Hurray, hurray! Step right up, folks, and witness the most annoying musical instrument ever invented!
The fairground organ is actually a wonderous, though now rarely-used machine that automatically played back music. It was used primarily for traveling carnivals, circuses, parades, etc. and has that fun/scary vibe that suggests wistful cotton-candy childhood while also being a bit creepy.
After putting in a punched piece of paper for a particular song (like a player-piano) or a rotating wheel (like a music-box) an organ would play, robotic arms holding drumsticks would bang drums, air forced through tubes would blow horns and toot whistles. It was quite a racket. After all, it was designed to cut through the crowd noises, so it wasn't too subtle.
It's a wonder of 1800s technology, and, though organ rolls seem to have ceased production by the 1960s, enthusiasts still collect and restore these often beautiful, highly decorated machines.There's a great wealth of mp3s of the Wurlitzer style 165 band organ rolls courtesy of the hard-working folks at the Wurlitzer-rolls.com site. Fascinating listening, though you'll probably start to go mental after 3 or 4 songs. For some absolutely inexplicable reason, I'm hooked on this version of Sandie Shaw's '60s hit "Puppet On A String," even though I don't remember being a big fan of the song in the first place. Maybe some tunes just sound better played on a fairground organ.
Hammond Fairground Organ Roll: "Puppet On A String"