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15 September 2008

Telstar: the movie! The trailer for the upcoming film about the brilliant, strange, groundbreaking but sadly insane 1960s music producer, Joe Meek. It looks fantastic. Some history and a whole bunch of songs inside.[More:]

I've been following news of this movie (and the stage play it's based on) for a couple of years now, and really cannot wait to see it.

Some songs:

John Leyton "Voodoo Woman"

The Riot Squad "I Take It That We're Through"
Neil Christian "The Big Beat Drum"

Meek was a one-man hit machine in 1960s London, producing almost 250 singles in the space of about 7 years. He wrote or co-wrote most of them himself, often under aliases. He put bands together, gave them a name and a "look," even wrote the copy on the back of their record jackets.

The Checkmates "You've Got To Have A Gimmick Today"

Meek was a "more is more" kind of producer, favoring highly-compressed audio, odd uses of reverb and phasing, swoony backing vocals, and even some distortion and crackle, which were considered huge production no-no's at the time. Sometimes the artists were furious with him when he let their voices distort:

John Leyton "Wild West"

...but they usually forgave him and came back for more when the records sold well. He famously used the reversed, reverbed sound of a toilet flushing to open his space-surf masterpiece (and biggest hit) "Telstar," which was huge in the UK and also became the first foreign song to hit #1 in the US.

The Tornadoes "Telstar"
(if you only listen to one of these songs, make it this one)

His working methods were unusual. He kept ownership of all his recording masters and just leased them to record labels, making him one of the first "indie" producers. Also, he was tone deaf, so he'd record demos of songs as he wanted them to sound, and then had more-musical colleagues transcribe the music from those.

Joe Meek "Long Tall Jack" (demo)

He was openly gay at a time when homosexuality was still a crime in England, which may explain why he never sought medical help for his increasing schizophrenia and paranoia. Friends have suggested he was afraid to check himself into a hospital, for fear they would use his gayness as a reason to keep him locked up.

Drugs, partying, and overwork helped the mental illness lead Meek down some strange paths. He dabbled in the occult, trying to communicate with his hero, Buddy Holly, beyond the grave.

Mike Berry "Tribute To Buddy Holly"

He once thought a dead acquaintance was trying to speak through him through a cat that he caught on tape while recording in a graveyard one night. He also thought that the lamp-post in front of his London home/studio was bugged; he stopped speaking to his studio assistant for fear of being overheard, and would only communicate via written notes.

Finally, tragically, Meek lost it one February morning and killed his landlady (who lived downstairs with her family) and then himself, using a shotgun that he'd confiscated from one of his young proteges. (This unhappy ending makes me wonder how well the Telstar movie is going to do...)

During his life, Meek also dabbled in electronic music, as heard in "Telstar," and also in a basically-solo EP of "space music," called "I Hear A New World." It bombed, but later became a collector's item.

The Blue Men "Entry of the Globbots"

Finally, here are some other songs I couldn't work into this post anywhere else:

The Syndicats "Crawdaddy Simone" (the song from the movie trailer)
Mark Douglas "It Matters Not"
The Dowlands "Big Big Fella" (a lot of Meek's songs had gay-sounding titles, sort of an inside joke I think)
Heinz "Come On, Let's Go"
Heinz "Live It Up" (Heinz Burt was the bassist for the Tornadoes, and it was Burt's shotgun that was in the flat on Meek's very bad day.)
The Buzz "You're Holding Me Down"
Mike Berry "You'll Do It, You'll Fall In Love"
Kenny Hollywood "Magic Star" (Meek bastardized his own masterpiece with this lyric version of "Telstar." Many people think 'Kenny Hollywood' was a young Marc Bolan, but most of the evidence says he was not.)
Don Charles "Come Walk With Me Angel"

All of these songs are in the same folder, so you can actually get all of them from any of these links. Also, you can stream them like a radio broadcast.
That looks like crazy wacky fun.
posted by ethylene 15 September | 21:26
I'll freely admit my ignorance when it comes to this - be it the music, the times, or the man. I'll go out of my way to watch this as it looks intriguing, and you've got some unnervingly keen musical taste. This is a great starter post, for me.
also: oh, *spoilers!* i didn't know he topped himself! ah well, i knew ian curtis suicided and that didn't spoil 'control.'
posted by Zack_Replica 15 September | 23:07
Meek's dealings with Kim Fowley* would be worth a movie just on its own.

* They're coming to take me away, Ha Ha!
posted by Ardiril 15 September | 23:21
While I'd read articles about the man before, this is the first I've heard of the movie - I'll be keeping an eye out for it now - many thanks for the post BP. And thanks for taking the trouble to collect all those Meek-produced tracks.

Some Meek @ YouTube: Johnny Remember Me (Johnny Leyton), Have I the Right? (The Honeycombs). Also, the BBC documentary The Strange Story of Joe Meek.
posted by misteraitch 16 September | 04:38
Damn, the movie trailer seems to be gone now! I guess that really WAS a sneak preview. And it doesn't look like anyone else has it. Damn, I should have tried to download it.

Zack, I'd never heard of Meek either till about three years ago, and was immediately fascinated by the whole crazy story. Also, the music is great, so that's fun, too.

Thanks for the vids, misteraitch... I love that Honeycombs song.
posted by BoringPostcards 16 September | 08:59
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