Sad musical news over the weekend with the death of iconic composer, musician and rock poet Lou Reed. It was a foregone conclusion that I’d feature one of his songs in tribute this week, but I had to think long and hard about which one. The beautiful Perfect Day, which after one listen had me listening obsessively to RTR back in the pre-internet early 90’s in the hopes that they’d play it again so I could find out who it was by? The rocking There She Goes Again that I accidentally downloaded off a less than reputable file sharing service in the freewheeling early 2000’s while looking for the similarly titled song by the La’s, but grew to love anyway? The classic Walk on the Wildside? Something really obscure to prove my musical cred? No. In the end I decided I couldn’t do better than simply posting my favourite Lou Reed song, no matter how overplayed or cliched it may be this week, 1972’s Satellite of Love.
Thanks Lou. We won’t see your like again.
The second song I’m highlighting is another one concerning satellites by another musical magician. In his truncated life, Joe Meek inhabited the space where genius and insanity collide. But by insanity, I don’t mean entertaining whackiness – he was emotionally and psychologically unstable, moody, irritable, occasionally violent and dangerously paranoid. He was obsessed with death and hung around in graveyards trying to record ghosts, and was convinced that Buddy Holly was talking to him from beyond the grave. Yet despite this, in late 50’s and early 60’s Britain, musicians were lining up to work with him. Why? Because he was the only guy on that side of the Atlantic who could produce records that sounded like they came out of the big American recording studios.
He achieved this by combining obsession with a natural talent for electronics which allowed him to convert his rented London flat into a recording studio. All of it. Every room was riddled with wires, with microphones hanging from the ceilings, and a band who wanted to record would be broken up into the areas and corners as Meek saw fit to best record their sound. With the tracks down he’d tune and mix them on his homemade equipment – often supplementing the recording with what today would be regarded as samples – and come out with something astounding.
He was also a composer – although he couldn’t write musical notation or even sing in tune – and hired session musicians to come in and record his creations. The best known of these is the track I’m featuring today, 1962’s Telstar – inspired by the launch of the world’s first communications satellite Telstar 1 – and recorded by the Tornadoes. It sounded like nothing anyone had ever heard before and was a worldwide hit – reaching number 1 in both the UK and the US.
Sadly, things did not end well for Joe Meek. A lawsuit prevented him from receiving any royalties from Telstar, and the coming of the Beatles changed pop music fashion from lush orchestral arrangements to stripped back drums and guitars. He went into debt, fell deeper into paranoia and depression and finally in 1967 he took his own life and that of his landlady in a murder suicide. Nonetheless he left us with an incredible (and surprisingly vast) legacy of recordings that are still being explored and enjoyed to this day.
So that’s your lot. Tune in next week for more Musical Tuesday!