Despite its thrilling landing and the anticipation of discoveries to come, I don’t think we can look forward to a song named in honor of the Mars Science Laboratory bka Curiosity. App-addled, 21st century iSociety is just a little too distracted for that. Fifty years ago, however, things were different. The afterglow of the International Geophysical Year (IGY) was every bit as hopeful and optimistic as Donald Fagen would later imagine it. By 1962 humans had orbited the earth, the moon race was on and within a few years Captain Kirk would confirm space as our final frontier. It was in July of ‘62 that the promise of world-wide communication via satellite was born with the launch of Telstar.
There’s no way to know how much, if any, of that stuff occurred to English record producer and songwriter Joe Meek when he wrote “Telstar”. The song was recorded by the Tornadoes and released on this date 50 years ago. It became a world-wide hit, spending 25 weeks in the
The melody of “Telstar” is immediately catchy and hum-able. It has the temerity to actually soar a bit, an effect that kind of takes you off guard because after all, it’s just a novelty pop instrumental, isn’t it? That said, had the main theme been scored for strings, the song would be just as pleasant, but perhaps not quite as compelling; more Mantovani than Meek. Instead, Meek used an early form of keyboard synthesizer called a Clavioline to carry the melody. The Clavioline (you can also hear it on “Baby, You’re a Rich Man” by The Beatles) imparted the required electronic/space age feel that made the song an anthem to early technological achievement. Only the iconic theme from the original “Star Trek” can be said to surpass it.
Meek seals the tune’s computerized credentials with an intro and fade out of sound effects meant to evoke space transmissions. He is reputed to have created the effects in studio by recording the sound of a pen run around the rim of an ashtray and then played back in reverse. I don’t know if that story is true, but on this, the 50th anniversary of the release of “Telstar”, I’ve decided to “gild the lily” with a mash-up tribute of my own. I’ve used snips from “Night Music” by Richard Maxfield to bookend Meek’s pop classic (click the player at the top of the post). I do this with all respect, secure in the knowledge that nothing could improve on this true space age masterpiece.
By the way, the original satellite, long dead, is still in orbit. It will continue to circle the earth for many years.
Long live Joe Meek, The Tornados, and long live Telstar!