ever tried playing a Mellotron? I’ve worked with samples of it, but they require a lot of manipulation because each note is exactly 7 seconds at the same volume, so they sound better if you edit the length and fade in or out.

    Speaking of music, I’ve written a new song, “Molten Gun,” inspired by the cycle of gun violence over the last two weeks: https://callinamagician.bandcamp.com/track/molten-gun. Features harsh, distorted percussion, samples of ASMR and Bruno Schaeffner!

    I’ve also made an Apple Music playlist of the best new music I’ve heard this month: https://music.apple.com/us/playlist/vibrations-in-the-summer-ether/pl.u-BNA6vmWT5ebm8d.

    I’ll be seeing Lizzie Borden’s 1976 doc REGROUPINGS later this afternoon.

  10. _Black_Acrylic

    I seem to remember the Dreadful Flying Glove having something to do with the Mellotron back in the day? Maybe I’m wrong though. Anyway, shoutout to the DFG whenever you may be these days.

    Thousands of Liverpool fans descended on Paris last night for the Champions League final and were met with tear gas from the French police. My brother Nick came round here to watch TV coverage of Real Madrid winning the thing anyway. Hope everything was alright where you are.

    Monday I’m due to see a podiatrist to remove this toxic toenail that’s been the root cause of my recent hospitalisation. Here’s hoping it goes without any further problems.

  11. Brandon

    Hey Dennis, I had wanted to see Bauhaus butI ended up not planning well enough and had to work but god what I wouldn’t give to see them. I got to have the inverse this weekend, taking care of the friend who took care of me while he blacked out, felt like a good equal and opposite reaction. We’re going out again tonight so we’ll see what happens in the coming hours. Too bad about the stressful situations surrounding you, I;m feeling quite suffocated at the moment too so i’m rooting for you and feeling ya. Talk more later, Brandon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

© 2022 DC's

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑