Time again to make the tough choice to pick only one tune by a select artist or band I would take to a desert island. Hopefully, this will never happen, as it’s pretty much mission impossible. We’re up to the letter “b”, so choices include The Beatles, Badfinger, Bad Company, Chuck Berry, James Brown, David Bowie and The Byrds, to name some. I decided to go with Barclay James Harvest.
‘Who the hell is that?’ some of you may wonder, and why didn’t he take his favorite band of all time, The Beatles? Well, let me remind you one criterion for this feature is to pick an artist or band I haven’t covered yet or only a few times – call it a little twist to the exercise! This post is the first about Barclay James Harvest (BJH), a British group I was very much into during my teenage years, growing up in Germany. If I recall it correctly, they were pretty popular there at the time.
BJH were formed in September 1966 by John Lees (guitar, vocals), Stuart “Woolly” Wolstenholme (keyboards, vocals), Les Holroyd (bass, vocals) and Mel Pritchard (drums, percussion). Their eponymous debut album appeared in 1970. Various configurations of the group have since released close to 20 additional studio albums, as well as numerous live and compilation records.
BJH are oftentimes classified as prog-rock and art rock. This sounds pretty accurate to me, especially for their earlier albums. I think one can also add symphonic rock, folk rock and pop rock. Currently, there are two touring versions of the group, John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest and Barclay James Harvest featuring Les Holroyd, which are each led by an original member. In case you’re interested to learn more, you can visit their respective websites here and here.
This finally brings me to the song I decided to pick: Mocking Bird, a tune that appeared on BJH’s sophomore album Once Again from February 1971. Written by John Lees, the symphonic rock tune is very reminiscent of The Moody Blues.
Six years after Once Again had appeared, Lees wrote a song titled Poor Man’s Moody Blues. But what could be viewed as an acknowledgment that the group was influenced by the Moodys apparently was an angry reaction to a journalist who had called BJH “a poor man’s Moody Blues.” The tune deliberately sounded very similar to Nights in White Satin.
Understandably, Justin Hayward, who wrote the renowned Moody Blues song, was less than pleased. Had this happened in the U.S., I think it’s safe to assume there would have been a big lawsuit. Years later, Hayward received an apology from Les Holroyd when they met each other.
Sources: Wikipedia; John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest website; Barclay James Harvest featuring Les Holroyd website; YouTube
Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time
Welcome to the first Sunday Six of 2022 and once again Happy New Year! Frequent visitors of the blog know what’s about to unfold. In case you’re here for the first time, welcome, and I hope you’ll be back for more. The Sunday Six is a weekly recurring feature celebrating music in different flavors from the past 70 years or so, six tunes at a time I typically present in a zig-zag fashion. Ready to embark on my first music mini-excursion of 2022? Fasten your seatbelt and let’s go!
Regina Spektor/New Year
Since it’s the beginning of 2022, I thought why not kick off this installment with a song titled New Year. It’s a nice ballad by Regina Spektor, a Russian-American singer-songwriter and pianist. Spektor, who was born in 1980 in Moscow, then the Soviet Union, has lived in the U.S. since 1989 when her parents emigrated to New York. After studying classical piano until she was 17, Spektor started to become interested in other music, including hip-hop, rock and punk. She initially gained prominence as part of New York’s so-called anti-folk scene. According to Wikipedia, anti-folk emerged in the 1980s to protest the mainstream music scene with mocking and clever lyrics. In July 2001, Spektor self-released her debut album 11:11, a jazz and blues-influenced record. New Year is a bonus track from her seventh and most recent studio album Remember Us to Life that appeared in September 2016.
Miles Davis Quintet/Airegin
Next, let’s turn to a great jazz standard composed in 1954 by tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins. The tune was first recorded in June that year by the Miles Davis Quintet for a 10″ LP titled Miles Davis with Sonny Rollins. In addition to Davis (trumpet) and Rollins (tenor sax), the musicians included Horace Silver (piano), Percy Heath (bass) and Kenny Clarke (drums). Rollins also made four additional albums with Davis, in addition to 50-plus studio and live records as a bandleader over a 60-year recording career, as well as more than 20 albums as a sideman. The latter included The Rolling Stones’ 1981 studio album Tattoo You.
Bronski Beat/It Ain’t Necessarily So
While I’ve never been a synth-pop fan, I’ve always loved It Ain’t Necessarily So by Bronski Beat. The timing of featuring this tune isn’t coincidental. Sadly, the trio’s co-founder Steve Bronski passed away on December 7, 2021, at the untimely age of 61. Bronski who due to a stroke in 2018 had limited mobility, reportedly died from smoke inhalation due to a fire at his apartment in London, England. In addition to him (keyboards, percussion), Bronski Beat also included Jimmy Somerville (vocals) and Larry Steinbachek (keyboards, percussion). It Ain’t Necessarily So, composed by George Gershwin with lyrics by his brother Ira Gershwin, is from Gershwin’s 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. Bronski Beat recorded the tune for their debut album The Age of Consent released in October 1984. Here’s the official video – such a cool rendition!
The Yardbirds/For Your Love
English blues rock group The Yardbirds are best known for featuring three of the top British guitarists: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. Clapton replaced the band’s first lead guitarist Anthony “Top” Topham in October 1963. When Clapton left in March 1965, he recommended Jimmy Page as his replacement. But Page declined and Jeff Beck took over on lead guitar. Page ended up joining the group on bass in 1966 and switched to lead guitar after Beck’s departure in November that year. The Yardbirds split in 1968 and reformed in 1992, including original members Chris Dreja (rhythm guitar, bass) and Jim McCarty (drums). They are still around with McCarty remaining the sole founding member in the current line-up. For Your Love, first released as a single in the UK in March 1965, became the band’s first hit. It marked a departure from their blues roots to a more commercial sound, which was the key reason for Clapton’s departure. For Your Love was written by Graham Gouldman who subsequently co-founded 10cc. That harpsichord played by organist Brian Auger and the different sections of the song are just cool!
Smash Mouth/Walkin’ on the Sun
Retro group Smash Mouth were formed in San Jose, Calif. in 1994. The initial line-up consisted of Steve Harwell (lead vocals), Greg Camp (guitar), Paul De Lisle (bass) and Kevin Coleman (drums). By the time they recorded their debut album Fush Yu Mang, Michael Klooster had joined on keyboards. Released in July 1997, the album included Walkin’ on the Sun, the band’s debut single. Written by Camp, the tune surged to no. 2 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, hit no. 3 in Canada and reached no. 7 in Australia. It also became a top 20 hit in the UK (no. 19) and charted in various other European countries – smashing!
I’d like to end this first 2022 Best of What’s New installment on a groovy note with Dreadlock Holiday by 10cc. Released in July 1978, this catchy funky tune was the lead single of the English band’s sixth studio album Bloody Tourists that appeared in September of the same year. Co-written by two of the group’s founding members, Eric Stewart and the above-mentioned Graham Gouldman, Dreadlock Holiday was based on real events Stewart and Moody Blues vocalist Justin Hayward had experienced in Barbados, and Gouldman had encountered in Jamaica. The tune was a no. 1 in the UK and also became 10cc’s first no. 1 hit outside the UK, topping the charts in Belgium, The Netherlands and Australia. I recall this song got lots of play on my favorite mainstream pop FM radio station in Germany at the time. 10cc remain active and with Gouldman still have an original member. The current line-up also includes Paul Burgess (drums, percussion, backing vocals) and Rick Fenn (guitar, backing and lead vocals, bass, keyboards) who already were around for Dreadlock Holiday. The group has announced a UK tour starting in March 2022. I love it (Eh!).
Last but not least, here’s a playlist with the above tunes. Hope you enjoy!
Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time
Welcome to the 40th installment of The Sunday Six. By now, more frequent visitors of the blog are well aware of what’s about to unfold. In case you’re here for the first time, this weekly recurring feature explores music in different flavors and from different decades, six tracks at a time. The post roughly span the past 70 years and tend to jump back and forth between decades in a seemingly random fashion. Of course, there’s a secret formula behind the madness I shall not reveal! 🙂 It’s a lot fun, so hope you’ll come along and fasten your seatbelt for the zigzag ride!
Charlie Parker/Blues for Alice
Starting us off today is Charlie Parker, a highly influential jazz saxophonist, band leader and composer. According to Wikipedia, Parker was instrumental for the development of bebop jazz and was known for his blazing speed and introducing new harmonic ideas. Parker started playing the saxophone at age 11. His professional career began in 1938 when he joined pianist Jay McShann’s big band and made his recording debut. Blues for Alice is a jazz standard Parker composed in 1951 and recorded in August that year. In addition to him on alto sax, it featured Red Rodney (trumpet), John Lewis (piano), Ray Brown (bass) and Kenny Clarke (drums). Blues for Alice was released as a single at the time, and also appeared on the posthumous compilation album Swedish Schnapps from 1958, aka as The Genius of Charlie Parker, volume 8. Unfortunately, Parker had serious mental health problems and was addicted to heroin. He passed away from a heart attack in March 1955 at the young age of 34.
Johnny Winter/Let It Bleed
Let’s keep it bluesy and turn to a smoking hot cover of Let It Bleed by blues rock guitar virtuoso Johnny Winter. Co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the tune became the title track of The Rolling Stones’ record from December 1969, their eighth British and 10th American studio album, respectively. Winter included his rendition of Let It Bleed on his fifth studio record Still Alive and Well that appeared in March 1973. He released 14 more albums until his death in Switzerland in July 2014 at the age of 70. According to his producer Paul Nelson, the cause was emphysema combined with pneumonia. Man, check this out, Winter was one hell of a guitarist! In fact, I got a chance to see him once in Essen, Germany in my late teens. I had just joined a blues band as a bassist and went with a bunch of the guys to the gig – a little educational group excursion. He was rockin’ the house or the hall (Grugahalle) I should say!
The Moody Blues/Tuesday Afternoon
Next let’s go back to November 1967 to one of my favorite songs by The Moody Blues: Tuesday Afternoon, aka Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?) or simply Forever Afternoon. Written by the band’s guitarist and lead vocalist Justin Hayward, this gem appeared on Days of Future Passed, their second record. According to Wikipedia, the idea for the concept album was triggered when Decca offered The Moody Blues, who at the time were in financial distress due to lack of commercial success, a last-ditch opportunity to record a stereo album that combined their music with orchestral interludes. When Days of Future Passed came out, critics received it with mixed reviews. It reached a moderate no. 27 on the UK charts, though it did much better in the U.S. and Canada where it climbed all the way to no. 3. While their last album, a Christmas record, dates back to 2003, The Moody Blues remain active to this day. The core line-up includes Graeme Edge (drums), one of the original members who co-founded the band in 1964, as well as Hayward (guitar, vocals) and John Lodge (bass, guitar, vocals) who each joined in 1966. That’s just remarkable!
The Bangles/September Gurls
A few days ago, I published a post about all-female rock pioneers Fanny. One of the all-female groups that followed them are The Bangles. The pop rock group first entered my radar screen with Manic Monday, the lead single and a huge hit from their sophomore album Different Light released in 1986. The great record also yielded four other charting singles, including Walk Like an Egyptian, the album’s biggest hit. Interestingly, a track that has become one of my favorites from that record didn’t appear as a single: September Gurls. Written by Alex Chilton, the tune was originally released by American power pop band Big Star on their second studio album Radio City from February 1974. I really dig this cover by The Bangles, as well as the original. BTW, The Bangles also still exist. After the group had disbanded in 1989, they reformed 10 years later.
Indigenous/Number Nine Train
Let’s do some more blues rock, coz why not? On the recent Indigenous Peoples’ Day, fellow blogger Music Enthusiast brought to my attention Indigenous, a great native American blues rock band. Originally, the group was founded in the late ’90s by Mato Nanji (Maiari) (‘mah-TOE non-GEE’) (vocals, guitar), his brother Pte (‘peh-TAY’) (bass), as well as their sister Wanbdi (‘wan-ba-DEE’) (drums, vocals) and their cousin Horse (percussion), all members of the Nakota Nation. Their influences include Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana. Indigenous released their debut album Things We Do in 1998. Number Nine Train is a track from the band’s seventh studio album Chasing the Sun that came out in June 2006 and reached no. 2 on the Billboard Top Blues Albums chart. The tune was written by record producer Bobby Robinson and first released by Tarheel Slim in 1959. Indigenous are still around, with Mato Nanji remaining as the only original member. These guys are totally up my alley, and I definitely need to do more exploration – thanks again, Jim, for flagging!
Sister Hazel/All For You
Once again this brings me to the sixth and final tune of our little music excursion: All For You by Sister Hazel. I’ve always liked this song, which I believe the only one I can name from the American alternative rock band. Sister Hazel were formed in Gainesville, Fla. in 1993 by Ken Block (lead vocals, acoustic guitar), Ryan Newell (lead guitar, harmony vocals), Andrew Copeland (rhythm guitar, vocals), Jett Beres (bass, harmony vocals) and Mark Trojanowski (drums), the same line-up that remains in place to this day, if I see this correctly! All For You, which was the band’s debut single, appeared on their sophomore album …Somewhere More Familiar that came out in February 1997. Credited to Block and Sister Hazel, the tune became the band’s biggest hit and their signature song. It climbed to no. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topped the Adult Top 40 Airplay chart. Just a catchy tune!
One thing I love about music blogging is how much I learn about artists I didn’t know or only had heard of by name. Oftentimes, I find myself stepping through one door only to find many others I’ve yet to open. Frankly, I probably would have run out of ideas a long time ago, if it were any different! Plus, I’d get bored if I only wrote about music and artists I know.
The latest example is Bettye LaVette, a versatile vocalist who has been active since 1962. I included her in two previous posts, most recently on Saturday in a piece about artists who have covered songs by The Rolling Stones. LaVette’s great rendition of Salt of the Earth led me to take a closer look at the album that includes her version of the tune. I was quickly intrigued by what else I found on Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, which was released in May 2010. Her soulful, at times somewhat fragile voice reminds me a bit of Tina Turner and is right up my alley.
While LaVette enjoyed some chart success early in her career, for decades, she was more of a cult figure in soul circles. At least in part that was due to bad luck with record labels. After LaVette recorded what was supposed to become her first full-length album Child of the Seventies, Atlantic Records decided not to move forward with the project, apparently without giving her any explanation. In 1982, Motown’s Lee Young, Sr. signed LaVette to the storied label, which led to the recording of her first released album Tell Me Lie. However, following a corporate shake-up, Young was removed, the label never promoted LaVette’s record, and it failed to chart.
Fast-forward to 2000 when a French collector and label owner called Gilles Petard discovered the tapes for the aforementioned Child of the Seventies album in Atlantic Records’ vaults. He liked what he heard, licensed the tracks and released them under the title Souvenirs in France on his Art & Soul label. Around the same time, Let Me Down Easy – In Concert, a live recording of LaVette in the Netherlands, appeared on the Dutch label Munich. The two near-simultaneous releases created new interest in LaVette as a recording artist and resulted in a contract with label Blues Express.
In January 2003, LaVette released A Woman Like Me, only her third full-length studio album. It won the W.C. Handy Award in 2004 for Comeback Blues Album of the Year and the Living Blues critic pick as Best Female Blues Artist of 2004. LaVette’s recording career was finally going somewhere. She has since released eight other studio albums and won additional awards, including a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation (2006), Blues Music Award for Best Contemporary Female Blues Singer (2008), Distinguished Achievement Award from The Detroit Music Society (2015) and Blues Music Award for Best Soul Blues Female Artist from The Blues Foundation (2016). LaVette is also in the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame and has been nominated three times for a Grammy.
LaVette is an unusual artist. According to her website, she is no mere singer. She is not a song writer, nor is she a “cover” artist. She is an interpreter of the highest order. Bettye is one of very few of her contemporaries who were recording during the birth of soul music in the 60s and is still creating vital recordings today. This certainly becomes obvious when listening to Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, which brings me back to the album. Let’s get to some intriguing interpretations!
The opener is a funky version of The Word by The Beatles. While the John Lennon–Paul McCartney co-write, which was included on the Rubber Soul album from December 1965, is barely recognizable, I find LaVette’s take pretty cool. It’s got a bit of a James Brown vibe, and I can almost hear his “uhs” in the background.
How about some Led Zeppelin reimagined? Here’s All My Love, a song I’ve always dug. Co-written by John Paul Jones and Robert Plant, the tune first appeared on Zep’s eighth and final studio album In Through the Out Door released in August 1979. Check this out – damn!
Let’s move on to Pink Floyd and Wish You Were Here. The title track of their ninth studio album from September 1975 was co-written by David Gilmour and Roger Waters. Who would have thought a Floyd track could ever sound so soulful!
Nights in White Satin is one of my favorite songs by The Moody Blues. Written by Justin Hayward, the track appeared on Days of Future Passed, one of the most beautiful concept albums of the ’60s. Here it is in Bettye LaVette style – amazing!
Let’s do two more. First up is another great funky rendition: Why Does Love Got to be So Sad by Derek and the Dominoes. Co-written by Eric Clapton and Bobby Whitlock, the tune appeared on the band’s sole studio album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs from November 1970. Groovy!
Last but not least, here is the closer Love, Reign O’er Me, a highlight on the album. It captures LaVette’s unedited live performance during the Kennedy Center Honors in December 2008 in tribute to Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, who were among the honorees that year. Townshend wrote the tune for The Who’s sixth studio album Quadrophenia that came out in October 1973. Here’s the actual footage from the Kennedy Center. Messrs. Daltrey and Townshend almost seem to have a Led Zeppelin moment. Check this out. This is friggin’ intense!
Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, which appeared on U.S. label Anti-, was co-produced by Rob Mathes, Michael Stevens and LaVette. It reached no. 1 on the U.S. Billboard’s Top Blues Albums, staying in that chart for 39 weeks. The album also enjoyed some mainstream success in the U.S., climbing to no. 56 on the Billboard 200. Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook became one of the three aforementioned Grammy nominations for LaVette.
Thanks to great images on Discogs, I was able to look at the album’s liner notes that reveal some interesting things about LaVette’s approach to interpretations. “I never think of a song as a record,” she is quoted. “I think of songs as songs. I don’t think of a Rolling Stones recording. I think of the Rolling Stones singing this song and now I’m going to sing it. That helps me tremendously…There’s no process of ‘how can I make this different.’ I hear it immediately differently. It’s very hard for another singer to satisfy me. No matter where a singer went with the vocal, if I can think of somewhere else to go, then wherever they went no longer interests me.”
In addition to the vocal approach, LaVette also took artistic freedom with the lyrics, which she changed significantly on a number of songs. “I think the most difficult thing about putting the album together was that many of the words didn’t make sense to me,” she said. “These songs belong to white fans who are now in their fifties…The biggest hang-up was I didn’t want to disrespect them because I knew that there are people who have altars built to many of these songs…When I got into them I realized there were things worth saying but I had to make them things I could sing about.”
So what do some of the artists who wrote the original songs think of LaVette’s renditions? Following are some quotes from a sticker on the CD’s jewel case. Again, I have Discogs to thank for featuring some great images. “A great record. Put me in the Bettye LaVette fan club” (Keith Richards). “Bettye is reinventing and reclaiming a soul singing tradition all at once” (Pete Townshend). “Bettye is blessed with an instantly recognizable voice full of power & emotion” (Steve Winwood). “Bettye has recorded an amazing version of ‘Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me'” (Elton John).
The electro-mechanical keyboards are known for amazing sound capabilities and quirks
Yesterday, when all my troubles seemed so far away, I came across this YouTubedemo of the Mellotron. It reminded me what a cool musical instrument this type of keyboard is and that I hadn’t done a “hardware” post since this one about the Vox Continental from August 2018. Two great reasons for a new installment, don’t you agree? 🙂
I realize writing about musical gear can quickly get you into geeky territory. As a hobby musician, I can’t deny I get easily excited when it comes to instruments and their sounds and looks. I guess you could call that geeky. At the same time, I’m not exactly a tech wiz – in fact, far from it! As such, I mostly approach gear posts from the sound (and looks) side and keep the tech side relatively light.
Which brings me to the Mellotron. The first time I ever heard this marvelous keyboard in action, I didn’t realize I was listening to a Mellotron. Clever, huh? Well, it’s true. I suppose more frequent visitors of the blog may already have an idea where I’m going with this. I’ll give you a hint: Four lads from Liverpool…
Strawberry Fields Forever. Undoubtedly, my fellow Beatles fans already knew that! 🙂 This John Lennon gem from 1967, which was co-credited to him and Paul McCartney as usual, is perhaps the most famous example in pop rock of a Mellotron in action. I’m particularly referring to the beautiful flute sound intro, which was played by McCartney. According to The Beatles Bible, George Martin and Lennon also played two Mellotron parts, using the ‘swinging flutes’ and, towards the end of the song, ‘piano riff’ settings.
I could easily dedicate an entire post to Strawberry Fields Forever, which was one of the most complex tunes The Beatles ever recorded. Perhaps one day I will, but for now, let’s get back to the Mellotron and some history, as well as an attempt to explain how the mighty instrument works, based on my ingenious tech understanding. 🙂 And, of course, I’ll wrap things up with some examples that illustrate what Mellotron keyboards can do!
Let’s start with the technology. Fortunately, there’s Wikipedia! Basically, the Mellotron is what’s called a sampler, meaning it samples music instruments and other sounds, but instead of relying on digital sampling like the modern samplers do, it’s based on analogue samples recorded on audio tapes – essentially like an old-fashioned tape deck! When a player presses a key, a tape that’s connected to it gets pushed against a playback head, which in turn generates the sound. Once released, the tape moves back in its default position.
The tapes in a Mellotron include recordings of actual instruments, voices and other sounds, which is pretty neat when you think about it. Each tape recording lasts for about 8 seconds. This means a player cannot indefinitely hold down a key and get a sound – one of the instrument’s many quirks. There are others. As Sound on Soundexplains, the Mellotron had 35 tape heads and other interconnected hardware, which made it quite challenging to maintain from a mechanical perspective.
For example, if the springs that pull back the tapes to their start position malfunction, this could mean the sampled sound only starts in the middle of the tape, and a player would have even less than 8 seconds of sound; or I suppose no sound at all, if the spring gets stuck in a completely extended position. There are different Mellotron models, so I’m not sure they all have 35 tape heads. My point here is to illustrate the instrument’s delicacy!
As you’d expect, the Mellotron offers a variety of sounds. From Wikipedia: On earlier models, the instrument is split into “lead” and “rhythm” sections. There is a choice of six “stations” of rhythm sounds, each containing three rhythm tracks and three fill tracks. The fill tracks can also be mixed together.
Similarly, there is a choice of six lead stations, each containing three lead instruments which can be mixed. In the centre of the Mellotron, there is a tuning button that allows a variation in both pitch and tempo. Later models do not have the concept of stations and have a single knob to select a sound, along with the tuning control. However, the frame containing the tapes is designed to be removed, and replaced with one with different sounds.
Okay, I promised to keep it “light” on the technology, so the above shall be sufficient. Next, I’d like to touch on the Mellotron’s history. While tape samplers had been explored in research studios, it wasn’t until 1962 that the instrument’s commercial concept originated. And it took a little help not exactly from a friend, as would become clear later.
Bill Fransen, a sales agent for the California-based maker of the Chamberlin electro-mechanical keyboards, took two Chamberlin Musicmaster 600 instruments to England to find a suitable manufacturer that could make tape heads for future Chamberlin keyboards. He met Frank Bradley, Norman Bradley and Les Bradley of tape engineering company Bradmatic Ltd. in Birmingham. The Bradleys told him they could advance the original instrument design, and keyboard history started to change.
The Bradleys subsequently teamed up with BBC music conductor Eric Robinson, who not only agreed to arrange the recording of the necessary instruments and sounds for the tapes but also to help finance the effort. They also pulled in English magician and TV personality David Nixon and formed Mellotronics, a company to produce and market the Mellotron.
In 1963, Mellotronics started making the Mk I, the first commercially manufactured model of the Mellotron. The following year, the company introduced the Mk II, an updated version featuring the full set of sounds selectable by banks and stations. There are multiple other models that were developed thereafter, including the M400, which is pictured on top of this post and became a particular popular version.
There was only one hiccup. Fransen had never told the Bradleys that he wasn’t the original owner of the Chamberlin concept. Suffice to say the California company wasn’t exactly pleased that a British competitor essentially had copied their technology. After some back and forth, the two companies eventually agreed that each would be allowed to continue manufacture instruments independently.
In the ’70s, the Mellotron name was acquired by American company Sound Sales. After 1976, Bradmatic that had renamed themselves Streetly Electronics in 1970, manufactured and sold Mellotron type keyboards under the Novatron brand name. But eventually, the advent of modern electronic samplers caught up with both companies. As a result, they found themselves in dire financial straits by the mid ’80s. In 1986, Streetly folded altogether.
In 1989, Les Bradley’s son John Bradley and Martin Smith, who had built Mellotron keyboards for the Bradleys at the original factory in Birmingham, England, revived Streetly Electronics as a Mellotron support and refurbishment business. The company exists to this day. In 2007, they also developed a new model that became the M4000. It combined features of several previous models with the layout and chassis of the popular M400 but with a digital bank selector that emulated the mechanical original in the Mk II.
If you’re still with me, let’s now move on to the post’s final and actual fun section: Seeing and hearing Mellotron keyboards in action. And while many things in pop music start with The Beatles, the Mellotron is one of the exceptions that prove the rule! Apparently, in the mid ’60s, English multi-instrumentalist Graham Bond became the first rock artist to record with a Mellotron. He also was an early user of the legendary Hammond organ and Leslie speaker combination. Here’s Baby Can It Be True from The Graham Bond Organization’s 1965 sophomore album There’s a Bond Between Us. Per Wikipedia, the tune was the first hit song to feature a Mellotron Mk II.
Another early adopter of the Mellotron was Mike Pinder, who had worked as a tester at Streetly Electronics (then still called Bradmatic) for 18 months in the early 1960s and became the keyboarder and co-founder of The Moody Blues in 1964. Pinder started using the Mellotron extensively on each of the band’s albums from Days of Future Passed (1967) to Octave (1978). Here’s one of the former record’s absolute gems written by Justin Hayward: Tuesday Afternoon (Forever Afternoon). In addition to Mellotron, the album used plenty of actual orchestration.
And since it was Pinder who introduced The Beatles to the Mellotron, now it’s time to come back to Strawberry Fields Forever. Notably, George Martin was less than excited about the Mellotron, reportedly describing it “as if a Neanderthal piano had impregnated a primitive electronic keyboard” – ouch! Probably, he was referring to some of the instrument’s quirks I mentioned above! The Beatles still ended up using various Mellotron keyboards on their albums Magical Mystery Tour and The White Album.
Another well-known user of the Mellotron was Rick Wakeman. Before joining Yes in 1971, Wakeman was a full-time session musician. Among others, this included work with David Bowie on his second eponymous studio album and the mighty Space Oddity. As reported by Ultimate Classic Rock, the initial idea was for Wakeman to play a guide track with the Mellotron that would be replaced by an actual orchestra. But producer Tony Visconti decided to keep Wakeman’s Mellotron part.
Let’s do a few more Mellotron examples from the ’70s. These selections are taken from the previously noted Ultimate Classic Rock piece. First up: And You And I, a tune from Close to the Edge, the fifth studio album by Yes released in September 1972. The more than 10-minute track was co-written by Jon Anderson, Steve Howe (except the Eclipse section), Chris Squire and Bill Bruford. Wakeman used the Mellotron to capture stings, brass and flutes sounds, especially during the tune’s Eclipse section.
One month later, in October 1972, Genesis released their fourth studio album Foxtrot. Here’s the opener Watcher of the Skies, which like all of the record’s tracks was credited to all members of the band. Ultimate Classic Rock notes the sound of the Mellotron created by Tony Banks turned out to be so popular that the manufacturer introduced a “Watcher Mix” sound on the next version of the keyboard – pretty cool in my book!
Since all things must pass including epic gear blog posts, let’s wrap up things with one final – and I might add particularly mighty – example of Mellotron use: Kashmir, from Led Zeppelin’s sixth studio album Physical Graffiti, which came out in February 1975. Credited to Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Bonham, the closer of Side 2 of the double LP features plenty of orchestration arranged by John Paul Jones. This includes both Mellotron strings and an actual string and brass section. While this makes it tricky to distinguish between the Mellotron and “real instruments”, Ultimate Classic Rock notes, The consensus is that Jones’s fake strings are heard during the “All I see turns to brown…” bridge (starting around 3:25) and join up with the actual strings in the tune’s closing minutes, adding a weird and wonderful effect.
This post focused on the use of the Mellotron during its most popular period from the mid ’60s to the second half of the ’70s. One can also find occasional examples thereafter like Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark and XTC on albums they released during the first half of the ’80s, as well as Oasis and Radiohead on recordings made during the second half of the ’90s. I think it’s safe to assume some keyboarders continue to use Mellotrons to this day, though with the modern digital samplers, it has to be a niche product.
Sources: Wikipedia; The Beatles Bible; Sound on Sound; Streetly Electronics website; Ultimate Classic Rock; YouTube
The other day, Apple Music served up the eponymous debut album from 10cc as a suggestion, based on my listening habits. It’s actually a bit strange since I don’t recall having listened to similar music recently, as it’s generally not part of my core wheelhouse, at least nowadays. However, the British art pop rockers were on my radar screen for sometime during my teenage years in Germany when you couldn’t listen to the radio there without encountering I’m Not In Love and Dreadlock Holiday.
So I decided to listen to the above album and kind of liked it, even though I’d call tracks like Donna and Rubber Bullets “goof rock.” But they are brilliantly executed and undoubtedly catchy. I think Apple Music’s description perfectly captures this: “Above all else, 10cc valued fun. This band loved motion and color and humor. Even within the complexity of its arrangements and the elasticity of its vocals, the group radiates a giddiness rarely seen in rock music, especially during the cement-footed ’70s.”
After listening to 10cc’s debut album, I started sampling some of their other studio records, as well as a live album/DVD titled Clever Clogs. While doing this, I rediscovered a good number of their tunes and, voila, this triggered the idea to put together a playlist. But first some background on the band, which came into being in Stockport, England in 1972, when four musicians who had written and recorded songs together for a few years started to perform under that name: Graham Gouldman (bass, vocals guitar), Eric Stewart (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Kevin Godley (drums, vocals) and Lol Creme (guitar, keyboards, vocals).
By the time they became 10cc, the four artists had experienced some initial success. Gouldman had established himself as a hit songwriter with tunes like For Your Love, Bus Stop and No Milk Today he had penned for The Yardbirds, The Hollies and Herman’s Hermits, respectively. Godly and Creme had recorded some songs together and secured a contract with Marmalade Records. Stewart had scored two hits as a member of Wayne Fontana And The Mindbenders (later known simply as The Mindbenders) with The Game Of Love and A Groovy Kind Of Love.
In July 1968, Stewart became a partner in a recording studio in Stockport, which in October that year was moved to a bigger space and renamed Strawberry Studios. Gouldman, Godley and Creme also wound up at the studio, and by 1969, the four founding members of 10cc were working there together frequently. They wrote, performed (as session musicians) and produced a serious of singles, which were released under different names through a production partnership Gouldman had established with American bubblegum pop writers and producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz of Super K Productions.
After the production partnership had ended, Gouldman worked as a staff songwriter for Super K Productions in New York, while Stewart, Godley and Creme continued outside production work at Strawberry Studios. Following Gouldman’s return to Stockport, they co-produced and played on the Neil Sedaka studio album Solitaire. The record’s success prompted the four musicians to start recording their own material as a band. An initial tune, Waterfall, was rejected by Apple Records, the label that had been founded by The Beatles in 1968. Success came with Donna, which the band presented to producer Jonathan King, who signed them to his label UK Records in July 1972. It was also King who came up with the name 10cc.
Donna was released in September 1972 and climbed all the way to no. 2 on the UK Official Singles Chart. While the follow-up single Johnny Don’t Do It indeed didn’t do it, that is match the success of Donna, the band’s third single Rubber Bullets became their first no. 1 hit in the U.K. and also performed well internationally. 10cc’s eponymous debut album appeared in July 1973. The band has since released 10 additional studio albums, three live records and multiple compilations. Starting with Godley’s and Creme’s departure in 1976, 10cc has had different line-ups and was disbanded from 1983 to 1991 and 1995 to 1999. In 1999, Gouldman revived the band with a new line-up that he continues to lead to the present day. It doesn’t include any of the other three co-founding members. Time to get to the playlist!
I’d like to kick things off with the above mentioned Rubber Bullets from 10cc’s eponymous debut album. Co-written by Godley, Creme and Gouldman, the tune is a satirical take of a prison riot one could picture in an old movie. The music is reminiscent of The Beach Boys. Songfacts quotes an excerpt from an interview Godley gave to Uncut: “We were big movie buffs in those days, me and Lol, so it was one of those kind of films… you know, with a prison riot, and there’s always a padre there, and a tough cop with a megaphone. It was caricaturing those movies.” The song created some controversy at the time, since the British Army was using rubber bullets to quell riots in Northern Ireland. As a result, some radio stations refused to play it.
The Wall Street Shuffle, one of the best known 10cc songs, appeared on the band’s sophomore album Sheet Music, which was released in May 1974. Featuring one of the most catchy rock guitar riffs of the ’70s, the tune was co-written by Stewart and Gouldman and became the best-performing of the album’s three singles. The lyrics were inspired by the hefty fall of the British pound against other currencies at the time.
In May 1975, 10cc released I’m Not In Love, the second single from their third studio album The Original Soundtrack, which had come out in March that year. Co-written by Stewart and Gouldman, the ballad became the band’s second no. 1 single in the U.K. and their breakthrough hit worldwide. Among others, it also topped the charts in Canada and Ireland and peaked at no. 2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. One of the song’s distinct features are the lush backing harmonies, which according to Songfacts encompass some 256 dubs of the band’s vocals. Largely fueled by the tune, the album was a major commercial success for 10cc.
Arts For Arts Sake was the lead single from 10cc’s fourth studio record How Dare You!, released in November 1975, two months prior to the album – the last featuring the band’s original line-up. The song was written by Stewart and Gouldman. According to Songfacts, the title referred to the values of the music business and was inspired by Gouldman’s father who used to say, “Boys, art for art’s sake. Money for God’s sake, okay!”
Following the release of How Dare You!, Godley and Creme left 10cc to form the duo Godley & Creme. Stewart and Gouldman decided to keep the band going and brought in Paul Burgess (drums, percussion). They recorded 10cc’s fifth studio album Deceptive Bends and released The Things We Do For Love as its lead single in December 1976. Co-written by Stewart and Gouldman, the catchy tune became another hit, reaching no. 1 in Canada, No. 2 in Ireland, No. 5 in the U.S. and no. 6 in the U.K.
By the time of their sixth studio album Bloody Tourists from September 1978, 10cc had become a six-piece band. The new members included Rick Fenn (guitar, backing vocals, saxophone, keyboards), Stuart Tosh (drums, percussion, backing vocals) and Duncan Mackay (keyboards, violin, percussion, backing vocals). The album’s lead single was Dreadlock Holiday, another Stewart-Gouldman co-write that appeared in July that year. It became the band’s last major hit, topping the charts in the U.K. and several other countries and pushing the album to no. 3 on the U.K. albums chart. According to Songfacts, the lyrics are inspired by actual events that happened to Stewart and Justin Hayward of The Moody Blues during a vacation in Barbados.
One-Two-Five is from 10cc’s seventh studio album Look Hear?, released in March 1980, and became the record’s lead single. It was co-written by Stewart and Gouldman. The album was significantly less successful than its predecessors, reaching no. 35 in the U.K. and no. 180 in the U.S.
In November 1981, 10cc released their eighth studio album Ten Out Of 10 in the U.K. The U.S. version, which only shared four tracks with the U.K. edition and included six different songs, appeared in 1982. The album didn’t chart in any of the countries. Here’s Don’t Ask, which was penned by Gouldman and the opener of both versions.
…Meanwhile from May 1992 was the band’s 10th studio album and the first following its recess that had started in 1983. It brought together the four co-founding members one last time. It also featured many guest musicians, who among others included David Paich and Jeff Porcaro of Toto, Dr. John and Paul McCartney. Here is Don’t Break The Promises, a Stewart-Gouldman-McCartney co-write. Stewart had a previous working relationship with McCartney and had appeared on the ex-Beatle’s solo albums Tug Of War (1982), Pipes Of Peace (1983) and Press To Play (1986), as well as the soundtrack Give My Regards To Broad Street (1984).
The last song I’d like to call out is from 10cc’s most recent studio album to date, Mirror Mirror, which appeared in June 1995 and was their first not to be released on a major label. Like predecessor …Meanwhile, it failed to chart and led to Stewart’s departure from 10cc and their second disbanding. Here’s Yvonne’s The One, another co-write by Stewart and McCartney, which appeared on the record’s European version. There are also U.S. and Japanese editions.
In 1999, Gouldman put together the current line-up of 10cc, which in addition to him features Fenn (guitar, vocals), Burgess (drums), Mike Stevens (keyboards, vocals) and Iain Hornal (guitar, vocals). As recently as this April, 10cc was touring. Currently, Gouldman is taking a break from the band. Last December, he announced he had accepted an invitation by Ringo Starr to join his All Starr Band for a summer 2018 European tour. Ringo and his All Star Band including Gouldman will also perform 20 dates in the U.S. in September.
Sources: Wikipedia, Apple Music, Songfacts, Graham Gouldman website, Ringo Starr website, YouTube
Last evening’s HBO broadcast of the 2018 Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremony gave me the idea to take a look at previous inductions and highlight some of the performances there. I’m not getting into the nomination and selection process, the judges, which artists who currently aren’t in should be inducted, etc. – topics that undoubtedly will continue to be discussed. This post is about some of the great music that was performed at the induction festivities over the years.
I’d like to start with the 1999 induction ceremony that featured a great performance of In The Midnight Hour by Wilson Pickett and Bruce Springsteen, one of the inductees that year. They were backed by The E Street Band. Springsteen, a huge fan of Pickett, frequently performs some of the soul legend’s tunes during his shows. Recorded at Stax studios in Memphis, the song was initially released in June 1965 and became Pickett’s first hit for Atlantic Records. He co-wrote the tune with Stax session guitarist Steve Cropper.
In 1993, The Doors were inducted into the Hall. The band’s then-living original members Ray Manzarek (keyboards), Robbie Krieger (guitar) and John Densmore (drums) teamed up with Pearl Jam lead vocalist Eddie Vedder, who did a fine job singing the parts of the charismatic Jim Morrison. Here’s Light My Fire, one of my favorite Doors tunes that appeared on their eponymous debut album from January 1967. Like each of the original songs on the band’s first two records, the tune was credited to all members.
The 1993 inductees also included another legendary band: Cream. Jack Bruce (lead vocals, bass), Eric Clapton (guitar) and Ginger Baker (drums) reunited for the occasion. One of the songs they played was the terrific Sunshine Of Your Love from Cream’s second studio album Disraeli Gears, released in November 1967. The tune was co-written by Bruce, Clapton and Pete Brown. To this day I think Sunshine has one of the coolest guitar riffs in rock.
Among the 2018 inductees were The Moody Blues, a band whose second studio album Days Of Future Passed became one of the first successful concept albums and put them on the map as pioneers of progressive rock. They played the mighty Nights In White Satin from that record, but the first tune they performed was I’m Just A Singer (In A Rock & Roll Band). That song is from their seventh studio album Seventh Sojourn, which appeared in October 1972. It was written by John Lodge (vocals, bass, guitar), who together with Justin Hayward (lead vocals, guitar) and Graeme Edge (drums) is one of the remaining original members who performed at the induction.
Last but not least, here is a clip of what may be the best Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame performance to date: While My Guitar Gently Weeps, played during the induction of George Harrison as a solo artist in 2004. The performance featured Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood, Dhani Harrison and Prince, among others. It will forever be remembered for Prince’s incredible guitar solo. While My Guitar Gently Weeps appeared on the “White Album,” the ninth studio album by The Beatles from November 1968.