Echoes will run an interview with film director Dianna Dilworth about her movie Mellodrama: The Story of the Mellotron On Tuesday, June 16 . It documents the history of the Mellotron and it’s forerunner, the Chamberlin.
I was starting to write a blog about it along with my 10 favorite Mellotron albums when I realized, “Oh, I wrote about it a few months ago.”
Since then, I’ve seen the documentary, which is currently playing at film festivals. It’s still a work in progress but Dianna says what I saw was 95% there. It’s a good documentary with lots of key interviews and some very funny archival footage with an insiders view of the history of the Chamberlin and Mellotron, which isn’t always pretty. Dilworth got Mellotron giants like King Crimson‘s Ian MacDonald, the Moody Blues‘ Mike Pinder, and producer film composer Jon Brion to comment. Brion & producer Mitchell Froom are especially cogent.
Among the interesting facets revealed are that the original Chamberlin and Mellotron tapes were recorded by musicians from the Lawrence Welk Orchestra. Who’d have thought that progrock opuses from King Crimson, Tangerine Dream and the Genesis were born in the sounds of the maestro of shlocky kitsch.
The taste and aesthetics of of the Mellotron and Chamberlin’s creators weren’t much higher, than Welk’s. Check out this hilarious YouTube promo film for the Mellotron from the early 1960s.
TOP TEN MELLOTRON & CHAMBERLIN SONGS and/or ALBUMS:
The Beatles “Strawberry Fields” Magical Mystery Tour The Beatles use of Mellotron flutes on “Strawberry Fields” helped paved the way for this instrument and revealed that the Mellotron was’t a replacement for the orchestra, but a whole new soundworld unto itself
The Moody Blues Days of Future Passed Like The Beatles, the charm of the Mellotron in their music was that it didn’t sound like an orchestra. In fact, their actual orchestral arrangements sound sappier now than they did 40 years ago, but the Mellotron arrangements sound timeless.
Tangerine Dream “Mysterious Semblance at the Strand of Nightmares” Phaedra The Mellotron is all over this album and other TD releases from this era. They took the Mellotron out of the orchestral mode and sent it to textural space.
King Crimson In the Court of the Crimson King What can you saw about this quintessential Mellotron recording, creating the orchestra of doom on the title track and pastoral fantasies on “I Talk to the Wind” and “Moonchild”
Popol Vuh Aguire I can’t tell you how many musicians I’ve talked to who cite the opening of Werner Herzog‘s Aguire-The Wrathe of God with the conquistadors descending into the mist shrouded Amazon valley to the strains of Popol Vuh’s haunting score. There is some dispute about whether the choirs are actually a Mellotron or something else.
Future Sound of London The Isness I suspect they used samples off of lots of other records with Mellotrons, but this trip into post-electronica psychedelia resounds with flutes and strings redolent of a great acid trip, courtesy of the Mellotron.
Richard Burmer Mosaic Richard actually used a Chamberlin of much of his debut album, a masterpiece of sampled orchestral exotica where the smokey, atmospheric sound of the Chamberlain adorned lovely tunes like Ave Plaedelio and fever dreams like “The Serum.”
Sam Phillips Cruel Inventions You wouldn’t think of this singer-songwriter as a Mellotron exponent. You’d think her producer and then husband, roots-rocker T-Bone Burnett, was even less so. But he brought the Chamberlin in to create slightly surreal beds for Phillips often tortured songs.
For more information and Mellotron/Chamberlin albums than you could ever absorb, go to the planetmellotron.com site. It’s a blast.
John Diliberto (((echoes)))