An Outer Space Music Fantasy
art by Ron 2008
“I hear a new world calling me. So strange and so real, haunting me. How can I tell her what’s in store for me? I hear a new world calling me.”
Let’s go ahead and get the tabloid sensationalism out of the way right now. It is not my goal to drag Joe’s name through the mud but facts are facts and Joe Meek was an oddball, a misfit, tone deaf, and unable to sing or play a musical instrument. He was gay, queer in those days, and a genius with electronics. Meek shot and killed his landlady at 304 Holloway Road before turning Heinz Burt’s shotgun on himself. There is endless speculation about the reasoning behind this and how the event actually went down but whatever happened the result was the death of Violet Shenton and Joe, age 37, on the eighth anniversary of Buddy Holly’s untimely death in a stormy plane crash, February 3rd 1959; a date that has come to be known as the day the music died. Indeed it was the day the music died, now doubled.
Meek, along with collaborator Geoff Goddard, was prone to asking Buddy Holly’s thoughts on records through séances and Ouija boards. If that’s not enough to get him an honored spot in the devil’s collection of 45s, certainly his incredible output as an engineer and independent record producer would. Robert George Meek could claim as much or more innovation than any five of his contemporaries. During his scant dozen years in the engineering and production of jazz, skiffle and pop records, Joe was involved with or directly responsible for more hit records than mere chance can account for.
Joe’s work is as impressive as it is quirky, from the in your face trumpet of Humphrey Lyttleton’s “Bad Penny Blues”, not to mention an opening piano part that served the Beatles so well on “Lady Madonna”, to the Riot Squad’s “Bitter Sweet Love” released just a month before Meeks’ unfortunate suicide. Nearly everyone familiar with pop music knows “Telstar”, a worldwide hit in 1962 for the Tornados, that has been covered but never equaled, countless times, most successfully by the Ventures. The shear audacity of that record changed the face, the sound and the very soul of pop music. The brilliance of that recording is almost entirely Joe Meek. It cements his star in the pop galaxy even if he had done nothing else. Joe sealed his economic fate when he passed on the Beatles and the “Beat Boom”. The royalties for “Telstar” were recovered only after his death.
While he proved to be “wrong” with his pronunciations that guitar music was dead, he has in the long run with hindsight proved to be prophetic. Guitar music was, essentially dead but it would take another 25 years for the kicking and screaming carcass of that crass hellion to be dragged away. I think I can still hear him sometimes, clawing that the back door.
But let’s go back a bit, to 1959 and Joe’s vision, the sound of a future in space, in an alien language; “I Hear a New World”. “Yes, this is a strange record. I meant it to be. I wanted to create a picture in music of what could be up there in outer space”. These explanatory words from Joe are taken directly from the sleeve of the original “I Hear a New World” extended play 45rpm record (Triumph RGX ST5000) released in March of 1960. The album as Joe envisioned it was never issued. It is a strange record indeed, strange and beautiful. There are actually two versions of the album available on CD today. The first, released by RPM Records in 1991 (RPM502) is an “enhanced” version that brings it up to the very dubious modern standards. The one I will deal with here was released as a companion piece to Barry Cleveland’s “Creative Music Production: Joe Meek’s BOLD Techniques” (MIX Books 2001).
Recorded in 1959 at his Arundel Gardens studio and possibly on the sly at Lansdowne, a studio he helped design and build, this version was taken directly from a “white label” test pressing for the LP, intended for release on Triumph Records (TRX-ST9000) in May 1960, plus the addition of an alternate mix of the title track. I want to say right up front that this “outer space fantasy” is as forward thinking as any piece of music ever recorded. It is an essential document, as are nearly all of Meeks recordings, that fore tells the true future of music.
The only fault I can find with it is an audible tape splicing glitch in track 5, “Magnetic Field”, that Meek would have likely “corrected” had his masterwork reached fruition.
In the summer of ’59 Gysin invents the “cut-up”. John Cage was reaching a level of acceptance. Burroughs published “Naked Lunch" in 1959. Johnny Cash releases his landmark LP in December ’58 on Sun Records. Cliff Richard and Lonnie Donegan were in the British charts. This recording was Joe’s way of saying your new world will be in stereo. It was an announcement and grand gesture t’ward everything from Pink Floyd to Brian Eno and beyond. Electronic music, sampling, use your imagination, it’s all there. Beginning with “I Hear a New World” the only semi-traditional song structure with those oddly open ended lyrics, quoted above, the space fantasy is constructed more in movements. “Glob Waterfall”, “The Entry of the Globbots”, “The Valley of the Saroos”, “Magnetic Field”, “Orbit Around the Moon”, “The Bublight”, “March of the Dribcots”, “Love Dance of the Saroos”, “Dribcots Space Boat”, “Disc Dance of the Dribcots” and “The Valley of No Return”. This music is quaint in a very appealing way and reminds me of days, now lost, when real imagination counted for something. There is something basic and organic about the way these “futuristic” sounds are sliced and diced together into something so basically human as to give pause, “How can I tell her what’s in store for me?”
“At first I was going to make a record with music that was completely out of this world, but realized that it would have very little entertainment value, so I kept the construction of the music down to earth and wrote tunes that I hope you will grow to like.”
Joe’s last words, scribbled on a little piece of paper and handed to Patrick Pink were: “I’m going now. Goodbye”.