Monday, November 23, 2009

Joe Meek

Joe Meek was an early 1960's record producer from England. He was became known for a sound that used lots of reverb, echo, close miking, multiple overdubs, and strange sound effects. Once you've heard a Joe Meek product, it's easy to spot another. 

He had some success, most notably with "Telstar" recorded by The Tornados, which hit number one on the US Billboard Top 100. A popular story at the time of the record's release was that the weird distortions and background noise came from sending the signal up to the Telstar satellite and re-recording it back on Earth.  More likely, it has been claimed that the sounds intended to symbolize radio signals were produced by Meek running a pen around the rim of an ashtray, and that the "rocket blastoff" at the start of the record was actually a flushing toilet, with the recordings made to sound exotic by playing the tape in reverse at various speeds. I don't remember "Telstar" every getting played on oldies radio, but I definetly remember "Have I The Right?" by the Honeycombs. To me this is his poppiest song.

However, the story isn't all weird sound effects and layers of reverb. Meek was obsessed with the occult and the idea of "the other side". He would set up tape machines in graveyards in a vain attempt to record voices from beyond the grave, in one instance capturing the meows of a cat he claimed was speaking in human tones, asking for help. He had an obsession with Buddy Holly (claiming the late American rocker had communicated with him in dreams) and other dead rock and roll musicians. He had growing amounts of paranoia and was even convinced that Decca Records would put hidden microphones behind his wallpaper in order to steal his ideas. For reasons exactly unknown, on February 3rd, 1967 Meek took a single barrel shotgun and took the life of his landlady before aiming the gun at his own head. A sad and tragic ending for sure.

The Tornadoes "Telstar"

John Leyton "Johnny Remember Me"

Screaming Lord Sutch & The Savages "'Til The Following Evening"

The Honeycombs "Have I The Right?"

1 comment:

  1. Great man!

    Near the end he was tweaking out on speed most of the time, the British Government was hounding him since his homosexuality was well known and it was illegal in England at that time, and he had a lot of debt. So in that light it seems a bit more reasonable.