Mellotron, the music, and the albums that use it.
Here’s an interesting topic: albums that use Mellotron, a strange, organ-like keyboard capable creating orchestral-like sounds through a rack of tapes. The Moody Blues is best known for using one. The Beatles used one even before the Moody Blues (“Strawberry Fields Forever” was released in February 1967, while the British release of Days of Future Passed was November 1967). Other bands like Yes and Genesis used Mellotron quite a bit in their glory days. But instead, I’ll be mentioning the not-so-well-known bands that used one quite a bit, which if you’re a fan of that Mellotron sound, you must have:
– Spring: Spring (1971)
This is the one and only album by this early British prog band. The band featured vocalist Pat Moran, and future Dire Straits drummer Picque Withers (lated named Pick Withers when he joined Dire Straits), as well as Ray Martinez, Adrian “Bone” Maloney, and a couple other guys. Anyway, the band featured no less than three guys playing the Mellotron! Musically it reminds me of the Moody Blues without the cheesy cosmic lyrics. Pat Moran also had a rather peculiar voice, as well.
– Celeste: Celeste (1976)
Also called Principe di un Giorno. Incredible Italian prog album that’s like a more acoustic PFM with King Crimson influences.
– José Cid: 10.000 Anos Depois Entre Vénus e Marte (1978)
Amazing prog album from Portugal from a guy much more associated Portuguese pop than prog (he turned to pop when 10.000 Anos bombed in his country – his loss). Great sci-fi concept album, lots of Mellotron, plus you can’t argue with an album that has a song entitled “Mellotron O Planeta Fantástico”.
– Museo Rosenbach: Zarathustra (1973)
One of my all-time favorite Italian prog album is also loaded with great Mellotron.
– Osanna: Palepoli (1973)
Another Italian favorite of mine. Of all the Osanna albums, this is by far the one with the most Mellotron on it. If you don’t dig the Mellotron, then you’re not a Mellotron fan.
– Edgar Froese: Epsilon in Malaysian Pale (1975)
Let’s not forget the second solo album from Tangerine Dream guy. Here he does an album that almost entirely Mellotron (there’s also synthesizer, after all, anything TD and TD-related will have synthesizers). Reminds me of “Fauni Gena” from TD’s Atem.
– Arthur Brown/Kingdom Come: Journey (1973)
Kinda strange indeed that Arthur Brown’s name would pop up regarding albums you must have if you’re a Mellotron fan. After all, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, as well as the first two Kingdom Come albums, Galactic Zoo Dossier (1971) and Kingdom Come (1972) tended heavily to the Hammond organ. Journey was Arthur Brown’s final Kingdom Come album. By this point, most of Kingdom Come disintigrated, with only Brown and guitarist Andy Dalby left. This time he brought in new bassist Phil Shutt and an American keyboardist Vic Peraino (and since this version featured no drummer, Arthur Brown decided to use a Bentley drum machine on this album). Peraino used no Hammond organ at all (meaning it sounds very different from The Crazy World of Arthur Brown), but he did have an ARP 2600 and a VCS-3 synthesizer, plus the Mellotron (the small white 400 model) which you’ll hear thoughout the album (particularly “Gypsy”, “Superficial Roadblocks” and “Spirit of Joy”).
– Änglagård: Hybris (1992)
– Änglagård: Epilog (1994)
The Mellotron seemed to have been hibernating in the 1980s, the only one who seemed to be using Mellotron in the ’80s was Kitaro. But the ‘tron came back with full force in the ’90s and Änglagård, a Swedish prog band used simply tons of it. Listening to these two albums, it often hard to believe that these albums were actually recorded in the ’90s, and that half the band was still in their teens (their drummer Mattias Olsson was just 17 when Hybris came out, and the guy handling the Mellotron and Hammond organ, Thomas Johnson was just 18). These are unbelivable prog albums that’ll take you back to the glory days of prog in the 1970s.
– Cathedral: Stained Glass Stories (1978)
American prog rock that sounds like a British band. If you wanna know where Änglagård got many of their ideas, listen to this! The Mellotron is simply all over this album, there’s hardly a time it isn’t used!
– Terpandre: Terpandre (1981)
Recorded in 1978, but because punk rock and disco was in full force by that time, it wasn’t until 1981 when this album was released, by which point the band broke up. Romantic French prog rock with some fusion tendencies (particularly the Jean-Luc Ponty-ish electric violin played by Patrick Tilleman). This album is just loaded with Mellotron. Although I think the album is a bit overrated (since I find the music a bit overdramatic), it’s still worth having if you like the Mellotron or French prog in general.
– Akasha: Akasha (1977)
One of the more unusual prog albums to come out of Scandinavia. This Norwegian band played Mellotron-heavy symphonic prog with tons of spacy electronic effects. The production and performance is a bit amateurish, but still great stuff, proving that prog rock does not always have to be perfectionistic.
– SFF: Symphonic Pictures (1976), Sunburst (1977)
SFF was also known as Schicke, Führs & Fröhling, and as you might guess from their name, they’re German (they recorded for Brain). These are their first two albums, which are the epitome of symphonic prog. If you’re familiar with Änglagård, listen to “Pictures” off Symphonic Pictures. It sounds so much like Änglagård, that it’s another album that the band got their ideas from. But most of the rest of SFF’s music doesn’t sound like any other band than SFF. There’s enough tron on these two albums to keep any fan of the instrument happy. By the way, SFF’s last album, Ticket to Everywhere (1979) only features Mellotron on one cut. I am also aware that Gerhard Führs and Heinz Fröhling (the FF of SFF) recorded three albums without Eduard Schicke (meaning those albums were released simply as Führs & Fröhling albums) between 1978 and 1981, but I hadn’t heard those albums yet.
– Clearlight: Clearlight Symphony (1975)
French band that’s basically the brainchild of keyboardist Cyrille Verdeaux. This album is a real Mellotron lover’s delight, not only that, if you’re a Gong fan, you’re going to need this as Didier Malherbe, Tim Blake, and Steve Hillage all appear on this album (as well as Gilbert Artman of Lard Free, Christian Boulé, and Martin Isaacs). But the music is nothing like Gong, but much more in the symphonic prog category (although I do hear some Canterbury influences à la Hatfield & the North on the second half of the album – the side with members of Lard Free playing).
– Earth & Fire: Song of the Marching Children (1971)
– Earth & Fire: Atlantis (1973)
Two great albums from one of the big names of Dutch prog rock. The band was known for female vocalist Jerney Kaagman. If you don’t mind the uniquely “Dutch” sound of the band, you’re sure to enjoy these two albums. Plus they are both loaded with Mellotron.
There is one thing that really bothers me, is when I pick up an album and it states that Mellotron is used, but when I hear it, I don’t notice any, or if there is, it’s barely worth talking about. Of course many of these albums aren’t bad at all and I highly recommend them, it’s just that albums that don’t use Mellotron should be forbidden to include it in their liner notes. Here are some examples:
– Eloy: Power & the Passion (1975), Dawn (1976), Ocean (1977)
Power & the Passion still featured original keyboardist Manfred Wieczorke. By this point, he was not only playing Hammond organ, but Mini Moog synthesizer, and string synths. He is credited to playing Mellotron, but I don’t notice it. I do hear lots of string synths (particularly “Journey into 1358”, “Love Over Six Centuries”, “Mutiny”, “Imprisonment” and “The Bells of Notre Dame”). Dawn was the first album recorded by the new version of Eloy (Frank Bornemann had to start fresh because he could no longer stand that asshole manger the band had, Jay Partridge). Their new keyboardist Detlev Schmidtchen was again credited to using Mellotron, but again, I notice lots of string synths. But then Dawn used a real orchestra and there isn’t much need for the Mellotron (like Rick Wakeman’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth or The Myths & Legends of King Arthur). Ocean on the other hand did not feature an orchestra. I think I notice a little Mellotron on “Poseiden’s Creation”, but that’s it. Luckily Silent Cries & Mighty Echoes (1979) makes no mention of Schmidtchen using Mellotron, and of course, the album features no tron. These are all great albums, if you don’t mind the songwriting, or Frank Bornemann’s singing (which is English with a heavy German accent).
– Fireballet: A Night on Bald Mountain (1975)
Excellent prog rock by this New Jersey band that recorded for Passport Records. Although some Mellotron is used, it’s a
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