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Mining Gold From The Music Stream: Joe Meek & The Blue Men - I Hear A New World

Aaron M. Olson, Messenger Clerk, Silver Lake Branch Library,
Joe Meek at his home recording studio, 1960s
Joe Meek at his home recording studio, 1960s

Composer and producer of the timeless instrumental classic "Telstar,” Joe Meek was one of the most influential rock n’ roll producers of all time. A scrappier counterpart (or perhaps counterpoint) to Phil Spector—the extremely successful producer/arranger across the Atlantic—Meek created his own unique world of sound full of twangy guitars, galloping rhythms, bouncing pianos, and wholly out-of-this-world weirdness. Unlike Spector with his access to state-of-the-art soundstages and session musicians in Los Angeles, Meek’s sonic explorations were a product of ingenuity in the face of limitations. Working from his humble London home studio located in a flat above a leather goods store, Meek resorted to unconventional means of recreating the grand sounds of his mind—building his own compact spring reverb, some say as early as 1957, before they were ever in mass production, pushing compression to its limits to create his signature punchy sound, diving deep into tape manipulation to create an altered pitch, flagging, and echo, and in general building or modifying almost every piece of gear in his employ.

The Meek-brand weirdness, far-out upon a moment’s inspection, was somehow always grounded in something relatable and alluring to the masses, though; be it an undeniable earworm of a melody or a foot-tapping danceable rhythm section. It’s on the record in question here that Meek takes his experiments in sound to the furthest reaches of… well…outer space. I Hear A New World is Meek's opus of speculative fiction: an imagining of what the heavens, space, and aliens sound like. The sound of those speculations is a truly experimental work of art that pushes the ear and mind, inciting one to ponder the origins of such alien sounds (especially given that this was in 1960). It wouldn’t be a Joe Meek production, though, without a little bit of that good old Meek pop sensibility—the tunes are still somehow foot-tapping and catchy as ever, albeit dripping in alien ephemera. I Hear A New World is truly out there, bringing to mind something between kings of Avant-weirdness, The Residents, who would come around about a decade later, and Meek’s own house band, The Tornados, who had the hit with the aforementioned “Telstar”.

The Tornados Play Telstar And Other Great Hits

Sadly, like his fellow sonic explorer Phil Spector, Meek’s reign culminated in gun violence. As his popularity waned and his earnings dwindled, Meek, whose personal life was not easy—living as a gay man in an unsympathetic time, and struggling with bipolar disorder—ended his own life after murdering his landlord in a fit of rage. Though tragic in life and death, Meek left behind a wealth and legacy of inspiring, intriguing, and uplifting music. In fact, legend has it that upwards of 1,800 reel to reel tapes were left behind in the wake of Meek’s untimely demise and that there is currently an effort to restore, preserve and catalog the lot of them; Hopefully culminating in some new releases of unheard sounds, songs, and the like.

Initially released as a four-song EP in 1960, the originally intended full album version was finally released in 1991. From I Hear A New World, check out the haunting, slightly unnerving, yet beautiful title track “I Hear A New World," the galloping Hawaiian slide guitar extravaganza of "The Bublight," and the tender spaced-out slow dance farewell in "Valley Of No Return."

Also available in the library’s collection is the 2008 biopic about Meek, Telstar: The Joe Meek Story, as well as the 2005 play, Telstar, on which it was based.

I Hear A New World is available on Freegal.

I Hear a New World: An Outer Space Music Fantasy