The Tornados

Close Encounters with the Tornados

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The story of England's Tornados is one of the most bizarre and what-might-have-been stories in the whole history of pop music, a cautionary tale of sorts, full of madness, violence, greed, and legal mayhem, but one that also produced one of the greatest instrumental pop hits of all time in "Telstar." Originally formed in 1961 as a session group by Joe Meek, Britain's first independent producer, and a man whose eccentric recording techniques, which included excessive compression, deliberate distortion, kitchen sink percussion, and extreme close-miking of instruments in a crude home-made studio, were leap years ahead of their time. The Tornados (originally guitarists George Bellamy and Alan Caddy, bassist Heinz Burt, keyboardist Roger LaVern, and drummer Clem Cattini) had a hit almost out of the box with their second single, the Meek-penned "Telstar," which went to number one on both sides of the Atlantic in 1962. The recording was arguably Meek's masterwork, built Frankenstein-style in his mad-scientist space lab of a studio, and by all rights it should have made Meek a wealthy man and the Tornados a household name, but instead it became a huge millstone for both Meek and the band. Because they were signed as the backup band for British singer Billy Fury, the Tornadoes were forbidden to tour behind their huge hit, and Meek, in turn, was sued for copyright infringement by a French company, all of which tied up profits from the single in the courts for some six years. The Tornados disbanded in 1965, and Meek finally won his lawsuit in 1968, although not until a year after he had killed his landlady and then himself in 1967. This two-disc set includes the original version of "Telstar" along with seven other Meek-produced sides, and combines them with do-overs (including one of "Telstar") and other space-themed tracks recorded when drummer Cattini went into the studio with guitarist Derek Griffiths, bassist Dave Harvey, and keyboardist and arranger Colin Frechter as the Tornados in 2007. The original Meek-produced sides are the highlight here, with the re-do sides suggesting what might have been had the story gone a little differently.

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