The Tornados

Telstar

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
No Image 1963 London 3:15
No Image 1976 Decca
The British Invasion: History of British Rock, Vol. 5 1988
Various Artists
Rhino 3:20
No Image 1991
Various Artists
Rhino
Rock Instrumental Classics, Vol. 2: The Sixties 1994
Various Artists
Rhino 3:20
Telstar: The Original Sixties Hits of the Tornados 1994 Music Club International Records 3:17
Sounds of the Sixties 1995
Various Artists
Castle Music Ltd. 3:16
Cappuccino Classics, Vol. 1: Yeh Yeh 1995
Various Artists
Temple 3:17
It's Hard to Believe: The Amazing World of Joe Meek 1995 Razor & Tie 3:18
Rock Instrumental Classics, Vols. 1-5 1995
Various Artists
Rhino / Warner Bros. 3:20
Pop History: 1962 1996
Various Artists
ZYX Music 3:13
The EP Collection 1996 See For Miles Records 3:17
Kahuna Classics: Surf Music 1997
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 3:15
No Image 1997
Various Artists
Crimson Productions
Hit Parade!: 54 Big Hits from the Best of the Hit Parade 1997
Various Artists
VMK
The Best of the 60s 1998
Various Artists
Crimson Productions 3:15
Archive 1998 Rialto
Telstar: The Complete Tornados 1998 Repertoire 3:17
40 Hits: 1960-1964 1999
Various Artists
Millennium Hits (Netherlands) 3:16
Swinging in the Sixties, Vol. 2 1999
Various Artists
Repertoire 3:16
Telstar [Castle Pie] 1999 Castle Pie 3:18
No Image 1999
Various Artists
Disky
Complete Collection 2001
Various Artists
Disky 3:17
Ridin' the Wind: The Anthology 2002 Castle Music Ltd. 3:20
The Alchemist of Pop: Home Made Hits and Rarities 1959-1966 2002 Castle Music Ltd. 3:21
Telstar! Instrumental Diamonds '58-'77 2003
Various Artists
Castle Music Ltd. 3:19
The Tornados Play Telstar And Other Great Hits 2003 Sanctuary / Castle Music Ltd. 3:22
20 UK No. 1's from the 60s 2005
Various Artists
Crimson Productions 3:17
Golden Oldies 2005
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 3:19
Greatest Hits of the 60's 2006
Various Artists
Disky 3:17
#1 Hits of the 50s and 60s [Madacy] 2006
Various Artists
Madacy 3:13
#1 Hits of the 50's and 60's [Madacy CD 2] 2006
Various Artists
Madacy 3:13
Joe Meek: The EP Collection 2007 Castle Music Ltd. 3:18
The British Beat: Best of the '60s 2007
Various Artists
Shout! Factory / TJL 3:15
Vampires, Cowboys, Spacemen and Spooks: The Very Best of Joe Meek's Instrumentals 2007 Castle Music Ltd. 3:11
No Image 2007
Various Artists
Universal Distribution
True '60s 2007
Various Artists
Digital Entertainment 3:19
British Rock 'n' Roll Anthology 2009
Various Artists
Spectrum Music 3:20
More Music From the Rum Diary 2012
Various Artists
Lakeshore Records 3:17
The 1962 British Hit Parade, Pt. 2: May-September [Acrobat] 2013
Various Artists
Acrobat Music 3:11
Salut Les Copains 1959-1968: Best of 2013
Various Artists
UMSM / Universal Music 3:18
Britain's Greatest Hits 1962 2013
Various Artists
Acrobat Licensing / Fabulous 3:13
Greatest Hits from Outer Space 2013
Various Artists
Ace 0:00
Close Encounters with the Tornados 2014 Secret Records 3:23
Hit Parade [Mercury]
Various Artists
Mit Der Raupe Fahr'n...
Various Artists
3:15
Music From Planet Earth, Vol. 1 (Martians, Ray Guns, Flying Saucers and Other Space Junk)
Various Artists
Stag-O-Lee
Sixties Collection, Vol. 4
Various Artists
Going For A Song 3:15
The 60's Collection
Various Artists
Going For A Song 3:15
The Broons Family Album
Various Artists
EMI 3:20