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Probabilmente non tutti conoscono questa particolare tastiera che negli anni 70 è diventata quasi un marchio di fabbrica di molti gruppi del panorama progressive, come King Crimson, Yes, Genesis e molti altri.   Precursore dei futuri campionatori elettronici, il mellotron funzionava utilizzando nastri pre-registrati con suoni di archi, cori e flauti che fornivano degli effetti unici.  Anche Elton ha fatto uso di questo particolare strumento in vari album, ed è persino ritornato al mellotron in uno dei suoi dischi più recenti, Songs From The West Coast del 2001, dove veniva suonato da Pat Leonard, produttore del disco.  Qui di seguito Andy Thompson, webmaster di planetmellotron.com, parla proprio della produzione di Elton dove possiamo trovare questo strumento.


da  planetmellotron.com         planetmellotron

Now, I'm approaching Elton's considerable back-catalogue as a self-confessed non-fan, so apologies to those of you who love this stuff; I've tried to be as fair as possible, given the constraints under which I'm working (i.e. I don't like most of the music), but every now and again, a heartfelt opinion's liable to slip through. As a result, like some of the other artists on this site, I'll review the music more from a Mellotronic viewpoint than a musical one; after all, I expect there are plenty of sites which cover that angle already... Incidentally, thanks to Mark for the loan of the albums.
After several years as the critics' darling, Elton (that's Reginald Dwight to you), together with his long-term collaborator, lyricist Bernie Taupin, broke through commercially with his fifth studio LP, 1972's Honky Chateau and its hit, Rocket Man, followed by '73's Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player. Its second hit, the balladic Daniel, has a melodic 'Tron flute part drifting in and out of the song, with some block chords towards the end, while Teacher I Need You has some string chords bolstering up the chorus. That's it for the 'Tron, although the album's best moments are probably first single, Crocodile Rock and the affecting Have Mercy On The Criminal.
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is regarded by many fans as Elton's musical peak; a highly-ambitious double album (shockingly, his second release of the year), it opens with my personal favourite from his oeuvre, Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding, with the instrumental first part being effectively full-on prog, with an inventive synth arrangement by future Genesis producer David Hentschel. It also contains two of his best-ever vocal melodies in Candle In The Wind (forget the hideous abortion of the 'Diana' version) and the title track; love 'em or loathe 'em, you'll certainly remember 'em... Looking at the tracklisting, I can't believe that this album produced four hit singles, at a time when two was considered excessive; we're still a long way from the '80s 'single overkill'. As far as the Mellotron's concerned, This Song Has No Title, a solo vocal and keyboard number, has a typical 'orchestral' flute and string arrangement, Grey Seal has some excellent backing string chords, and Dirty Little Girl features a few brass chords; at least Elton's habit of track-by-track instrumental credits doesn't allow for any dissent over where it's used.
Around this time, Elton played 'Tron on three tracks on his sometime co-singer Kiki Dee's Loving and Free, although I don't know of any other sessions for his mates (John Lennon, Rod Stewart etc.) where he used one. I'm told that he regularly used a Mellotron on stage, too, played by his back-up keyboard player, Ray Cooper, with rather more use than in the studio. The only officially-available live recording from the time is 1976's Here and There (Cooper's first performances with the band, apparently), and I believe it's entirely 'Tron-free. Can't see him releasing anything else from the era in the near future, if ever, sadly.
1974's Caribou, sounds, to my ears, like a somewhat weaker effort, although it still spawned two hit singles in the rather anodyne rocker The Bitch Is Back and big ballad (again), Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me, with some almost completely inaudible 'Tron strings from David Hentschel. Best track is probably closer Ticking, a sad tale of dysfunction and spree-killing. Later that year, Elton released a version of the Beatles' classic drug song, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds as a non-album single, something he was quite prone to doing at the time. Not as good as the original, it does, however, feature 'Tron flutes and strings, including a great flute melody line, key-click and all, which I'll admit may've sounded good on Sgt. Pepper. It's available on various compilations, including '77's stopgap Greatest Hits Vol.2 (the 'cricket' sleeve).
Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy is more of the same, compositionally, with the more acoustic guitar-based title track being one of the better tracks. On the Mellotron front, We All Fall In Love Sometimes has a lovely flute melody, but Curtains, despite a credit, has no audible 'Tron whatsoever. I haven't actually been able to get hold of two of these albums for review, the first being Elt's second album of '75, Rock of the Westies, although I've tracked down a copy of its sole Mellotron track, the single Island Girl. Saying that, there's startlingly little 'Tron on it, with nowt but a fast flute melody from James Newton Howard, so don't go out of your way for this one.
1976's Blue Moves, another double, is slightly stronger than its immediate predecessors, with highlights including the orchestral Tonight, the rocking One Horse Town and the (relatively) lengthy instrumental Out Of The Blue, although its best-known track is the typical big ballad Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word. A really rather good flute part on Cage The Songbird, again from James Newton Howard, is the only Mellotron this time round; never one to overuse it, I suspect Elton was tiring of it by this point, with polysynths obviously just around the corner. The other album I haven't actually heard is '78's A Single Man, which closes with the six-minute Song For Guy, written as an elegy for Guy Burkett, a messenger at his label, Rocket, who died in a motorbike accident. An almost-instrumental solo keyboard track, most of the keys are piano and synths, but a brief 'Tron flute line comes in halfway through in typical Elton style.
Elton abandoned the Mellotron at this point, switching to polysynths like everyone else, although the story doesn't quite end here. After twenty years of going with the flow, recording-wise, he went back to his roots on 2001's Songs From the West Coast, recording onto 24-track analogue, and refusing to use Pro-Tools, sampling etc. He's working with Bernie Taupin again, not to mention guitarist Davey Johnstone and drummer Nigel Olsson from his regular '70s band, marking what everyone's calling a remarkable return to form. To prove his point, producer Patrick Leonard plays Mellotron on Love Her Like Me, although a background string line isn't really in the same league as some of his better '70s 'Tron Tracks.
So...; hmmm. If you like Elton (you can't refer to him as 'John', can you?), you'll like most, if not all of these albums, and you'll probably own them anyway. He has to be considered a fairly major Mellotron user, though more like David Bowie than Genesis, say (!), so none of the above albums even comes close to 'Tron classic status. Of the dozen or so listed above, I'd say the best tracks for their 'Tron content would be Daniel, This Song Has No Title, Grey Seal, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, We All Fall In Love Sometimes and Cage The Songbird. Every highlighted track above wouldn't fill a CD-R, but it's nice to see a mainstream performer use it on a whole string of albums. Songs From the West Coast is a definite move in the right direction, but next time round, could we have a bit more, please? Ta.

© Andy Thompson