Mellotron Sounds

A highly specialized record guide is the wonderful Planet Mellotron, devoted to cataloging every appearance of the Mellotron in recorded music. The Mellotron, the forerunner of digital samplers, is a keyboard instrument where each key plays an eight-second tape loop of a pre-recorded sound, such as strings, cello, flute or an eight-voice choir. The idea for a musical instrument playing tapes by using a keyboard dates back to 1948 when Harry Chamberlin patented and began selling the Chamberlin. In the early 1960s a company in the UK began producing the Mellotron (melody + electronics = mellotron), an instrument that has been used widely in popular music. For a thoroughgoing history of the Mellotron, check out Streetly Electronics. To hear the individual sounds of a Mellotron, check out the Mellotron Listening Room at Mellotron.com.

Though expensive, the Mellotron became a popular instrument in psychedelic recordings in the late 1960s (most notably by the Beatles on “Strawberry Fields Forever”), and played a major role in the progressive rock genre in the 1970s. In fact, the Gibraltar Encyclopedia of Progressive Rock calls the Mellotron “The quintessential prog rock keyboard instrument.” The Mellotron went out of favor in the 1980s with the advent of cheaper digital synthesizers, but it has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in recent years, including Mellofest and a documentary film about the Mellotron called Mellodrama: The Mellotron Movie.

Planet Mellotron appears to be the labor of love of one person, Andy Thompson, whose ambition is to provide a comprehensive list of every appearance of a Mellotron in recorded music (Thompson acknowledges that his quest is “Madness. Utter Madness.”), and his website is loaded with fun-to-read reviews. Thompson rates albums on two scales: a five-star scale for the quality of the music and a five-T scale for the “Mellotronness” of the music. When I first discovered Planet Mellotron, I picked out some of my favorites and compiled the following Cloudcast:

Mellotron Sounds by Dead Man on Mixcloud

I have discovered one Mellotron track that doesn’t seem to be on Planet Mellotron, the wonderfully trippy “Fire! Fire!” by My Brother the Wind (2011). The Mellotron begins more than 10 minutes into the track.

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