Monday, September 21, 2009

The Tornados

I have a simple confession to make.

There is no pop single that I loved as much as "Telstar" by The Tornados on its release in August 1962. Though this love has diminished somewhat with time, I consider it a truly great pop single that still stirs something of that initial excitement I originally felt when I heard it all those years ago.

At the time I would have considered myself well informed on the pop scene. So I was already aware of the Tornados from a previous unsuccessful single "Love and Fury".
Once however I heard Telstar I decided "this was it" and that I had never heard a better pop instrumental. So like a religious missionary I quickly spread the "good news" to my school pals predicting that it would be a massive hit.

On this at least I was proven correct in a manner that then exceeded all my expectations. Indeed its success filled me with such a sense of pleasure that it might as well have been my own creation.

It quickly went on to top the charts in the UK and in the newly published charts here in Ireland. Then it hit big in the US where the Tornados became the first British group (before the Beatles) to top the Billboard chart.

Its success was largely down to the considerable talents of the legendary Joe Meek who both wrote and produced the song. Meek was a difficult and troubled man who was however ahead of his time in terms of his recording ability (somewhat in the same manner as Les Paul who we profiled previously).

The record's success for a while suggested that the Tornados might rival that great instrumental group of the 60's i.e. the Shadows in popularity. But that was not to be. Though they soon released another good effort "Ridin' the Wind" it was wasted on an EP (which enjoyed limited sales). Though the first few follow-up singles achieved a degree of success, the magic quickly dissipated due to the somewhat repetitive nature of what was on offer.

As Joe Meek's career in parallel also went into decline, he suffered badly from depression. Then on 3rd February 1967 - the 8th anniversary of "the day the music died" - his life ended in tragedy. He murdered his landlady with a handgun before shooting himself deliberating choosing that very day to commit these gruesome acts.

Just as the Shadows were the backing group for Cliff Richard in the 1960's, likewise the Tornados acted as the backing group for Billy Fury for a short while in the early 60's. Billy Fury was a rival in popularity to Cliff at this time and for a brief while their backing groups shared this rivalry.

However though backing Fury on tour they rarely appeared on his studio recordings. Only recently did I have the pleasure to hear them them actually backing "the boss" on "Nobody's Child" (YouTube) which has a special plaintive quality - reminiscent of Elvis Presley's "Old Shep" - that is unmatched on the many other recordings of this song.

PS I was certainly no fan of Margaret Thatcher when she was at the helm in the '80's. However, somewhat surprisingly, I later discovered something in common i.e. that she was a great fan of "Telstar".
Maybe on reflection she was'nt so bad after all!

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