The B-side, “Order Of The Keys,” mines more familiar territory: a simple but exotic melody line, structured like The Tornados’ “Telstar.” Like “Big Feet,” the tune has a hint of ska in its sound, if not its rhythm. Duane Eddy-styled guitar introduces the main theme, built around five notes. The theme doesn’t frantically hop up and down the scale, but metes these notes out gracefully, creating a stately, dramatic mood. The lumbering, sing-songy second strain inspires a graceless performance from the group. A surprising change of key returns us to the main theme, played, a la “Telstar,” by liquid, multi-tracked guitar. “Order Of The Keys,” unlike many of Meek’s post-”Telstar” efforts, doesn’t cheat the listener with a watered down sound alike tune. If its second theme were better, it would rank as one of Meek’s best later instrumentals.

        Some claim that Sounds Incorporated based their act on that of Peter Jay and The Jaywalkers, another group who did time at 304 Holloway Road. Jay’s group boasts a razor-sharp musical attack and crisp, assured playing. Of their handful of Meek-penned recordings, the band’s personality comes through distinctly; they seem to resist Meek’s Svengali touch, which often makes all guitarists and groups sound alike, their playing chopped-up or hopped-up.

        “Oo La La,” from 1963, sounds like something song-hack Mitch Murray (“I Like It,” etc.) might have brewed up on a bender. I don’t think Meek ever devised a more sing-songy tune. Ram-packed with tell-tale major sevenths, it’s viciously performed by the group. Their sparkling attack and enthusiasm disguise the high irritant factor of the tune, especially in the record’s breathtaking last chorus.

        “Jaywalker,” co-written with drummer/bandleader Peter Jay, is built around a very modal chord sequence, sounding like a surf-band rendition of the hillbilly chestnut, “Old Joe Clark.” The tune’s first strain has our expected bouncy Meek melody, vividly coloured by unusual chords. The second section, which is absolutely thrilling, sounds decidedly un-Meek, but it fits beautifully with the first. It’s certainly a fine collaboration, and the band plays the hell out of it. Bolstered by such distinctive Meek touches as multi tracked lead guitar and ghostly electric piano, “Jaywalker” has the bold, cocky sound of the best American surf bands.

        “Totem Pole” is a charming, Buddy Holly-esque melody. In the Jaywalkers’ 1963 version, a chiming keyboard sound reminds the listeners of Holly’s delicate recording, “Everyday.” Jay’s group plays the melody at a sluggish medium tempo, with a full-bodied sound of saxes vs. double-tracked guitars. This tune may be Meek’s single most-appealing sing-song; the melody covers more of the musical scale than normal, and there’s a solid connection between the first and second themes. The recording wants to be a shade faster— a surprising change of pace for an RGM production. A 1965 remake by The Honeycombs takes a faster pace, but sounds thin in comparison with Jay’s version.

        Meek’s best-known instrumental pieces were created for his most popular group, The Tornados. Their sound, based around the antiseptic squeal of the clavioline keyboard, was almost entirely dependent on Meek’s production style. Meek composed around 20 pieces for the group, under a variety of pen names. These tunes range from the sublime to the insipid, and mark a decided turning-point in Meek’s instrumental writing.

        Meek’s first piece for The Tornados, “Swinging Beefeater,” was recorded sometime in early 1962, before the group was officially formed. Taped as a demo, it was later over dubbed and put on a Tornados’ EP. One of the group’s few guitar-driven pieces, “Swinging Beefeater” has one of Meek’s least typical melodies. Fueled by a futuristic, multi-tracked guitar sound, the tune never quite resolves itself, doing a bull-in-a-china-shop routine from section to section. The chaotic melody starkly clashes with the rhythm track’s tidy “twist” feel. It’s a genuinely surprising tune that grows more appealing with repeated listens. A harsh and sloppy production only adds to its attraction.

        The Tornados’ first single featured Meek’s unjustly ignored “Love and Fury.” Dismissed by Repsch in his book, “Love and Fury” has a strong, haunting melody and driving arrangement. It also offers a fascinating rough draft of the group’s next, and most famous, disc, “Telstar.” All of “Telstar”’s elements are present; a galloping, bracing rhythm, shimmering multi-tracked guitar leads, and the presence of the clavioline, identically blended with a lone male voice. Like “Jaywalker,” “Love and Fury” is built on a folky-modal chord sequence. Just as “Telstar” evokes the vast majesty of outer space, “Love and Fury” creates a mood of endless, windswept landscapes, much like the “spaghetti western” themes of Italian composer Ennio Morricone.  “Love and Fury” failed to reach the hit lists, which has given rise to the belief that it’s an artistic failure. Not so; it’s one of Meek’s most potent instrumentals, and deserves a critical reconsideration.

        “Telstar” is considered Joe Meek’s crowning achievement. More has been said about this disarmingly simple melody than any of Meek’s other compositions. But is it really his greatest piece of work?

        “Telstar” creates a special mood— of yearning, exploration, of diving madly into the future that never was — and has an optimistic rush that still commands the listener’s attention. Some 35 years after its creation, “Telstar” has become a poignant relic of the Space Age. In 1962, the melody was an international shot in the arm, an uplifting antidote to the grave international scenario of nuclear crisis.

        You can still feel that intense, brilliant burst of emotion while hearing “Telstar.” In classic Meek fashion, two sections contrast highly different moods. The main theme, started on the brazen clavioline, is forceful, propulsive, suggestive of an aggressive assent into another world. The second theme, dreamily conveyed on a buoyant, multi tracked guitar, has a soaring, meditative aura. The listener has the sensation of coasting gently through an awesome vastness. Hearing this part of “Telstar” is something like staring upwards at a field of stars on a clear night. Perfectly captured is that sense of endless awe; the understanding that the universe is larger than any of us could possibly imagine, its boundaries extending into infinity.

        The brashness of the first theme, on its return, is softened by the addition of a single male voice, doubling the melody line and lending a human element to the synthetic bray of the keyboard. With the voice joining the clavioline, the reflective quality of the tune’s second strain influences its main theme. The mood also rides out the end of the melody, bolstered by triumphant chords from the clavioline, as the sound effects that open the disc finally devour the tune.

        The triumph of “Telstar” leans heavily on the tune’s arrangement and production. The song’s main theme, reduced to a simple melody-line, is standard issue Meek tuneage, coloured by Meek’s usual major-sevenths, played against the chord’s rather common chord changes. The second strain is even simpler, yet due to its quieter feel, it’s more emotionally affecting. “Telstar” is far from being Meek’s most complex or accomplished piece of music. Compared to similar melodies from “I Hear A New World,” it seems just ordinary. It’s the mood of “Telstar,” and Meek’s completely confident production technique, that ultimately distinguish the piece.

        “Telstar”’s international success caused its creator both acclaim and agony. As John Repsch explains in his book, “Telstar” was the centre of a long and painful lawsuit, in which Meek was unjustly accused of plagiarizing another composer’s work. As a result of this trial, Meek never receive any of “Telstar”’s songwriting royalties.

        The success of “Telstar” ironically reduced Meek to copying his own work. Time and again, he pillaged the tune that won him international fame, sometimes merely borrowing the tune’s galloping beat and general sound, but often just barely squeezing by, changing only a handful of notes to fabricate a “new” instrumental. His efforts became increasingly less creative and interesting thereafter. Two of Meek’s closet clones are The Tornados’ “Life On Venus” and The Outlaws’ “The Return Of The Outlaws.”

        The follow up, “Globetrotter,” thankfully avoids the Soundalike Syndrome, at least in its mood. It’s relaxed and fluid throughout. While its tune is obviously built like “Telstar,” it’s much more cheerful and upbeat. It’s one of Meek’s rare up tempo tunes that doesn’t resort to ping-pong melody. The tune has a charming effect on the listener, and it’s refreshing after the space age strum ‘n’ drang of “Telstar.” “Globetrotter” is one of Meek’s more durable instrumental melodies.

        “Hymn For Teenagers,” from 1963, reverses the “Telstar” formula, with a haunting, delicate main melody followed by a less distinguished second strain. Similar to two other Tornados’ recordings, “Dreamin’ On A Cloud” and “All The Stars In The Sky,” “Hymn” has, in its first strain, one of Meek’s most reflective, gentle melodies. The second part, as in “Order Of The Keys,” is a little blah, as if Meek ran out of inspiration, but just wanted to get the thing done. This drab section disrupts the tender mood, and the recording never does quite get back on track.

        In “Hot Pot,” another 1963 recording, clever sound effects and a deep, pulsating rhythm track distinguish one of Meek’s most simple, mesmerizing melodies. A seeming Meek attempt at world music, the tune’s second strain is extremely hypnotic, using manic repetition of a few notes to lull the listener into a momentary trance. Less ambitious than usual, “Hot Pot” is a later standout among Meek instrumentals, making imaginative and effective use of very simple material. Like “Husky Team,” “Hot Pot” is unique among Meek’s melodies.

        There are many other Meek instrumentals worthy of comment. “I Hear A New World” certainly deserves a longer study. But these tunes are essential pieces of Meek’s songwriting career. “Telstar” was Meek’s greatest and most lasting success. Meek may have needed help to fully realize these pieces, but they bear his distinct mark in their often surprising melodies, and mood swings.

        Meek’s pop song efforts are, inevitably, a different breed. The free-flying wonder of “Telstar” and all its instrumental cousins could not be reduced to a few lines of simple verse, set to a three-chord melody. Instead, Meek, like countless other songwriters, mined material from his own emotions— and from the works of other writers he liked. Meek’s early songs bear a strong resemblance to those of such established songsmiths as Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran and Elvis Presley’s stable of composers, including Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and Felice and Boudleaux Bryant.

        As well, the exaggerated, often morbid emotions found in ‘50s country music are close to those in Meek’s lyrics. A casual listen to the hits of Don Gibson, for example, reveals some genuinely creepy emotions, disguised by peppy, buoyant melodies and productions. Gibson’s “Give Myself A Party,” from 1959, is strikingly similar to a Joe Meek lyric in its theme of resigning from life, of choosing to be a lonely SOB, simply because it’s the easy way out. Though they sometimes lack the crafty wordplay of Nashville’s best, many of Meek’s best songs could easily have been recorded by American country singers of the ‘50s and ‘60s.

        Meek certainly found his greatest inspiration in the works of Buddy Holly. Holly’s songs honestly and simply express genuine emotions, using clever turns of phrase and colloquialisms. There’s also a strong romantic optimism in his songs, tempered with the insight of lost love and loneliness. Holly’s was a fresh, direct eloquence that Meek sometimes equaled, and often approached. Whether Holly did, as Meek often claimed, guide his creative hand from beyond the grave, is anyone’s guess. But Holly was unmistakably Meek’s guiding light in his songwriting inspiration.        

        Many of Meek’s early songwriting/production efforts— “Just Too Late,” “Believe Me,” “With This Kiss,” “Don’t Pick On Me,” “My Baby Doll,” “Make Way Baby” — are fine pieces of hook-filled commercial songcraft. “With This Kiss,” a stately R+B flavoured ballad given a dramatic production, is particularly choice.

        Meek also dabbled in different types of song from the era’s typical fare. 1959's “Magic Wheel” is a silly, weird song about love in the abstract sense. 1960's “Early In The Morning” is a spirited, clever folk song pastiche, and 1960's “Paradise Garden” is a daft epic of overblown, windswept romanticism. None of these songs, though, step outside the comfortable boundaries of convention. They could have come from any halfway-decent songwriter, British or American. Meek could certainly have done worse by his various artistes and groups, and performers such as Ricky Wayne and Yolanda perform these early Meek songs with style and enthusiasm.

        One of the first Meek songs to introduce what I believe are his personal emotions about life and romance is 1960's “I’m Waiting For Tomorrow,” recorded by Danny Rivers. A stately, Presley-styled ballad, its very simple lyrics express a sense of nostalgia and longing that will soon pervade Meek’s work:

I'm waiting for tomorrow
and I'm praying every day
that you'll come back to me tomorrow,
and love me the same old way.
I'm waiting for tomorrow,
if you would only say
that you'll come back to me tomorrow,
never more to stray...
In all this great wide world,
with all its precious things
there's nothing quite as wonderful
as your love and what it brings...
I'm waiting for tomorrow
and I'm praying that you'll say
that you'll come back to me tomorrow,
and love me the same old way.
 

        A constant of Meek’s lyrical work is this sense of displacement, of being put on hold by memories and lost affection. These themes are a staple of songwriting, of course, and as commercial as they come. Yet in “I’m Waiting For Tomorrow,” the listener receives a strong feeling that these lines, basic as they are, seem to come from the heart of the person who wrote them.

        Another early song of distinction— in that it sticks out like a sore thumb —is 1960's “The Night You Told A Lie,” recorded by Iain Gregory. This song also looks ahead to Meek’s later lyrics— in which intense, sometimes sinister emotions duke it out with catchy pop melodies:

There was a clap of thunder that shook the earth
and my heart started to cry;
for I was through, and I knew it too --
The night you told me a lie.
The wind was strong, it began to rain
and dark clouds filled up the sky;
Forsaken plea, you deserted me
The night you told me a lie...
Just by chance, I saw you walking with another guy.
Then my world turned upside-down, for I knew our love was to die...
There was a clap of thunder that shook the earth
and my heart started to cry;
for I was through, and I knew it too --
The night you told me a lie.

        The song’s mood, from the opening crash of thunder to the minor keyed bridge (“Just by chance, I saw you walking...”) is a close cousin to may of Del Shannon’s early ‘60s songs. But its aura of desolation and separation are pure Meek. Once again, the narrator’s frustrated romantic experiences put him outside the “regular” world. In his helpless state, he roams this song’s comic-book landscape of shaking earth and clouded sky, moaning like a lost cat. Gregory’s awkward, strained performance complements the tortured outburst of the lyrics. He sounds like he’s really acting out the song’s scenario, in his attempts to hit the right notes of the tune.

        Gregory’s hapless delivery also abets 1962's “Pocketful Of Dreams and Eyes Full Of Tears.” Smothered in a perky production of plucking strings and exotic vibraphone, this song’s psycho-dramatic lyrics can’t help coming off a bit ludicrous;

Got a pocketful of dreams and my eyes full of tears,
can't seem to laugh or cry...
Since my baby said goodbye.
Got a pocketful of dreams and my eyes full of tears,
all because of you...
now that I know our love is through...
They all say it's just a passing phase,
we're both in a haze; love has funny ways...
Got a pocketful of dreams and my eyes full of tears,
oh, I think I would die...
If you really mean goodbye.

        An obvious try at writing a Buddy Holly song, “Pocketful Of Dreams” has a certain woebegone charm. The phrase-making is colourful, and the lyrics are frightfully in touch with the berserk emotions of teen angst. From the memorable line, “Can’t seem to laugh or cry,” to the bridge, with its nod to adult condescension (“They all say it’s just a passing phase...”), “Pocketful Of Dreams” could have easily been the work of some precocious, lovelorn 15 year-old. Whether Meek was expressing his own emotions or trying to make an appealing song for the pop market, he conveys the agony of teen heartbreak with cringing accuracy.

        1962's output also included “Poor Joe,” a song recorded by both Carter-Lewis and Cliff Bennett and The Rebel Rousers. Meek didn’t produce the Carter-Lewis version— easily the best of the two, thanks to the duo’s crisp harmonies and an unaptly cheerful arrangement. Once again, the lyric resembles some love-sick teen’s secret scrawl;

Poor Joe, he's fallen in love,
and he vowed that he wouldn't.
Poor Joe; it was easy as pie,
and he thought that he couldn't.
Poor Joe saw two eyes look his way,
and heard a voice like a dove.
Poor Joe took one kiss from her lips,
and he had fallen in love...
Everyone has got to face it one day --
no use shaking your head or running away.
Poor Joe -- tied up on a string;
He's crying today.
Poor Joe, he's ended his fling;
he gave his heart away.

  

        Self pity is the fuel of a million pop songs, past and present. But few self-pitying songs include their author, by name, as the main figure of the lyric! In “Poor Joe,” we’re back to the stick-figure language of “I’m Waiting For Tomorrow.” Though the lyrics lack in information or imagination, they’re redeemed by the song’s bridge: “...no use shaking your head or running away!” This romantic philosophy makes falling in love sound as appealing as catching the Ebola virus!

        According to Repsch’s book, Bennett’s group rebelled when Meek presented this song to them. The Rebel Rousers, more at home with impersonal, Jerry Lee Lewis-style rockin’, considered this quirky tune a piece of crap, and Meek forced them to record it. Carter-Lewis happily tuck into “Poor Joe.” It’s their sincere, unaware performance, matching Meek’s sincere, unaware lyric, that makes “Poor Joe” as fascinating as a nasty car wreck.

        “Poor Joe” may seem laughable, but “Loneliness,” also from 1962, has been widely cited as one of Meek’s finest lyrics. It’s one of a handful of his songs that might explain how Joe Meek really felt about the world. This song also sports a beautiful melody, especially in the song’s bridge (“I’ll keep on a-waiting...”):

Loneliness, woh woh, he's got his claws in me.
Loneliness, woh woh, seems ot be my destiny.
Made to cry in the night, no-one seems to treat me right...
Loneliness, woh woh, what's to become of me?
Happiness, yeh yeh, always seems to pass me by.
Happiness, yeh yeh; give some to this lonely boy.
I can treat someone good, with everything a lover should.
Loneliness, woh woh, what's to become of me?...
I'll keep on a-waiting, and I know by and by,
out of the blue, I'll find you, and all the angels in
Heaven will cry; in happiness they'll cry for you and I...
Loneliness, woh woh, he's got his claws in me.
Loneliness, woh woh, seems to be my destiny.
Made to cry in the night, no-one seems to treat me right.
Loneliness, woh woh, what's to become of me?

        “Loneliness” is as good as pop songwriting gets. Its everyday words intimately connect the listener in a way comparable to Buddy Holly’s “Well All Right,” “Listen To Me” or “Wishing.” While these lyrics still express an adolescent sense of pain and isolation, they show more emotional maturity than “Poor Joe” or “The Night You Told A Lie.” Coupled with its excellent melody, the lyrics of “Loneliness” walk a spiritual-emotional ground that is uniquely Meek’s.

        This ground is also trod in the obscure “Hey There Stranger,” recorded by Pamela Blue in 1963. Like “Loneliness,” this appears to be one of Meek’s more personal pieces of songwriting. It’s also one of his most atmospheric, conjuring vivid images out of an early ‘60s British film like “Billy Liar,” or “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning”:

Hey there, are you a stranger? Or just a-passin' through?
I haven't seen that face before; let me show you what my love can do.
Hey there, are you a wild boy, a-rovin' this crazy land?
I'm a tear-away without a care, and this love of mine you'll understand...
This town ain't no good for a girl or a boy;
it's as dead as the flies on a wall.
Some days I feel I want to squeal and shout out --
"I hate it all!"...
Hey there, are you a wise boy? If so, then pass me by.
I'll break your heart if you give me the chance.
I'm no good, just leave me here to cry...

        “Hey There Stranger,” one of the most overtly homosexual lyrics in Meek’s songbag, isn’t your ordinary pick-up scenario. Compared to Roy Orbison’s “Oh Pretty Woman,” or Ken Howard and Howard Blaikely’s catchy knock off, “Just A Face In The Crowd,” Meek’s song may seem rather despairing. The narrator’s touch of self loathing, along with his/her lack of doubt that anything will come of a sexual union, takes the tale of this song outside the usual boundaries of boy-girl relationships.

        There’s none of the sexual promise hoped for in the other songs, which both build to a feverish crescendo of desire, even though the protagonist of “Crowd” doesn’t luck out at song’s end. Both these songs are narrated by cowardly straight males: “Hey There Stranger” assigns the sexual quest to a woman. The narrator’s bluntness (“I’ll break your heart if you give me the chance...”) is completely at odds with the submissive role usually given to females in pop songs of this era. The song could well be Meek recounting some of his furtive sexual experiences, and venting his frustration at not finding (or wanting) a long term companion. It’s powerful, realistic material, a completely un-romanticized version of a staple pop-song scenario.

        Meek’s lone musical reference to his gayness happens in The Tornados’ “Do You Come Here Often?”, the b-side to the last single he produced with them. John Repsch describes the song as “...a conversation between two homosexuals meeting...in a nightclub loo...their dialogue, spoken in limp wristed, flirty fashion...(is) full of double meanings.” According to Repsch, meek was “delighted to get away” with the song’s catty, campy stereotyped asides. The number may have been, as Repsch also notes, “especially daring for Joe,” but its self-depreciating attitude is light-years away from modern attitudes of acceptance.

        One has to read between the lines of Meek’s lyrics for clues about his more serious emotional and sexual feelings. It’s notable that the majority of his pop lyrics are gender-free. “I’m Waiting For Tomorrow” and “The Night You Told A Lie” are unisex scenarios— no different from thousands of similar pop songs churned out in this century. Yet they taste strongly of the isolation and ostracization gay men certainly felt in the pre-liberation 1960s. “Loneliness,” for that matter, could almost be seen as an anthem of the plight of many ‘60s homosexuals— perhaps the main reason its words seem so touching and direct.

        In contrast, “Nice While It Lasted,” a 1964 album track for The Honeycombs, is a sneering celebration of romantic rejection— very likely the way many of Meek’s relationships came to an end, fueled by insecurity and low self-esteem:

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