Joe Meek / The Tornados

Telstar

Composed by Joe Meek

Song Review by

The first U.S. number one single by a British group (over a year before the Beatles hit U.S. shores) and an all-time instrumental rock classic covered by everyone from the Ventures to U.K. folk-rock godfather Ashley Hutchings, "Telstar" is one of the most unique recordings ever. Written and produced by the legendary eccentric Joe Meek, "Telstar" is one of the few times when his inventive production style is married to an equally memorable tune. Opening with the sound of a rocket lifting off (the title refers to the first telecommunications satellite, which had been launched earlier in 1962), the song builds to a gallop on Clem Cattini's drums before bursting into the naggingly persistent melody, which Meek himself plays on an early battery-powered electronic instrument called a Clavioline, echoed by the reverb-heavy twang guitars of Alan Caddy and George Bellamy. Meek's production is tirelessly gimmicky, with beeping sound effects, a wordless vocal chorus, and more distortion and compression than the entire 1964-1966 Kinks catalog in toto, but the tune remains paramount, making "Telstar" one of the pinnacles of '60s instrumental rock. True "Telstar" fans should also check out Glenda Collins' "It's Hard to Believe It," a Meek production that recycles the same rocket launch rumble that opens "Telstar," or a priceless demo by Meek of the tune that's included on the "outsider music" compilation Songs in the Key of Z; Meek, who could not carry a tune with both hands and a sling, "sings" the haunting wordless vocal part himself, sounding like Meredith Monk gone bubblegum.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
It's Hard to Believe: The Amazing World of Joe Meek 1995 Razor & Tie 3:18
The Alchemist of Pop: Home Made Hits and Rarities 1959-1966 2002 Castle Music Ltd. 3:21
Joe Meek: The EP Collection 2007 Castle Music Ltd. 3:18
Vampires, Cowboys, Spacemen and Spooks: The Very Best of Joe Meek's Instrumentals 2007 Castle Music Ltd. 3:11
blue highlight denotes editor's pick