This page is devoted to those albums that are frequently quoted as 'containing Mellotron', but it turns out to be a case of mistaken identity (although not as a result of using samples). Most of the cases I've run into have been simply string synth or real strings, but there's always a few interesting ones that deserve some sort of comment.
The * rating (½-5) is my personal, entirely subjective and completely partisan rating of the music.
There is, of course, no 'Tron rating.
Amon Düül II
Dance of the Lemmings [a.k.a.Tanz der Lemminge] (1971, 68.47) ***½
|Syntelman's March of the Roaring Seventies
In the Glassgarden
Pull Down Your Mask
Prayer to the Silence
Restless Skylight ~ Transistor Child
Landing in a Ditch
A Short Stop at the Transsylvanian Brain-Surgery
Race From Here to Your Ears
The Flyweighted Five
|Riding on a Cloud
The Marilyn Monroe-Memorial-Church
Stumbling Over Melted Moonlight
Wolf City (1972, 34.58) ***½Surrounded By the Stars
Green Bubble Raincoated Man
Wie der Wind am Ende Einer Strasse
Sleepwalker's Timeless Bridge
Amon Düül II are a distinct oddity in the Wonderful World of Mellotron (cough). On at least two of their albums, Jimmy Jackson is credited with 'choir-organ'. What does it sound like? Well, ostensibly like Mellotron choir, but right at the beginning of 1971's Dance of the Lemmings, there's a chord that probably holds for 30 seconds or more, although it doesn't 'alf sound like the classic 8-choir. Allegedly, it was a one-off machine, possibly from the '50s, and Jackson was the only person who could get a decent sound out of it; I believe it was far more complex than a Mellotron (!), although very little hard information is available on the subject. It's now supposed to reside in a museum somewhere in Germany. WHERE? For what it's worth, Florian Fricke also used it on various Popol Vuh releases, principally Aguirre: Wrath of God. Werner Herzog (I think) had this to say about it:
|"I've always worked very hard to select the music, but, in doing so, I've usually worked very closely with my friend Florian Fricke. For example, to create the music that is used in the opening of Aguirre we used a very strange instrument which we called a 'choir-organ'. This instrument has inside it three dozen different tapes running parallel to each other in loops. The first of these tapes has the pitch in fifths, and the next has the whole scale. All these tapes are running at the same time, and there is a keyboard on which you can play them like on a organ so that, when you push one particular key, a certain loop will go on forever and sound just like a human choir but yet, at the same time, very artificial and really quite eerie".|
Now, if you can make any sense out of that description... So who actually named the instrument, anyway? And who built it? And when?
The album, by the way (which also goes for its follow-up, Wolf City), is that peculiarly Germanic form of prog, mixed with jazz, blues and psych, that I suppose falls into the 'krautrock' category. English vocals, some jamming, generally fairly freaked-out, probably best heard when out of one's tree, which isn't to denigrate the albums in any way. Buy according to taste, but don't expect any 'Tron. Two later Düül albums actually do have Mellotron on them; '76's very mainstream Pyragony X (their tenth album) and the following year's Almost Alive....
See: Amon Düül II
Crypto (1974, 43.38) ***Ribatejo
Masogistic Bonus Point
Funk for Farmers
Crypto were a Dutch one-off fusion outfit, whose eponymous 1974 effort is, well, it's a Euro-fusion album, sounding much like any other Euro-fusion album, which, frankly, sounds like just about any fusion album from anywhere. It has its moments, notably the Rhodes work towards the end of Awakening, but at the end of the day, it's just another so-so jazz-rock effort.
Peter Schön is credited with Mellotron; oh no it isn't... There's string synth on several tracks, but not a trace of a real 'Tron, proving that fake credits date as far back as this. In fairness, it could be the ignorance of 'it's a string sound, therefore it's a Mellotron', but you won't find either original music or Mellotron on Crypto.
Riflessioni: Idea d'Infinito (1973, 28.13) ***½Idea d'Infinito
Stagione Che Muore
Un Bambino, un Uomo, un Vecchio
Dalton's ridiculously short Riflessioni: Idea d'Infinito is a pretty good little album, although it has a rather formative sound, especially when compared to what PFM were doing at the time. While none of the tracks really stand out, it's a perfectly good listen, with plenty of energy, particularly from flautist Alex Chiesa.
Keys man Temistocle Reduzzi is credited with 'piano, organ, mellotron, moog, synth', but there 's not a jot of 'Tron on the album, although at least three tracks feature a string synth quite heavily. Christ knows why you'd put 'Mellotron' when you actually mean 'string synth', but there you go. Anyway, good album, but resolutely 'Tron-free.
Folk Blues Band (1978, 40.25) ***½Reichsbahn-Blues
Blues für Kinder
Key to the Highway
Blues für Memphis Slim
Rockin' the House
Stormy Monday Blues
Although born in Munich, Stefan Diestelmann is known as an East German (as was) musician, his first release being 1978's Folk Blues Band, consisting almost entirely of, er, folk/blues material. Well, at least you can't accuse him of contravening advertising standards... Stylistically, this is pretty authentic for a group of white Germans, with some great acoustic playing from Diestelmann himself, particularly on the lengthy Flamenco (which does exactly what it says on the tin) and Blues Für Memphis Slim.
Wolfgang Fiedler (from the Klaus Lenz Big Band) allegedly plays Mellotron, but the strings on Flamenco and closer Stormy Monday Blues are quite clearly string synth, which makes me wonder how genuine the 'Tron credits are on Lenz' albums. Anyway, some decent material, although be warned: one of the best tracks (Flamenco) isn't on the CD compilation listed above.
Push & Profit (1994, 61.47) ***½Diminished
The Reasoning Wall
The Nursery Year
Faces of the Petty
The Nursery Year (live)
Discipline's debut album, Push & Profit, isn't bad, but seems unable to maintain any sort of stylistic consistency, although that could easily be construed as a recommendation. Excellent tracks like Carmilla or Systems are let down by more workmanlike efforts such as Faces Of The Petty, and the album frequently sounds more like a multi-artist compilation than a cohesive piece of work. For all that, it's a decent enough listen, just not really a patch on their second (and sadly, last) album, Unfolded Like Staircase.
If I hadn't been passed along an e-mail that Discipline mainman Matthew Parmenter wrote to a correspondent of mine, this would've been reviewed along with their second album, probably with a 'real or sample?' comment for the 'Mellotron' flutes and strings on Carmilla. However, Parmenter tells me that it's not even samples, just a generic string sample, played like a Mellotron, and on close inspection, it really doesn't sound like the Real Deal at all, particularly the flutes. However, not a bad album, just not as good as its successor.
Official band/label site
See: Discipline | Matthew Parmenter
Electric Light Orchestra (UK) see:
Avenida Larco (1981, 39.29) ***½
Pastas, Pepas y Otros Postres
Esto es Iluminacion
Hombres Solos (El Caiman)
Oda al Tulipán
Le Dicen Rock
Frágil (named for their Heroes Yes' Fragile, unsurprisingly) seem to be yet another case of the South American Mellotron Disease, despite being from the other side of the continent as all those Argentinian bands. The disease? Crediting 'Mellotron' on your '70s/'80s album, which actually contains no such thing, while sporting a fairly prominent string synth. I believe Avenida Larco was their second album, after an eponymous effort from two years previously, and is a decent enough progressive album, although without much obvious South American influence, unlike, say, Quaterna Requiem, although it does hop slightly disconcertingly from style to style as it progresses.
As I say, no Mellotron here, despite César Bustamante's credit, which puts the other five albums I have listed by the band in serious doubt, too. Why am I not especially surprised? I'm pretty sure that there wasn't a Mellotron to be found on the entire continent, though why you'd claim there was when there wasn't... Did/does it really make a difference in sales figures? Whatever. So; decent album, no 'Tron, probably none over their entire career. I shall report back should I get to hear any of their other releases.
Haboob (1971, 36.01) ***½Israfil
Blues for Willy Pee
Keep on Pushing
Time to Be
Named for the Arabic word for a variety of heavy duststorm, Haboob were a German-based group of US ex-pats living in Munich, notably ex-Amon Düül II keys man Jimmy Jackson, later of Embryo. Their sole, eponymous album is the kind of late-period psych-fest that usually gets labelled 'krautrock', although it has little in common with the chief progenitors of that 'movement', such as it was. Nine-minute opener Israfil is probably the best thing here, shifting between a Clavinet-led, jammed-out first half and an ambient-esque, Hendrixy second half (effectively a different piece altogether), with heavily echoed vocals, although percussive extravaganza Sooloo and the drifting Morning Prayer are both very much worth hearing. Downsides? The bluesy Blues For Willy Pee and Soldier Boy are both slightly unnecessary (couldn't they have just bashed out a couple more jams?), leaving us the proverbial album of two halves.
...And the reason this is here? The Amon Düül II reviews (above) tell the story, such as it is, of the 'choir-organ', a bizarre, one-off tape-replay device mastered by Jackson in his time in Germany; it gets nowhere near as heavy use on Haboob as on the Düül LPs, but it can be heard, faintly, on Israfil and Morning Prayer and more obviously, in the female register, on Soldier Boy. Is this worth the effort? Despite its brevity and variable quality, anyone interested in early '70s German rock should stick this on their 'should-hear' list, a long way above the reams of flaccid, uninspired prog from later in the decade.
See: Amon Düül II
Led Zeppelin (UK) see:
Skynyrd's First &... Last (1978, recorded 1971-72, 36.48) ****½Down South Jukin'
Was I Right or Wrong
Lend a Helpin' Hand
Things Goin' on
Skynyrd's First: The Complete Muscle Shoals Album (1998, recorded 1971-72, 77.59) ****
One More Time
Gimme Three Steps
Was I Right or Wrong
Down South Jukin'
Lend a Helpin' Hand
Things Goin' on
I Ain't the One
You Run Around
Ain't Too Proud to Pray
The story goes something like this: the barely-out-of-school Lynyrd Skynyrd were brought to the Muscle Shoals studios in Alabama by their manager in 1971, recording several sets of demos over the course of the next year or so, some of which were re-recorded for later albums. MCA were persuaded to buy the tapes in '75, at which point the band began to ready them for commercial release, overdubbing various parts throughout '75-6, eventually lining the set up to follow '77's Street Survivors. Of course, the plane crash happened first (I remember hearing about it on the radio), tragically stopping the original band's career literally dead in its tracks. As a result, the reworked tapes appeared in '78, poignantly, as Skynyrd's First &... Last, ironically managing to be their best album since Second Helping, four years earlier.
Previously-unheard Skynyrd classics included Down South Jukin', Preacher's Daughter, Was I Right Or Wrong and Lend A Helpin' Hand, although there was nothing on the album to embarrass the band, despite the presence of a couple of rather ordinary ballads in White Dove and The Seasons, both sung by their temporary drummer, Rick(ey) Medlocke, on sabbatical from the fledgling Blackfoot. Although the album gained a CD release, the decision was taken in the late '90s to release the entire sessions (the extra tracks without overdubs, proving that the original tracklisting had been decided well in advance), as Skynyrd's First: The Complete Muscle Shoals Album, a packed-to-the-gills disc, doubling the original version's length. But is it any better? Well, it lets us hear the original original Free Bird (as against any other 'original' version that's appeared), plus early versions of three tracks that were reworked for their debut, a couple of tracks that crept out on the early '90s box-set and a handful of previously-unavailables, the best 'newies' probably being One More Time and You Run Around. I have to say, I find the original nine-track release to be superior (but how much of that's nostalgia and familiarity?), but I heartily approve of 'complete' versions; if you don't like the extras, you don't have to play 'em...
...And the reason this is here? One Randy McCormick overdubbed 'Mellotron' onto White Dove in '76, enhancing the gentle, falsetto-led ballad nicely, except... it's a string synth. Very clearly so, too, so fuck knows why it was credited as a Mellotron. "If it makes a string sound, it must be a Mellotron", I s'pose... Idiots. Anyway, a few seconds of strings, whatever makes them, is no reason to hear this, but if you love Skynyrd and, amazingly, haven't heard this, get the reissue and marvel at their formative genius.
See: Lynyrd Skynyrd
Homenaje (1977, 43.41) ***½Sinfonía Lunática
Cuando la Duda se Hace Grande Alrededor
Desde que te Pude Ver
La Última Barrera
Marginado en el Sueño
Homenaje Color Naranja
Gustavo Montesano was the bassist and chief composer with one of Argentina's best progressive outfits, Crucis; Homenaje was his first of his two solo albums, the other being 1982's El Pasillo, released under the name Montesano. Progressive, but with mainstream influences in places, notably the more song-based material, Homenaje is a reasonably good album, though in no way up to his work in Crucis (see: Desde Que Te Pude Ver for details). Saying that, there are some lovely moments, particularly Homenaje Color Naranja, with its mid-period Genesis feel.
Like so many other Argentinian albums, while 'Mellotron' is credited (on all but track four in this case), there's no actual audible evidence for this, although both string synth and real strings are to be heard in abundance, particularly the former. OK, there might be a smattering of 'Tron strings buried in the mix on opener Sinfonía Lunática, but probably not. I wouldn't let other albums get away with it, so the same goes for this. So; not bad, not brilliant, listen to Crucis in preference.
Helium Sunset (2002, 55.07) ***½
As Sudden Tears Fall
|Sing Song Sally
Leave Me There
Here in the Woods [unlisted 'bonus track']
An Pierlé's second album, Helium Sunset, attempts the balancing act of being moody without sounding ridiculous, and would you believe, she succeeds? Most of the tracks fall loosely into the 'ballad' category, but don't take that to mean we're into, say, Dido territory; this is far more accomplished and far less contrived, although nearly an hour of it does get a bit much, to be honest.
So; why is this here? Easy one, this: the credits for track one, Sorry, read 'live mellotron: An Pierle & Koen Gisen'. 'Live Mellotron'? As in 'a Mellotron played live'? Nope; more 'something sounding a bit like Mellotron voices actually emanating from live things', i.e. Pierlé and partner/producer/etc. Gisen. In other words, backing vocals. So... Why 'Live Mellotron'? Who knows? Maybe they thought it sounded cool. Anyway, it fooled me until I actually heard the thing, so don't get caught the same way. Helium Sunset isn't a bad album, not a bad album at all, but it doesn't contain a note of any sort of Mellotron, even a sampled one.
Polifemo II (1977, 41.46/50.55) ***½El Sueño Terminó
Viene del Sol
Trópico de Cáncer
Oye Dios que Me Has Dado
Polifemo are one of several Argentinian '70s outfits who credited 'Mellotron' when the album quite clearly contains nothing of the sort. I'm not at all sure what was going on there, but having listenend to several of these efforts and been rewarded with nothing more than Ciro Fogliata's string synth every time, I've completely given up on music from that country/era. Saying that, Polifemo II is actually a pretty good album, just not one that belongs here. They did that mix'n'match thing with their sound, veering from hard rock through fusion to a fairly straight prog sound on different tracks, which could be seen either as diversity or not knowing what they wanted to do; your decision, really.
Their self-titled debut apparently credits Fogliata with 'Tron again, but I think it's safe to assume it's as non-existant as here. Fogliata previously played with Espiritu, so the same goes for their albums, as it does for Gustavo Montesano of Crucis. No 'Tron here. Sorry.
Brez Naslova (1977, 34.49) ***Dež
Predmestje were a Yugoslav (actually Slovenian) fusion outfit, incorporating vocals into their style, possibly in an attempt to appeal to a wider audience. Brez Naslova was their debut, and I'd be lying if I said it was the most exciting album I'd ever heard, or even heard today. It's... OK, but their second-hand jazz moves get a mite tiresome after a while, which isn't to denigrate their playing in any way, which is as good as you'd expect from musicians who had probably spent the previous decade playing clubs several nights a week (listen to Aleksander Malahovsky's sax squawking on closer Sled Sonca). Bum notes are simply not an option...
Andrej Pompe's 'Mellotron', as with albums from several other more obscure countries, turns out to be nothing more exciting than a string synth. A nice string synth, but a string synth nonetheless, heard to reasonable effect on Brez Besed and Svit. String synth, guys, not Mellotron. Very different.
Rainbow Rising (1976, 33.53) *****Tarot Woman
Run With the Wolf
Do You Close Your Eyes
A Light in the Black
Rainbow's blisteringly good second album, Rising (or Rainbow Rising), has been sitting in my regular reviews for a few years now, despite my having received various e-mails telling me that there isn't a jot of Mellotron on the thing. Well, having finally got the site to the stage where I feel I can start chasing up loose ends like this, I have to say that I agree; keyboard player Tony Carey owned a Vako Orchestron (as used so effectively by Kraftwerk), and the weak-as-water choirs on the mighty Stargazer are very obviously not Mellotron, so without a credited choir (although there is orchestra on the album), it seems likely that the Orchestron is the choral culprit. So; a stunning, stunning album, but not one for the 'Tron fan, I fear. Buy anyway.
The Foul-Tempered Clavier (2001, 62.12) ***½
|The White Bloodsheets
Seven is a Long Time
Efrem Cymbalist Jr.
RDS (Raw Drum Solo)
Son of Steve Kretzmer
Ricky and His Dad
Fresh Leather and Poultry Mix
It would seem The Rascal Reporters have been going since the late '70s, although I hadn't encountered them before finding a 'Mellotron' credit on only their sixth album, 2001's The Foul-Tempered Clavier (explanation here for those less elitist than me). It's the kind of progressive record that has fans of the more mainstream end of the genre running screaming, having as much in common with avant-garde jazz as anything, full of pops, clicks and squawks, along with the occasional tune.
The band's two chief members, Steve Gore and Steve Kretzmer, are both credited with Mellotron, but all I can hear is an odd flutey sound on Efrem Cymbalist Jr. and some strings that could come from almost anything. Sorry, guys, but I'd put money on a real, live Mellotron, or even samples, having been nowhere near your recording studio. Credited, but clearly not.
As a sad postscript, Gore died on 14th March 2009, obviously putting the band's future in serious doubt. Let's hope Kretzmer is able to carry on making music in one form or another.
Metaphysical Facelift (1977, 32.57) ***Chanson d'Ordinaire
Time Will Tell
Martin Wall is an unusual enough name that I think it's safe to assume he's the same guy who wrote something called Mr. Love for a Canuck act called Vehicle, which doubtless has little to do with his self-released 1977 album, Metaphysical Facelift. While very much his solo, er, vehicle, several other musicians appear on the record, although Wall's vocals and piano are its chief components. Musically, it veers between progressively-inclined singer-songwriter material (Ordinary Man, Dear Friend, Time Will Tell) and keyboard instrumentals of wildly varying length, from three extremely short tracks that barely count as more than links, to the album's two best pieces, the three-minute Golden Glow and the near side-long title track.
With specific track-by-track credits on the rear sleeve, you'd think there was no doubt as to where Wall used his 'Mellotron', but this is where we come to the album's sticking-point: it isn't. It's absolutely no coincidence that on the three credited tracks (the three short instrumentals, Chanson D'Ordinaire, Choral Prelude and Monk's Access, which sounds faintly rude), the actual credit is, "Mellotron, String Ensemble", or as I prefer to read it, "String Ensemble". No Mellotron here, folks, now move along... Progressive completists (er, me?) might wish to hear this for its couple of good tracks, but there are far better obscurities out there for the aficionado, so with not even any real Mellotron to sweeten the deal, I'm not really sure I'd bother.
Live in Paris, 8 Janvier 1983 (1983, 56.55) ***Défilé
Maybe surprisingly, Barney Wilen was a French jazz saxophonist, whose recording career stretched from 1957 until just before his death in 1996. He was noted for his eclectic approach to his art, discovering rock in the late '60s, punk a decade later and electronics in the early '80s. It's difficult to tell whether Live in Paris, 8 Janvier 1983 was released that year (I can find no trace of a vinyl release) or in 2007; it's slightly too long for vinyl, but that doesn't mean it didn't appear on that format. Basically, it's a collaboration between Wilen and Dièse 440, a synth trio, the end result being a largely improvised mesh of analogue electronica and Wilen's bop-era sax runs, possibly too experimental for its own good, although the disparate elements occasionally coalesce into something worthwhile.
Michel Bertier is credited with 'prepared Mellotron'; er, huh? How do you 'prepare' a Mellotron? Stick drawing pins into its felt pads or pinch-rollers? Anyway, it appears to be so 'prepared' that it doesn't actually exist; I suspect the credit actually refers to a modified synth, possibly of the string variety - sadly, the sleeve pic's too small to say for sure. So; pretty out-there synth jazz with no Mellotron. Up to you, methinks...
Zoppo Trump (2009, recorded 1971-76, 62.24) ***Man of Peace
Queen of War
Get Out of the Fixer Circle
From My Window
Six of Eight
Dream of Hope
You can add Zoppo Trump to the ever-growing list of obscure progressive bands who suddenly pop up, thirty or even forty years later, with a full-length CD to their name. It seems they had two tracks on a 1976 various artists effort, Scena Westphalica (on the Förderturm label), but several earlier tracks have turned up, all good studio recordings from '71-2, enough to make a CD issue viable. The earlier material is fairly jazzy, unlikely to turn up in anyone's 'best German prog' list any time soon, although it's perfectly respectable stuff. The '76 tracks, Wellengang and Fluktuation, are more symphonic than the earlier material, while still suffering from the fatal German prog malady of... well, what is it that's wrong with most German progressive rock? They had a handful of great bands, with seemingly hundreds of very much also-rans (think: Streetmark, Flaming Bess, Octopus, Shaa Khan...), to which list you can, sadly, add Zoppo Trump.
Martin Buschmann plays sax and keys, allegedly including Mellotron, but when you actually hear the tracks in question, you realise you're hearing nothing more than a common-or-garden string synth. Why? I mean WHY? do labels insist on this kind of misleading labelling? Rant, rave, blah blah blah... Er, anyway, perfectly competent, if uninspired slightly jazzy German prog, no Mellotron.