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The Tornados Were Number One 50 Years Ago This Week

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The United States launched the world’s first active, direct-relay communications satellite on July 10, 1962. Telstar 1 was designed to relay television signals between the United States and Europe.

Meanwhile back in the U.K., drummer Clem Cattini, lead guitarist Alan Caddy, keyboardist Roger Lavern, rhythm guitarist George Bellamy, and bassist Heinz Burt were serving as the backing band for British artist Billy Fury under the name of The Tornados.

Enter writer/producer Joe Meek. He had used Telstar as the idea for an instrumental song he had written. He decided to use The Tornados to record that song.

I don’t know if “Telstar” was considered the first space record but it had a sound that made you envision communications from outer space. It was the keyboards that provided the otherworldly imagery as they just hummed and buzzed throughout the song. It was an immediate hit in the United States as the song topped the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart 50 years ago this week and remained there for three weeks. It was a bigger hit in their home country as it was the U.K.’s number one single for five weeks.

Acker Bilk’s single “Stranger on the Shore” was the first British single to reach number one in the U.S. when it topped the charts earlier in the year, but The Tornados were the first British group to reach number one. The Beatles would become the second.

The Tornados would never duplicate the success of their biggest hit. They had one more minor hit in the U.S. the next year, but by 1965 all the original members had departed. By 1967 the band was history. The original members reunited once during 1975 to record an updated version of their biggest hit but without commercial success.

Today, “Telstar” is a quaint and somewhat antiquated reminder of the simple music of the early 1960s, pre-Beatles era. In its day, however, “Telstar” blasted off on a journey to the top of the charts.

About David Bowling