Friday, 18 September 2015

Groundbreaking Singles. Telstar ~ The Tornadoes

Telstar – The Tornadoes

The idea of penning and recording your own hit record from a room above a shop in Holloway Road London, sounds like the story of modern DIY computer based recording rather than a global hit from 1962, but that is exactly how this ground-breaking single was made.

Writer & Producer Joe Meek had set up his own production company RGM Sound Ltd and built a home studio at 304 Holloway Road, the first number one record recorded here was Johnny Leyton’s “Johnny Remember Me” in 1961. At ten years old Meek had been given a gramophone and was fascinated by discovery that he could shout into the machine when the stylus was in the run-out groove and he could hear it back. His love for electronics was exploited during National Service by The Royal Air Force, working as a radar technician after which he worked for the Midlands Electricity Board before becoming an audio technician for a production company in 1954. By this time he had already acquired a disc cutter and produced his own records. 

Fascinated by Outer-Space, Meek’s production of the Clavoline Keyboard (an early type of synthesiser that uses valves to produce a square wave) that plays the main melody is given a gargantuan amount of compression that made it jump out of the small speakers of transistor radios at the time. Meek said that his music was “completely pop minded”; the antithesis of the uncorrupted and transparent sounds of classical and jazz recordings of the time. Even pop music had a more natural sound, listen to former number ones of 1962 such as Acker Bilk’s Stranger On The Shore & Cliff Richard’s The Young One’s and you can begin to understand how revolutionary and exiting this must have sounded as it was unleashed on an unsuspecting public.

The song starts with mechanical effects, before a chromatic lift off takes you on a Flash Gordon adventure; with the actual Telstar satellite orbiting overhead it must have felt like the future had arrived. Not only did the British public embrace this shiny new rocket shaped sound, it became the first US number one for a British band. (The first artist was Vera Lynn in 1952, second the aforementioned Acker Bilk in 1962).

Sadly, Meeks love for Outer Space & the Occult (he would regularly set up tape machines in graveyards to capture voices from the dead) along with a plagiarism lawsuit from French composer Jean Ledrut that stopped Meek from earning any royalties from Telstar and the belief that Decca placed “secret” microphones in the walls of his studio, all fuelled his depression and paranoia which culminated in him shooting his landlady and himself in 1967. 

The Tornadoes themselves would limp on through the sixties with various line-up changes, eventually reforming for a remake of Telstar in 1975 which lacks the atmosphere & vibe of the original.

Friday, 11 September 2015

The Who Track Singles Box Set - due Oct 30th

Hot off the press-

The Who's third singles box set will be released on the 30th of October. Given the incredible quality of the first two sets (Brunswick & Reaction) this is one of the hottest releases of the year.

Comprising of 14 singles from "Pictures Of Lily" through to Quadrophenia's "5:15" and the Tommy EP, this set covers the golden age of The Who.
The full track list is below but several questions have yet to be answered.

Will "I Can See For Miles" be the original single mix that is vastly superior to the album version? Hopefully all the singles will be in there original UK mix form. 

Will "Call Me Lightning" & "Dr Jeckyll And Mr Hyde" be in their superior UK mix versions?  Given the output so far I would imagine they are. 
Will these singles be mono up to and including "Magic Bus"?

It looks like the Tommy EP & "Won't Get Fooled Again" will be released in picture bags, none of the other singles were in the UK. 

Given the high quality of the previous sets, hopefully these were mastered and cut at Abbey Road again. Some of the B sides have only seen a very limited release since these singles were first issued so it is another essential Who purchase on offer here.

To pre-order visit The Who .com


  1. ‘Pictures of Lily’ b/w ‘Doctor Doctor’
  2. ‘The Last Time’ b/w Under My Thumb
  3. ‘I Can See For Miles’ b/w ‘Someone’s Coming’
  4. ‘Dogs’ b/w ‘Call Me Lightning’
  5. ‘Magic Bus’ b/w ‘Dr Jeckyll & Mr Hyde’ 
  6. ‘Pinball Wizard’ b/w ‘Dogs Part Two’
  7. ‘The Seeker’ b/w ‘Here For More’
  8. ‘Summertime Blues’ b/w ‘Heaven and Hell’
  9. ‘See Me, Feel Me b/w ‘Overture’
  10. TOMMY (EP): ‘See Me, Feel Me’, ‘Christmas’ b/w ‘Overture’, ‘I’m Free
  11. ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ b/w ‘Don’t Know Myself’
  12. ‘Let’s See Action’ b/w ‘When I Was A Boy’
  13. ‘Join Together’ b/w ‘Baby Don’t You Do It’
  14. ‘Relay’ b/w ‘Waspman’
  15. ‘5.15’ b/w ‘Water’

Who pressed these UK Records?

Who pressed these records in the UK?

Hint - It wasn’t EMI


The majority of Beatle records distributed by EMI were pressed at EMI’s Hayes Factory, however, despite the fact that the factory had approximately 120 record presses with the ability to press up to 120,000 records a day, the demand for Beatles records outstripped supply.

Welcome to the dark world of contract pressings.

The Hey Jude on the left was actually pressed at the Phillips Plant in Walthamstow, easily recognizable by the three prong cut out, this is the only Beatles record pressed at this plant. Along with its own records and subsidiary label Fontana, the factory also pressed records for Polydor, Reaction, Track and prior to 1965 CBS.

The Hey Jude on the right was pressed by Pye at their Mitcham plant in Surrey, identified by a larger cut out gap and a wider step on the cut out than the EMI pressing (See below left). Pye also pressed The Beatles “Million Sellers EP” and just to add to the confusion both were also available without the cutout, known as solid centres (See below right). 


Above - EMI Hayes Pressings – Cut out & Solid Centre.



At Decca’s record plant in New Malden, Surrey, both “Please Please Me” & “With The Beatles” had mono albums pressed here, along with the singles “She Loves You”, “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, “I Feel Fine”, “Help!” and “Hello Goodbye”. 



Unlike the flat edge of EMI & Decca, Orioles pressings can be identified by a sharp edge. The singles “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “I Feel Fine” were pressed at Oriole’s Slough factory. These are sometimes confused with Pye pressings because Oriole also manufactured singles for Pye.



There is another UK pressing of Hey Jude out there, in both cut out and solid centre, pressed at their Buckinghamshire plant, it’s the only Beatles UK pressing by CBS. 

Decca Pressing "With The Beatles"


Friday, 4 September 2015

Columbia 30th St. Studios

Ask someone to name a recording studio and the most likely reply would be Abbey Road in London. Those wishing to flex a bit more musical muscle might mention Trident, Air & Olympic in London, Hitsville in Detroit, Sun Studio in Tennessee, Muscle Shoals in Alabama and The Power Plant in NYC to name just a few. 
However, ask someone who loves jazz and they are likely to say the Columbia 30th St Studios.

By the late 1940’s with TV encroaching on studio space, Columbia looked at acquiring new studio in Manhattan to facilitate recordings for its new 12 inch 33 1/3 RPM Microgroove Record. Mitch Miller, Columbia’s head of A&R came down to view a potential location in the Murray Hill neighbourhood, a church built in 1875, which had housed various congregations from Presbyterians to Armenian Evangelicals up to 1921. Miller, who was also a producer, conductor and musician, instantly recognized the beautiful acoustics as he walked inside the 100ft cubed space. He ordered that it was not to be changed or even cleaned, stating “I want that studio untouched by human hands”. 

An engineer who spent many years at 30th St was Frank Laico. “It was our job to make the recordings as transparent as possible”. A sharp contrast to the effects added to recordings by the 1960’s and the antithesis of modern digital manipulations of all sounds. 

Initially used for classical and Broadway Productions such as West Side Story, the 30th Street legacy is with some of the greatest records ever made. Miles Davis Kind Of Blue, Charles Mingus Mingus Ah Um and the Dave Brubeck Quartet Time Out” all are imprinted by the beautiful acoustics of what was known as “The Church”. 
Records were cut live with the singer singing with the orchestra. Even if the singer wanted to do overdubs, Laicowould usually put a monitor next to them. Whilst this would cause “leakage” (the original sound of the backing track being heard on the vocal track), it gave it a more natural sound. 
Tony Bennett recorded “I left my heart in San Francisco” and the accompanying album at 30th St along with Percy Faith’s “Theme From A Summer Place”. The roll calls goes on, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Billy Holliday, Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel to name a handful. 
By the 1970’s the acoustics had changed beyond recognition, not only had someone put a mop round, but the trend to deaden the recorded sound saw baffles and carpet everywhere. The orchestrations on Pink Floyds “The Wall were recorded here, along with Billy Joel’s Turnstiles” and George Benson’s “Living Inside Your Love”

Columbia/CBS gave up the building in 1982, soon after it was sold, demolished and developed. There now stands a residential apartments building called “The Wiltshire”. 
For a more in depth look at Columbia’s 30th Street Studio, here’s an interview with Frank Laico