Joe Meek was a pioneer of the modern age of music production, most famous for his work with The Tornados. He wrote and produced The Tornados’ #1 hit Telstar in 1962 – making them the first British band to hit #1 in the US.
As Brian Eno has sagely pointed out, ‘no one watches recorded theatre; we watch movies‘. In the early days of cinema, cameras were stationary, merely recording theatre as it was played out on stage – as the art form evolved, however, new techniques came into use such as closeups, the use of multiple cameras, lighting trickery, filters and anything that happens in post-production. The same can be said of music – the result of a work of studio production, while still related to live music, is no longer the same thing. Joe Meek was one of the first to realise this and put it into practise.
The Tornados – Robot
Before Joe Meek, recording technicians were lab-coat wearing pansies who endeavoured to keep the studio as sterile as possible in order to merely ‘copy’ the source material, like with early cinema. Joe separated instruments from each other, used echoes, used reverb and ran tapes through all manner of home-made electro-accoustic devices to end up with a final composite recording that was unique and like nothing that could have been created by the instruments themselves. He added musique concrète techniques to the mix, like the sound of a toilet flushing played in reverse at an altered speed to simulate a rocket blast.
Joe’s work was full of space-inspired titles and themes, like the aforementioned Telstar (named after the Telstar satellite, the world’s first communications satellite) and the only partially released ‘music from another planet’ concept album I Hear a New World. One of his many projects, The (once-again astronomy-thematic) Moontrekkers, famously had their single Night of the Vampire banned from play on the BBC for being ‘too scary’.
The Moontrekkers – Night of the Vampire
If you still aren’t in love with this man, try this on for size: rumour has it that upon hearing Rod Stewart sing (Meek had been brought on board to produce an album for Stewart), Meek rushed into the studio, put his fingers in his ears and screamed until Stewart had left.
Add another name to my list of heroes!
Joe’s career was sadly cut short when he comitted suicide in 1967 at the age of 37. His name, however, lives on in a range of audio equipment. I guess that counts for something. His personal life was pretty messed up, too, which these days means someone will eventually make a movie about you.
Trailer for Telstar: The Movie