Zero to 180 – Three Minute Magic

Discoveries of a Pop Music Archaeologist

“Celeste”: Makes a Tinkly Sound

In this black & white solo performance, Donovan tells us that “Celeste” is just a “pretty girl’s name” — but I respectfully disagree.  I find Donovan’s original 1966 studio recording “Celeste” to be a particularly effective one in capturing a certain incipient sound (and let’s be honest, I think much of it has to do with the mellotron) – the sound, in fact, of 1967, albeit one year early in order to same time:

“Celeste”     Donovan     1967

Sure enough, as one would hope, given the song’s title, an actual celeste makes its appearance around the 2:06 mark.  Unlike a piano, the celeste (also known as celesta) employs its hammers to strike metal keys, not strings.

celeste by Mustel of Paris

Celeste by Mustel of ParisDespite the song’s strong commercial potential (in my humble opinion), I have to say I am a little surprised to see “Celeste” remain solely an album track but with one interesting exception:  “Celeste” also enjoyed release on a Sunshine Superman EP – but only for the German market.

Also worth noting:  Scott (“Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair”) McKenzie released his own version of “Celeste” as the B-side of the uplifting and affirmative, “No, No, No, No, No.”

The Celeste in Rock, Pop & Soul:  Not Just for Symphonies

When I read Ray Charles’ memoir (his collaboration with David Ritz), I remember my brain being tickled by the fact that Charles played a celeste – a “serious” instrument more commonly associated with an orchestra – on one of his earlier jazz-inflected blues from 1949, “Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand.”  This blog piece about Donovan’s psych pop classic, “Celeste” got me to thinking:  what other rock, pop, jazz and soul tunes have also utilized the services of a celeste?   Here’s a short, though by no mean definitive, list —

"Basin Street Blues"            Louis Armstrong's Hot Five    1928
"I'll Never Smile Again"        Frank Sinatra                 1940
"Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand"    Ray Charles                   1949
"In the Wee Small Hours"        Frank Sinatra                 1955
"Everyday"                      Buddy Holly                   1957
"Wurlitzer and Celeste"         Sun Ra                        1964
"Baby It's You"                 The Beatles                   1964
"Girl Don't Tell Me"            The Beach Boys                1965
"Celeste"                       Donovan                       1966
"Sunday Morning"                Velvet Underground            1966
"The Gnome"                     Pink Floyd                    1967
"Cadence and Cascade"           King Crimson                  1970
"Penetration"                   The Stooges                   1973

Odd to find EMI recording group, Pink Floyd, issued on Capitol imprint, Tower

Pink Floyd 45

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