By late 1962, Joe Meek was established as the most successful record producer in modern British history. Emile Ford, Lance Fortune, the Fabulous Flee-Rakkers, George Chakiris, Michael Cox, John Leyton, Mike Berry, Danny Rivers, the Outlaws, the Moontrekkers, Ian Gregory, Don Charles ? there seemed no end to the procession of young hopefuls who would file into Meek?s Holloway Road apartment and emerge hours later with a chart-bound sensation in new sound technology.
It was a frenetic age. Disgusted and distrustful with conventional recording studios, Meek worked from home with a vengeance. An electronic wizard, a sonic visionary and the ultimate handyman fixer-upper, Meek pioneered industrial- rock music when rock itself was still a newborn, pressing household implements into cacophonous service. He could, it is said, do things with elastic bands that you would never imagine.
In July, 1962, inspired by the launch of the American telecommunications satellite Telstar, Meek wrote what remains his piece de resistance, the piping instrumental ?The Theme From Telstar,? or ?Telstar? as it is better known. Dominated by the clavioline he had recently purchased, wailing over the backing track to another song, Mike Berry?s recently released ?Every Little Kiss,? Meek recorded ?Telstar? with the Tornadoes the following Sunday; sold it to Decca the following week; and it was on its way to #1 by the beginning of September. It would eventually stay at the top in the U.K. for five weeks, and installed the Tornadoes as the first British band ever to make #1 in America.
But there?s another side to ?Telstar? that even Meek?s greatest supporters are only dimly aware of: a vocal version that sank into obscurity so quickly that the only reason most people even remember it is a rumor that Marc Bolan was the vocalist. But he wasn?t.
Andrew Loog Oldham, the future Rolling Stones manager, was working as a freelance press agent when Meek approached him to help promote the record. ?I first ran into Joe Meek when the Tornadoes joined Mark Wynter [one of Oldham?s clients], Billy Fury, Joe Brown and Karl Denver on an October, 1962, British tour,? Oldham said. ?He only came along to a couple of shows, in the London area, but turned up again when the Tornadoes landed a spot in the movie ?Just For Fun? [which also featured Wynter]. We talked, and he asked me to drop by his office in the Holloway Road, where he said he had a project which might interest me.?
At the beginning of November, Oldham turned up at 304 Holloway Road. He was there to be introduced to Meek?s latest protegee, a 15-year-old boy who greeted the 18-year-old Oldham with a shy nod and a smile. His name was Kenny Plows, a would-be singer and keyboard player from nearby Welwyn Garden City, but Meek had no time for such mundane realities. ?This is Kenny Hollywood,? Meek announced, and Oldham admits, ?My brain was working overtime. I thought he wanted me to promote child pornography.?
Meek continued. ?It?s a lovely name, isn?t it?? and, while Oldham simply smiled, the producer placed an acetate on the record player and announced that what he was about to hear was the best record Joe Meek had ever produced. And then came that distinctive, whooshing beginning.
?It?s ?Telstar?!? Oldham shouted.
?It?s ?Magic Star?!? Kenny Hollywood countered, while Meek launched into a story about how the youngster had simply turned up on his doorstep one morning bearing the lyrics they were now listening to. In fact, Meek himself wrote the lyrics, a very entertaining ode to lost (maybe, given the man?s fascination with the supernatural, and the dead) love anchored around a soaring chorus. ?Magic star up above,? piped Kenny, in a voice that bristled with teen-dream exuberance,