The Tornados – Telstar

The legendary Joe Meek wrote and produced this song. This was an adventurous instrumental record for the time and ahead of its time. The song took off and peaked at #1 in the Billboard 100 and the UK in 1962.

An instrumental with space sound effects, this was inspired by the Telstar communications satellite, which was launched shortly before this song was written. Telstar no longer functions but still orbits the earth.

The Tornados were a club band that disliked the song, but Meek added his own effects at his home studio above a leather shop in northern London. An overdubbed Clavioline keyboard provoked spooked space effects, while a backward tape of a flushing toilet evoked all the majesty of a space-bound rocket.

From Songfacts.

This instrumental hit was followed quickly by vocal versions in the UK first by a singer who called himself Kenny Hollywood and then by a young studio singer named Margie Singleton. When it topped the chart in the US, Bobby Rydell also did a cover (he had big hits with “Sway” and “The Cha-Cha-Cha”). There are also versions in French by Les Compagnons, in German by Camillo Felgen, and two Spanish versions by Alberto Cortez and The Latin Quartet, titled “Magica Estrella.” >>

This was the best-selling British single of 1962. It was also the first song by a British group to hit #1 in the US. This did not happen again until The Beatles “I Want To Hold Your Hand” in 1964.

Producer Joe Meek was intrigued by the sound of the organ on Dave “Baby” Cortez’ #1 hit, “The Happy Organ” – so entrapped by it that he tried to duplicate it with the Clavioline keyboard on “Telstar,” which was played by a studio musician named Geoff Goddard, who also supplied the “humming” vocal you hear at the end of the song.

A French composer named Jean Ledrut sued Meek for plagiarism, claiming that the tune from “Telstar” had been lifted from the score of the 1960 film Austerlitz, for which Ledrut wrote the score. The suit was resolved in Meek’s favor, but not until about a year after his death.

After the Tornadoes had laid down track for this song, Meek wanted to give it more, so after the band left the studio at the end of the day, he played around with effects to get it just right. Later when he played the demo to the lads, they were not sure. The beginning was just Joe being his creative self, however, the “Ah Ah” voiceover in the final part was a bit much and they expressed some dismay. This mixture of music and voice was usual and had not been done in a Pop tune, yet this track exploded on the music scene.

Joe Meek took a tape of “Try Once More,” which he had written with songwriter Geoff Goddard, to Alan Caddy and Clem Cattini of The Tornados. Joe sang wordless vocals over Geoff’s backing track. Clem Cattini recalled, “He played us this tape of him singing and the music didn’t really sound right. It had all the wrong time and key signatures. So we listened to the tape to get the idea and basically re-wrote the music.”

The book 1000 UK #1 Hits by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh explains that The Tornados received little money from the song. Meek had leased the record to Decca Records and having negotiated a 5% royalty of the record’s sales he banked 29,000 pounds, very little of which was passed on to The Tornados.

Joe Meek experimented with other various non musical elements in his many instrumental tracks over the years played by his group the Tornadoes in its various forms. Examples are found in some of the following tunes:
“Aqua Marina” – Bubbling noises like fish under water.
“Early Bird” – Rocket blasting off sound.
“Hot Pot” – Strange animal sounds.
“Is that a ship I hear” – Seagulls crying.
“Jungle Fever” (this is the B side of Telstar) – Strange animal sounds.
“Life on Venus” – Voice over to start the track.
“Night Rider” – Horse neighing.
“Red Rocket” – Voice over to start the track giving the blastoff countdown.
“Robot” – Weird gun firing sounds. Actually the sound of fencing wire being plucked like a guitar string amplified and played at higher speed.
“Stingray” – Bubble noise, like under water and explosions with a voice over to start the track. >>

Joe Meek recorded this in his home studio above a leather shop on London’s Holloway Road.

The rhythm guitarist on this track was George Bellamy of The Tornados, who is the father of Muse lead singer Matthew Bellamy.

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

14 thoughts on “The Tornados – Telstar”

  1. Reblogged this on blackwings666 and commented:
    I have been wanting to post something about JOE MEEK for a while – never got around to it and when I saw this post I thought this would be a good opportunity. Many people may not be familiar with JOE MEEK – I recommend they listen to this song that I have REBLOGGED and also to check out I HEAR A NEW WORLD by THE BLUE MEN – really far out – ahead of its time music – very unique.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The first single I ever bought!

    And I can still recall the vocal follow-up record too. The lyrics started out “Magic star above, send a message to my love….”

    The sound effects and trippy keyboard, it was like early Pink Floyd a half-a-decade early.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As a kid I remember meeting a guy who said he was the keyboard player of Tornados before they became famous. He was lodging with my friend’s grandmother in Southampton. He was a carpetfitter. He had Music Mags with him which had photos of him with the Tornados. Could this have been the studio musician named Geoff Goddard? He was miffed that they brought in a new keyboard player to replace him. That is what I remember him saying. A bit of a ‘Ringo’ story I guess. Or was there another person who played the Keyboards on the Telstar recording?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It could have been…that is so interesting. Can you remember what he looked like? I know it’s been a while to say the least. He was a Geoff was a songwriter as well…I think he worked with him on after Telestar… Roger LaVern played keyboards I believe.


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