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18 October 2008

Telstar 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.

Also, if you're having deja vu, yes I posted this once before, but the trailer was taken down a day after I posted. I'm hoping it'll stay online this time. (This is a slightly different trailer.)
See that bit at the beginning where they are sliding notes across the table to each other? Meek was convinced that the lamp post in front of his house had a microphone in it and that the government was spying on him. (A fairly common idea for a schizophrenic to have.) He went for a long time without speaking to anybody in his studio, for fear the government was eavesdropping, and would only communicate via written notes.
posted by BoringPostcards 19 October | 01:04
See also A Life in the Death of Joe Meek
posted by arse_hat 19 October | 01:09
Joe is one of those people I wish I could have met but I'm happy I never did.

Also, if anyone is interested, I can point you to 4 Meek albums.
posted by arse_hat 19 October | 01:24
Great post, BP. I'm looking forward to seeing this movie.

Trivia: Telstar is one of Margaret Thatcher's favourite songs which she grew to love when her twins, who would have been about 8 years old at the time, played it over and over when it was in the charts.
posted by essexjan 19 October | 02:13
Hey, BoringPostcards, this is great! Meek is one of those folks who's been at the edge of my radar for years now, but I've never really taken the time to zero in on him and explore his mad genius at length. Of course I knew Telstar and a few other odds and ends that have washed up at my doorstep, but his output seems actually fairly immense: lots to hear. I look forward to checking out these links!

And, BTW, this is in no way intended as a slight to MetaChat, but... how come you didn't post this to the blue? Wouldn't there be a bigger readership there? Just wondering!
posted by flapjax at midnite 19 October | 02:16
i didn't catch misteraitch's links last time, i hope they still work. Also, i think i've made enough space to at least try and grab a few tracks this time as i do the data swap hop into storage.
posted by ethylene 19 October | 03:31
Flapjax, no slight to mefi but a big chunk of what some people post here end up there in one form or another.
i wonder if people might cruise by to mine for ideas or if it just depends on the when and how they find the info. i'd like to think it spurs someone who has been wanting to make a post or planning one on a topic to go for it.
i could be wrong, but i don't really want to write out the flip side of this happy headed coin. i'll save that illustration for requests and commission, maybe when i need the vent.
posted by ethylene 19 October | 03:38
I'm interested, for sure, arsey.

I discovered him a few years ago, and I wish I could remember how. Fascinating, tormented, scary guy, and amazing genius.
posted by taz 19 October | 07:05
I love the fact that I only live a few minutes from his front door.
posted by dodgygeezer 19 October | 08:23
On the way to you now taz.
posted by arse_hat 19 October | 10:48
how come you didn't post this to the blue?

I'm no longer a member of MetaFilter, flapjax. But I'm glad you enjoyed the post. :)

arse_hat, I've emailed you.

Also, I see I repeated myself on the story about Meek's fear of eavesdroppers... it was past my bedtime.
posted by BoringPostcards 19 October | 11:18
AIGH! I'm Reaching My Limit! || Sarah Palin on SNL?