All hail the Mellotron, one of the funkiest, cleverest instruments ever designed. Of all the off-the-wall inventions successfully adapted into rock music, only the synthesizer surpasses it.
The Mellotron is a primitive sampler based on tape loops, each one a single screaming note, that can then be turned on and off with keyboard keys. The result was an otherworldly, somewhat woozy tone, redolent with tape hiss, that would clip out in and out abruptly. Since the samples were usually taken from real instruments, this had the effect of making it sound like “an organ on acid,” or “a flute on acid,” and so on. Since many people wanted to make records that sounded like you were on acid, the appearance of its instantly noticeable wavering tone became shorthand for “psychedelic.” But it remained in a lot of keyboardists’ arsenals right up to the mid-1970s.
Starting today, we will post one of our favorite ‘Tron Tracks every Monday for your enjoyment. Here, groove out with England’s fab free-festival shakers The Groundhogs. The damp, foggy intro is all-Mellotron, but they incorporate it seamlessly into the track after the full band kicks in.