A selection of newly released music that caught my attention
Welcome to another installment of my weekly new music revue. All featured tracks appear on albums, which were released yesterday (February 24).
Westing/Back in the Twenties
Kicking things off are Westing, a rock band from Visalia, Calif., who until late 2021 were known as Slow Season. Together with the name change came the addition of Ben McLeod as lead guitarist, who also is a member of All Them Witches, a rock group from Nashville. Additionally, Westing include Daniel Story Rice (vocals, keyboards), Hayden Doyel (bass) and Cody Tarbell (drums). Slow Season had emerged about 10 years ago and released three albums. The reincarnated group’s first new release as Westing is titled Future. Here’s the album’s opener Back in the Twenties, which first appeared as the second upfront single about two weeks ago. It’s got a bit of a Led Zeppelin swagger. A bio that accompanies the clip of the song’s official video below notes the tune’s “message comes through clear (and loud) that however much Westing’s foundations might be in ‘70s styles, the moment that matters is now.”
Death Valley Girls/What Are the Odds
Death Valley Girls, who have been around since 2013, are a Los Angeles-based group blending garage rock, psychedelic pop and proto-metal. From their AllMusicbio: Evoking names like the Cramps, Black Sabbath, and Bikini Kill, the band was founded by drummer Patty Schemel (Hole), her six-string-wielding brother Larry Schemel, vocalist Bonnie Bloomgarden, and bass player Rachel Orosco. The group released their debut album, Street Venom, on cassette via Burger Records in 2014. Patty left the group shortly thereafter and was replaced by Laura Kelsey (the Flytraps). In 2016, Death Valley Girls issued their sophomore studio long-player, Glow in the Dark. The band moved to Suicide Squeeze Records for 2018’s Darkness Rains, and in 2020 they released their fourth full-length effort, Under the Spell of Joy. Now Death Valley Girls are out with their new album Islands in the Sky. Let’s listen to What Are the Odds, a tune co-written by Bloomgarden and Larry Schemel. I would call this song charmingly weird. It certainly rocks!
Iris DeMent/Goin’ Down to Sing in Texas
My next pick is by singer-songwriter Iris DeMent, who blends elements of Americana, country, folk and gospel. Born in Paragould, Ark. as the youngest of 14 children, DeArment was exposed to country and gospel music early on, but a bad experience during her first performance as a 5-year-old put a pause on additional such efforts. It wasn’t until the age of 25 in 1986 that she penned her first song Our Town, which changed her trajectory to becoming a songwriter. DeMent’s debut album Infamous Angel appeared six years later in October 1992. She has since released six additional albums including her latest Workin’ on a World. According to her website, it addresses the modern world — as it is right now — with its climate catastrophe, pandemic illness, and epidemic of violence and social injustice — and not only asks us how we can keep working towards a better world, but implores us to love each other, despite our very different ways of seeing. Here’s Goin’ Down to Sing in Texas, a tune her website characterizes as an ode not only to gun control, but also to the brave folks who speak out against tyranny and endure the consequences in an unjust world. Undoubtedly, DeMent won’t endear herself to everybody with her outspoken lyrics.
Philip Selway/Check For Signs of Life
Wrapping up this week is Philip Selway, who is best known as the drummer of Radiohead, the English alternative rock band he co-founded in 1985. While Selway had written songs as a teenager, he decided to focus on playing the drums for the group. Eventually, he changed his mind and released his debut solo album Familial in August 2010. It was an immediate success in the U.S. where it reached no. 7 and no. 8 on Billboard’sTop Heatseekers and Americana/ Folk Albums charts. It also made the UK’s Official Albums Chart (no. 185). This brings me to Strange Dance, Selway’s third and latest solo effort. From his Bandcamppage: When Philip Selway approached some of his favourite musicians to play on his third solo record he said he imagined it as a Carole King record if she collaborated with the pioneering electronic composer Daphne Oram and invited him to drum on it. Unsurprisingly they were all sold, and so began the bringing together of an extraordinary number of gifted people, including Hannah Peel, Adrian Utley, Quinta, Marta Salogni, Valentina Magaletti and Laura Moody. Here’s Check For Signs of Life. Written by Selway, this geat-sounding tune was first released as a single in October 2022.
As usual, here’s a Spotify playlist featuring the above tracks and a few additional songs by all highlighted artists.
I can’t believe it’s Wednesday again and we’re almost in July! This would be the perfect time for a summer vacation, and a beautiful tropical island sounds like an attractive proposition. But wait, before I can leave on yet another imaginary trip to some remote island in the sun, once again, I have to pick one song to take with me.
In case you’re a first-time visitor, there are a few rules that limit my options, which make the exercise both challenging and interesting at the same time. My pick cannot be a tune by a music act I’ve frequently written about. Ideally, it should be a band or artist I haven’t covered yet. It can only be one track, not an entire album. And picks must be in alphabetical order.
This week I’m up to “r.” Bands and artists (last names) starting with that letter include Radiohead, Bonnie Raitt, Ramones, R.E.M., Red Hot Chili Peppers, Otis Redding, Lou Reed, Keith Richards, The Rolling Stones, Linda Ronstadt and Roxy Music, among others.
Based on the above criteria, Bonnie Raitt, The Rolling Stones and Linda Ronstadt were immediately excluded from further consideration. For some of the other artists, sadly, I had to search my own blog to refresh my memory to what extent I had covered them before. At the end, it came down to picking Radiohead or Roxy Music, and I decided to go with the latter and More Than This.
More Than This, written by Bryan Ferry, first appeared in April 1982 as the lead single of Roxy Music’s eighth and final studio album Avalon, released the following month. It’s just a gorgeous pop tune I’ve loved from the very first moment I heard the band playing it on the radio at the time it came out.
More Than This was popular, reaching no. 6 in each the UK and Australia, but it wasn’t the group’s biggest hit. The latter was their great cover of John Lennon’sJealous Guy, which they recorded and released as a non-album single in February 1981 to honor the ex-Beatle who had been senselessly killed by a deranged individual in New York in December 1980.
Art and pop rock group Roxy Music were founded by Ferry, the band’s lead vocalist and main songwriter, and bassist Graham Simpson in England in 1970. While they have been on and off ever since, their active recording period spanned 1972 to 1982. During these 10 years, Roxy Music released eight studio albums, three of which topped the UK charts: Stranded (1973), Flesh and Blood (1980) and the above-noted Avalon.
In 1982, at the height of their commercial success, Ferry who at that time was the only original member together with Andy Mackay (saxophone, oboe, keyboards, backing vocals), decided to dissolve Roxy Music and focus on his solo career, which he had launched in parallel to the group in 1973.
Roxy Music have since reunited several times for tours and are currently gearing up to be on the road again starting in September to celebrate their 50th anniversary. In addition to co-founders Ferry and Mackay, this includes Phil Manzanera (guitar) and Paul Thompson (drums), who were all part of the group’s lineup that recorded Roxy Music’s 1972 eponymous debut album. The schedule of the five-week tour, which includes dates in Canada, the U.S. and the UK, is here.
Following are a few additional tidbits on More Than This from Songfacts:
Written by lead singer Bryan Ferry, this song is about a love affair that fell apart. Asked in 2014 by Entertainment Weekly why the song endures, Ferry replied, “For some reason, there’s something in the combination of the melody and the lyric that works for people.”
…In America, this song got some traction when it featured in Sofia Coppola’s 2003 film Lost In Translation in a scene where Bill Murray sings it in a Tokyo karaoke bar. When the song was first released, however, it had little impact on the charts, bubbling under at just #102 on the Hot 100. Many college radio stations played the song, but commercial stations stayed away for the most part.
Roxy Music occupied just a small niche in America, where they hit the Top 40 just once (“Love Is the Drug” – #30 in 1975), but they were far more successful in the UK.
…Ferry told The Mail on Sunday June 28, 2009 about the Avalon album: “I started writing the songs while on the west coast of Ireland, and I like to think that some of the dark melancholy of the album comes from that place.”
10,000 Maniacs covered this in 1997 on their album Love Among The Ruins. Mary Ramsey sang lead, as original Maniacs lead singer Natalie Merchant had just left the band to go solo.
Sources: Wikipedia; Roxy Music website; Songfacts; YouTube
When I love a song as much as I do Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks, I tend to be hyper-critical about covers from other music acts, especially when they make changes. In this case, not only did I not mind it, but I was truly blown away when I heard Peter Gabriel’s rendition the other day.
Waterloo Sunset, written by Ray Davies, first appeared in May 1967 as the lead single of Something Else by the Kinks, the group’s fifth UK studio album released in mid-September of the same year. Together with Death of a Clown, Waterloo Sunset became one of two hits the record generated, climbing to no. 2 in the UK on the singles chart. Elsewhere, it topped the charts in The Netherlands, climbed to no. 3 in Ireland, and reached no. 4 in Australia, among others.
The lyrics, which describe the narrator’s thoughts about a couple passing over a bridge, were rumored to have been inspired by the romance of British actors Terence Stamp and Julie Christie. But during a 2008 interview, Davies explained, “It was a fantasy about my sister going off with her boyfriend to a new world and they were going to emigrate and go to another country.”
Peter Gabriel’s transformation of Waterloo Sunset reminds me of the haunting Wallflower from his fourth eponymous studio album released in September 1982. I’d be curious to know whether it grabs you as much as it did me. Check it out!
This rendition of Waterloo Sunset appeared as a bonus track on Gabriel’s eighth studio album Scratch My Back from February 2010. The record consists of cover versions of tunes from a broad variety of other artists. Co-produced by Gabriel and Bob Ezrin, the recordings only use orchestra and voice and have a bare-bones vibe. Based on briefly listening into the remaining tracks, Gabriel’s other renditions don’t work as well for me as Waterloo Sunset.
Initially, Gabriel had planned to release Scratch My Back with a companion album of covers of Gabriel songs performed by the same artists whose tunes he had covered on Scratch My Back. But due to delays, And I’ll Scratch Yours only appeared in September 2013. David Bowie, Neil Young and Radiohead declined to cover Gabriel songs and were “replaced” by Brian Eno, Joseph Arthur and Feist.
Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time
Welcome to The Sunday Six! Can you believe the next installment will be the day after Christmas? It’s unreal to me! Though I’m not going to lie – I can’t wait for this dreadful year to be over! Let’s turn to a more cheerful topic and frankly a good distraction: Music! This time, the little journey features jazz fusion, new wave, soul, alternative rock, pop rock and garage rock, touching the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. Let’s go!
German saxophonist Klaus Doldinger, who has been active since 1953, is best known for jazz fusion band Passport, which he formed in 1971 as Klaus Doldinger’s Passport. Prior to starting Passport, he composed one of the best-known musical themes in Germany for what has become the longest-running police drama TV series: Tatort (crime scene), which has been on the air for more than 50 years. I watched it many times while growing up in Germany. One of the things I always liked about the series was the theme music, one of the coolest I know. BTW, Doldinger turned 85 earlier this year and remains active with Passport. That’s truly remarkable! Doldinger also wrote or co-wrote various other TV and film scores, most notably for World War II drama Das Boot (the boat, actually a submarine) from 1981, as well as the 1984 fantasy picture The NeverEnding Story. The original recording of Tatort from 1970 featured drummer Udo Lindenberg, who subsequently launched a solo career and became one of Germany’s most successful artists singing in German.
Tears For Fears/Everybody Wants to Rule the World
Tears For Fears has to be one of the best band names. The new wave and synth-pop group were initially formed in 1981 in Bath, England by Roland Orzabal (guitar, keyboards, vocals) and Curt Smith (bass, keyboards, vocals). They had known each other as teenagers and played together in English new wave and mod revival group Graduate. Ian Stanley (keyboards, backing vocals) and Manny Elias (drums, percussion) completed the original line-up. That formation lasted until 1986 and spanned the group’s first two albums. By 1991, Orzbal was the only remaining member. Relying on collaborators, he kept the name Tears For Fears alive and released two albums. In 2000, he reunited with Smith. Everybody Loves a Happy Ending, the group’s sixth studio album, appeared in 2014. A new album is scheduled for February 2022, the first in nearly 18 years. Everybody Wants to Rule the World, co-written by Orzabal, Stanley and Hughes and released as a single in March 1985, became Tears For Fears’ biggest hit. It was off their sophomore release Songs from the Big Chair, their best-selling album to date. Yes, it sounds very ’80s, but it’s a hell of a catchy tune!
Billy Preston/Will It Go Round in Circles
To folks who have watched the Peter Jackson docu-series The Beatles: Get Back, Billy Preston will be a very familiar name. The then-23-year-old keyboard player was invited by The Beatles to join their recording sessions for Get Back, which eventually became the Let It Be album. Preston’s involvement not only boosted the band’s sound but also their spirit – he may well have saved the project! The entirely self-taught Preston had first met The Beatles in Hamburg in 1962, when he was part of Little Richard’s backing band. At the time, the 16-year-old already had been six years into his performing career, which had started in 1956 to back several gospel singers like Mahalia Jackson. In 1963, Preston released his debut album 16 Yr. Old Soul. Four years later, he joined Ray Charles’ band. After signing with Apple Records, Preston released his fourth studio album That’s the Way God Planned It, which was produced by George Harrison. The title track became a hit in the UK. In the ’70s, Preston remained a sought-after session musician and played on various Rolling Stones albums. He also continued to put out his own solo records. Sadly, Preston passed away in June 2006 at the age of 59. Will It Go Round in Circles, co-written by him and Bruce Fisher, is from his seventh album Music Is My Life that came out in October 1972. The funky soul tune became his first no. 1 as a solo artist in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100.
Recently, I discussed Radiohead with fellow blogger Music Enthusiast. I still mostly know the English alternative rock band by name, which has been around since 1985. Remarkably, the group’s original line-up still is in place to this day: Thom Yorke (vocals, guitar, piano, keyboards), Jonny Greenwood (guitar, keyboards, ondes Martenot, orchestral arrangements), Ed O’Brien (guitar, effects, backing vocals), Colin Greenwood (bass) and Philip Selway (drums, percussion). Paranoid Android, credited to all members of the group, was the lead single off their third studio album OK Computer from May 1997. Reaching no. 3 in the UK on the Official Singles Chart, the tune became the band’s highest-charting single to date. According to Wikipedia, the song has been compared to The Beatles’Happiness Is a Warm Gun and Queen’sBohemian Rhapsody – not sure that’s obvious to me, but it’s definitely a good tune!
Marmalade/Reflections of My Life
Next, let’s turn to one of my favorite songs from 1969: Reflections of My Life by Marmalade. The Scottish pop-rock band originally was formed in 1961 in Glasgow as The Gaylords. In 1966, they changed their name to The Marmalade, later shortened to Marmalade. The band enjoyed their greatest chart success between 1968 and 1972 when 10 of their tunes made the UK’s Official Singles Chart. One of the most successful tunes among them was Reflections of My Life, a no. 3 in the UK, and a no. 10 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was co-written by lead guitarist Junior Campbell and vocalist Dean Ford, two of the group’s founding members. It appeared on their 1970 studio album Reflections of the Marmalade. A version of Marmalade continues to be active, though none of their members are co-founders. Reflections of My Life relies on a repetitive chord progression, but it’s beautifully done. I just love it!
For this last tune let’s accelerate with some great ’60s garage rock: Psycho by The Sonics. The American group was formed in Tacoma, Wa. in 1960. The initial line-up featured Larry Parypa (lead guitar), his brother Jerry Parypa (saxophone), Stuart Turner (guitar) and Mitch Jaber (drums). Larry’s and Jerry’s parents loved music and supported the band. In fact, their mother even filled in occasionally on bass during rehearsals. In 1961, Tony Mabin joined as the band’s permanent bassist. By the time their debut album !!!Here Are The Sonics!!! came out, only the Parypa brothers were left as original members, with Larry having switched to bass. Gerry Roslie (lead vocals, organ, piano), Rob Lind (saxophone, harmonica, vocals) and Bob Bennett (drums) completed the line-up. Lind remains a member of the group’s current touring line-up. Psycho, written by Roslie, is from The Sonics’ first record. It’s a great, hard-charging, raw tune. They have often been called “the first punk band” and were a significant influence for American punk groups like The Stooges, MC5 and The Flesh Eaters. The White Stripes have named The Sonics as one of the bands that influenced them the most, “harder than the Kinks, and punk long before punk.”
A selection of newly released music that caught my attention
Welcome to my latest weekly foray into newly released music. This time, my picks include two artists I’ve listened to for more than 40 years and two who are completely new to me, though both are well established. There’s some blues, alternative rock, pop and soul, making for a good mix. All tracks are on albums that came out yesterday (November 19). Let’s get to it!
Mississippi MacDonald/It Can’t Hurt Me
When I spotted this review on Rock & Blues Muse earlier this week, I immediately had a feeling I would dig this contemporary British blues guitarist. From his website: Mississippi MacDonald is a 3 times British Blues Awards nominee, from London, England. He has been playing since he was 11 years old and has travelled extensively on the US blues trail, meeting, amongst others, Pinetop Perkins, Willie Big Eyes Smith, Otis Clay and BB King…Mississippi’s albums, “Dress For The Money” [third studio album from 2016 – CMM] and “American Accent” [2015 sophomore album – CMM] reached number 1 and 3 respectively in the UK IBBA Blues Charts. American Accent was one of the top 10 IBBA albums of 2016, and was the “Blues Is Back” Album of the Year, 2017. This brings me to MacDonald’s seventh and new album Do Right, Say Right. Here’s the official video for lead single It Can’t Hurt Me, which was first released on October 15 – man, this sounds mighty sweet!
Elbow/After the Eclipse
Elbow are a British alternative rock band formed in the Manchester area in 1997. According to their Apple Musicprofile, they began as a Sly Stone-influenced funk act called Soft, before deciding to change their name and take musical cues from The Velvet Underground, Radiohead, and U2. David Bowie’s Hunky Dory and Joni Mitchell’s For the Roses are two of Elbow frontman Guy Garvey’s favorite albums from childhood. Elbow has had three consecutive No. 1 UK albums: 2014’s The Take Off and Landing of Everything, 2017’s Little Fictions, and 2019’s Giants of All Sizes. The band won Britain’s Mercury Prize for 2008’s The Seldom Seen Kid, which has sold more than 1 million copies. Looks like Elbow have had significant success in the UK. Remarkably, they still have their original line-up: Guy Garvey (lead vocals, guitar), Craig Potter (keyboard, piano, backing vocals), Mark Potter (guitar, backing vocals) and Pete Turner (bass, backing vocals). Here’s After the Eclipse, a track from their just-released ninth studio album Flying Dream 1, credited to all four members. I find this very soothing.
On September 1, ex-Police frontman Sting announced his new studio album The Bridge, which is now out: The Bridge was written in a year of global pandemic and finds Sting ruminating on personal loss, separation, disruption, lockdown, and extraordinary social and political turmoil…Representing various stages and styles from throughout his career and drawing inspiration from genres including rock n’ roll, jazz, classical music and folk, the eclectic album features Sting’s quintessential sound on pop-rock tracks such as the album’s opening rock salvo “Rushing Water” and new indie-pop sounding “If It’s Love,” to the smoldering electronic ballad “Loving You” and the romantic “For Her Love” which evokes Sting’s trademark “Fields of Gold” period. Here’s the aforementioned Rushing Water, first released on September 30 as the album’s second upfront single. “The song ‘Rushing Water’ is a fitting start to an album that seeks to bridge all of the petty differences that can separate us,” Sting noted in a separate announcement. The tune was co-written by him, Martin Kierszenbaum and Gavin Brown. It’s an upbeat pop tune with a guitar sound that in part appears to be sampled from Every Breath You Take.
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss/Searching For My Love
After 14 years, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss have come together for another album, Raise the Roof. It marks the second collaboration between the British ex-Led Zeppelin lead vocalist and the American bluegrass and country singer following Raising Sand from October 2007. Like the predecessor, Raise the Roof was produced by T Bone Burnett. Fellow blogger Music Enthusiastfeatured one of the upfront tunes, Can’t Let Go, in a recent new music revue. Here’s another track: Searching For My Love. Like all except one song, it’s a cover, in this case of a tune written by Robert Moore and first released by soul group Bobby Moore & The Rhythm Aces in 1966. Plant and Krauss sound great together on this nice soul tune.
Sources: Wikipedia; Rock & Blues Muse; Mississippi MacDonald website; Apple Music; Sting website; YouTube
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
Radiohead, Janet Jackson, Stevie Nicks, Def Leppard, The Cure, Roxy Music and The Zombies make up class of 2019
By now it’s an all too familiar annual ritual in the music world, at least in America. On Thursday, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame revealed its new inductees. The 2019 class includes Radiohead, Janet Jackson, Stevie Nicks, Def Leppard, The Cure, Roxy Music and The Zombies. While a good deal of music fans stopped paying attention long ago, others still care about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Admittedly, I’m a bit of a music nerd, so I count myself as being part of the latter group.
I’ve no doubt that among those who follow the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the debate about the selection process and who should be in is going to continue. While I don’t want to be overly judgmental and I’m luckily not a music critic and don’t aspire to become one, I have to say I’m a bit surprised about some of the inductees. Of course, I can’t claim this would be the first time.
Let’s start with Radiohead. In June 2017, guitarist Ed O’BrientoldRolling Stone, “I don’t want to be rude about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because for a lot of people it means something, but culturally I don’t understand it. I think it might be a quintessential American thing. Brits are not very good at slapping ourselves on the back…It just feels non-authentic to us.” Most of the band’s other members expressed reservations as well. That’s totally fine with me. What I don’t get is why the Rock Hall has inducted them anyway. Presumably, they won’t show for the induction ceremony, and I just feel sorry for their fans – unless of course they don’t care either!
Janet Jackson. I hate to say this, but the thought her selection at least in part reflects political correctness can’t escape my mind. Don’t get me wrong, it’s dreadful that the Rock Hall mostly remains a white boys club, and there’s no question women are underrepresented, especially women of color. But should Janet Jackson really have been the choice here? How about Ella Fitzgerald? Sure, you can say as a jazz singer, she wouldn’t be a perfect fit for an institution that has ‘rock and roll’ in its name. But they inducted Nina Simone last year. Or how about Mavis Staples, an amazing African American female artist? Yes, she’s already in the Rock Hall as part of The Staple Singers, who were inducted in 1999. Still, there are numerous examples of artists who have been inducted more than once – as part of a band and solo. Just look at 2019 inductee Stevie Nicks!
I never paid much attention to The Cure. Boys Don’t Cry was kind of nice at the time but completely over-exposed. Ironically, it might actually make me cry if I have to listen to the song one more time! Def Leppard, who won the fan ballot and got in the first time they had become eligible, may also trigger some debate. A British band that became hugely popular in the ’80s by mixing hard rock with pop elements, Leppard were oftentimes dismissed by the critics. In this context, I think The New York Times rightly called them the equivalent to Bon Jovi, who were inducted last year. While I wouldn’t have considered them, I don’t have any particular problem with Leppard or Bon Jovi for that matter – in fact, I generally like the latter.
I’m happy about Stevie Nicks, a great singer-songwriter who like Leppard made it in the first she had become eligible. Additionally, I’ve always liked Time Of The Season and She’s Not There, so I find it nice to see The Zombies among the 2019 inductees. I also generally like Roxy Music, though I have to add I don’t know them particularly well beyond their big hits.
This year, the induction festivities will happen at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. on March 29. HBO and SiriusXM will broadcast an edited version of the event sometime thereafter. Last year, the broadcast happened in early May.
What do you think about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the 2019 inductees? Feel free to leave comments. My only request is let’s keep any discussion civil, please.
Sources: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame website, Rolling Stone, New York Times