50 years is a long time. 50 years ago things were different - the first public demonstration of an all-transistor radio was only 10 years prior to this. The Second World War was less than 20 years behind us. The first Beatles LP had only been released 3 weeks previously. I was only 4 years old. Sheffield Wednesday were still a force to be reckoned with. It was a very, very different world.
And into that world, unrecognisable to us today, was born a box full of tapes, containing drum loops and rhythm tracks, designed and conceived to be a home organ for the relatively wealthy, but destined to be so much more than that, mainly due to the guy who drove the delivery van and played the organ in a little beat group up the road. The soundtrack to a thousand first kisses via Nights in White Satin (thanks van driver guy!), a thousand first acid trips via Strawberry Fields, then another thousand first kisses via Wonderwall, and in between a thousand 'ooh I preferred them when they played rhythm and blues' first hearings of 2,000 Light Years from Home. And, particularly in my house, a thousand 'ohhh - there's the mellotron flutes' every single time Patience is played on the radio.
So happy birthday to my dear old friend the mellotron - an all-kissing, all-tripping string section, choir, flute and everything else in between, crammed into a big wooden box. 50 years old today, and as fabulous, as haunting, as wonderful as ever. As a kid I would never have imagined that the Tron would turn into a large chunk of my professional life, and to be honest if I'd been asked back then what I most wanted to do as a grown-up, I would have probably answered 'Something to do with mellotrons or Moog synthesizers. Or I'd like to be in Slade'. Nod and Jim never rang, and they never had a slot for a truly terrible guitarist anyway, but I'm living the other bit of the dream.
I never do top tens, but it's a big birthday, so here is my personal mellotron top 10. For the last time ever. And don't ask me for my mellotron top 10 next week, it won't be the same.
10) God Speed the Plough - A recent discovery, and a mighty one.
9) We Love You - The Stones used to be amazing. Really. It's hard to believe nowadays. Also, this was the first time I ever heard a song that made me feel like I was on drugs. I *LOVE* this one.
8) Exit music (for a film) - THAT CHOIR IS INSANELY GREAT!
7) Never turn your back on Mother Earth - there's no more than 10 seconds of Streetly magic on this, but it's pure magic. And I love this song. And I'm having a bit of a Sparks month, so in it goes.
6) Hasta Manana Monsiour - Kimono again, and the first LP I ever bought. Strings AND flutes on this one. You go, boys!
5) Nights in White Satin - This should be at number one, but I've played it to death since I started this mellotronic phase of my life, so it's toppled down due to over-familiarity. Sorry, Justin.
4) Strawberry Fields Forever - ditto
3) Equator - Dig that wild sax! I had no idea it wasn't a real sax, for about 25 years. Either I'm an idiot, deaf, or Ron played it very well. Maybe all 3. But this is so magnificent it manages to squeeze Sparks into the top 10 three times. As I said, I'm having a Sparks month.
2) Space Oddity - now, despite the fact that I have heard this song 20 times a day for the last 10 months (the reasons for this will become clear in a month or so), it is SO DAMN GOOD that I'm not sick of it. Interestingly, when you listen to isolated stems on this one, you'd swear the mellotron is about to fall over and die. It sounds hideous. And yet in the mix it is the most gorgeous sound you ever heard. This song would be at number one, except there's one even closer to my heart ...
1) Patience - Take That. You thought I was kidding didn't you, when I posted that long thing drooling about the deep excellence of Take That a few weeks ago? You were wrong. I totally love the reformed Take That. Or at least, the de-Robbied version, I am a bit mixed about the Progress album. But Progressed is immeasurably fab, and he's on that one too for a minute or two, so maybe Robbie's OK. But old Barlow is, at his best, capable of crushing the best of them. He does melody, he does harmony, he shifts chest to head voice in about a millisecond and is so good at it he writes it into about half his songs. He's insanely good. Seriously - this genuinely is my number one Tron track of all time, ever. Love it.
Anyway, back to the big white box of tapes - happy birthday my dear. A glass - nay, three glasses shall be raised to you in the UK's finest restaurant tonight. You survived a dark decade and came through all guns blazing. Well, all flutes blazing. And - here's where I come in - now you can fit into anybody's pocket for less than ten quid. Good on you.
Buy yourself a Tron for Christmas right here -