Joe Meek demos
January 16, 2007 12:34 PM   Subscribe

One of pop music's trailblazers was tone-deaf. Even if you've never heard of Joe Meek (previously), you've probably heard his 1962 single "Telstar" many times. This online compilation offers an exciting glimpse into Meek's unconventional way of composing, as he recorded and rerecorded in an attempt to communicate the music in his mind to musicians. Hear "Telstar" in various levels of completion.
posted by roll truck roll (31 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Addenda:

1. Online music library Comfort Stand has been mentioned here before, and demands perusal.
2. Meek produced hundreds of singles, and only two full albums. I hear a new world deserves a space on your CD tower, if it doesn't have one already. The second album, Those Plucking Strings, is now available for the first time.
3. I tried not to get too philosophical in the FPP, but man I find these demos inspiring. Some of them are unlistenably bad, but only someone like Meek would be able to look past his own shortcomings as a musician to see his own talent as a songwriter.
posted by roll truck roll at 12:37 PM on January 16, 2007


"would be able to look past his own shortcomings as a musician to see his own talent as a songwriter"

I'm not even sure what that sentence is supposed to mean.
posted by tumult at 12:51 PM on January 16, 2007


But did you know that the rhythm guitarist of the Tornadoes (who first performed "Telstar" and were the first British band to have a U.S. #1 hit) is the father of Muse frontman and guitarist Matthew Bellamy?

I think he's the one in the middle.
posted by Saellys at 1:13 PM on January 16, 2007


Another pop legend who was deaf.
posted by Smart Dalek at 1:16 PM on January 16, 2007


Great post!

"Telstar" always sounds to me like the audio equivalent of one of those 1950's magazine articles about life in the year 1980 - simultaneously futuristic and dated. All curvy white plastic furniture, food pills and flying cars.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 1:46 PM on January 16, 2007


Cool post, RTR. I'd only heard of Meeks from his association with various studio recording gear, I didn't know he wrote Telstar. The first "various levels" link sounds like somebody who didn't make it past round one of American Idol.
posted by doctor_negative at 1:59 PM on January 16, 2007


Terrific post, thank you. As someone who writes and records music on a regular basis, this history is fascinating to me -- kind of my first look into the songwriting methods of a musician other than myself.
posted by davejay at 2:03 PM on January 16, 2007


tumult, I'm not sure if that was a real question, but just in case...

Meek did not know how to read or write music. He also didn't know how to play any instruments or, for all practical purposes, sing. He only had the ability to think up melodies, imagine songs that no one had created before. These recordings are interesting because you get to hear Meek using nontraditional means to teach studio musicians how to play his songs, even though he himself doesn't know how to play them.

Thanks, everyone.
posted by roll truck roll at 2:04 PM on January 16, 2007


This post is part of the awesomeness that I come here for. Thanks a great deal-- I'm still delving through this material, and will be for a while.
posted by koeselitz at 2:06 PM on January 16, 2007


This post is part of the awesomeness that I come here for. Thanks a great deal-- I'm still delving through this material, and will be for a while.
posted by koeselitz at 2:06 PM on January 16, 2007


[sorry]
posted by koeselitz at 2:07 PM on January 16, 2007


"would be able to look past his own shortcomings as a musician to see his own talent as a songwriter"

I'm not even sure what that sentence is supposed to mean.


It means that, as far as musicianship is concerned (ability to sing, play instruments, write music, etc.) he was sorely lacking, hence the terrible "singing-over-other-music-tracks" demos linked here -- but he didn't let that stop him from coming up with compelling melodies, lyrics and compositions; in short, being a strong songwriter while being a weak musician.

I know a little of this first-hand; I'd always written songs, and I always found them compelling, but hesitated to share them with others because I felt my musicianship was sub-standard. Eventually I got past it, took the risks (and the lumps) associated with sharing creative exploits with potential critics, and my level of musicianship is slowly approaching my level of songwriting.

Or my songwriting's getting worse. Time will tell, I guess.
posted by davejay at 2:19 PM on January 16, 2007


Hey Smart Dalek, Beethoven was deaf, Joe Meek - according to the FPP - was tone deaf, meaning he could hear well, but he couldn't differentiate easily between two different notes.


"would be able to look past his own shortcomings as a musician to see his own talent as a songwriter"

I'm not even sure what that sentence is supposed to mean.


It means that he might have not been a great performer, but he could write good music. What is the difference? That he could perhaps conceive great songs, but if he played them himself they would sound like crap.

And finally, roll truck roll, great post m8. Very, very good. You might have just saved the life of my band, though I'm not sure if that is a good or a bad thing ; )
posted by micayetoca at 2:21 PM on January 16, 2007


Good post although I find the use of "Tone Deaf" a bit misleading..

(pedant) A person who is tone deaf lacks relative pitch, the ability to discriminate between musical notes. Being tone deaf is having difficulty or being unable to correctly hear relative differences between notes; however, in common usage, it refers to a person's inability to reproduce them accurately. The latter inability is most often caused by lack of musical training or education and not actual tone deafness.(/pedant)
- from Wikipedia
posted by mary8nne at 3:08 PM on January 16, 2007


Tone deaf. Phooey. Johnnie Ray was almost toally deaf in both ears.

You say you don't know who Johnnie Ray was? He sounded sad upon the radio, he moved a million hearts in mono. Our mothers cried and sang along and who'd blame them.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:22 PM on January 16, 2007


You say you don't know who Johnnie Ray was?

The Nabob of Sob himself
.

Great post, roll truck roll. The BBC Arena documentary on Meek's life and work is well worth keeping an eye out for.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:27 PM on January 16, 2007


This is interesting and all, but can someone please tell me what hits he made besides Telstar?
posted by Afroblanco at 3:32 PM on January 16, 2007


Even if he didn't write other noticeable songs, the story is good enough in itself, and the article says that in the process of transmitting the music he heard in his head to his musicians so that they could record what he couldn't record by himself, he ended up challenging the way music was recorded.

But, if what you want is to read about guys who wrote tons and tons of hits and made heaps and heaps of money, Google "Leiber and Stoller" and read away.
posted by micayetoca at 3:53 PM on January 16, 2007


One of pop music's trailblazers was tone-deaf.

Fitting, then, that his masterwork was covered by the Portsmouth Sinfonia. previously
posted by Shecky at 3:54 PM on January 16, 2007


Sorry, I didn't mean that to sound snarky. I'm genuinely curious.
posted by Afroblanco at 3:58 PM on January 16, 2007


Oh, sorry man. I got carried away. But you do have a point, I don't think he wrote anything else that anyone remembers.
posted by micayetoca at 4:21 PM on January 16, 2007


Tumult, in my experience at least, it turns out that it's surprisingly easy - if really annoying - to write a tune that you can't actually play (yet). What doesn't come across from this post, though it is stated clearly in the Wikipedia article, is that Meek was as much a producer as a songwriter, which does make the whole story make more sense; also there is to this day a whole bunch of kit bearing his name, though the story behind the exact connection there is still not clear to me.
posted by motty at 5:54 PM on January 16, 2007


If we're doing a list of great sort-of-deaf songwriters, don't forget Brian Wilson -- deaf in one ear, he could never hear in stereo.
posted by booksandlibretti at 7:24 PM on January 16, 2007


cool post!

... is the father of Muse frontman and guitarist Matthew Bellamy?

Speaking of Muse, the first time I heard "Knights of Cydonia", I thought: Telstar+ Ennio Morricone. I've always wondered if Matt meant it as a tribute to his dad.

Speaking of Telstar, apparently some French composer sued Meeks for copyright infringement. That plus the fact that the Tornadoes were under contract to back Billy Fury when Telstar became a number 1 hit in the US pretty much kept poor Joe Meeks from cashing in on the success of Telstar, though the link from "completion" up above is a vocal version ultimately recorded by Kenny Hollywood.

Speaking of the Tornadoes, here's a rather wacky video of them playing the Meeks composition "Robot". Highly odd.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:55 PM on January 16, 2007


what a cool video, thx for posting it. I have some friends in a spacey band that will love to "make a tribute" to it next time they do a video.
posted by micayetoca at 8:40 PM on January 16, 2007


I tried not to get too philosophical in the FPP, but man I find these demos inspiring.

I couldn't agree more. In fact, I've learned here that I make music through almost exactly the same process as Meek. Except without the echo-y wailing, which is apparently a mistake.

Great post!
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred at 8:44 PM on January 16, 2007


Oh man....
posted by telstar at 10:17 PM on January 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Telstar is a very important piece of music for me. As a little kid, it was the first single that ever gave me a thrill. Thinking about the music, I discover it has an element of, of all things, trance. The fast beat with much slower music layered on top. Funny the composer's name is Meek. Could be a relative of mine.
posted by Goofyy at 10:47 PM on January 16, 2007


Slamming post, RTR! Thanks!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:58 AM on January 17, 2007


the joe meek kit motty refers to is designed by ted fletcher, who was joe's assistant at his studio. much of meek's equipment (reverbs and compressors etc) was designed and handbuilt by meek from materials such as old garden gates etc. he was a sonic genius IMHO.
posted by peterkins at 6:09 AM on January 17, 2007


You say you don't know who Johnnie Ray was? He sounded sad upon the radio, he moved a million hearts in mono. Our mothers cried and sang along and who'd blame them.

Toora loora toora loo rye aye...
posted by jonp72 at 1:58 PM on January 17, 2007


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