The Ron Kane Files

Writing About Music

Thursday, November 13, 2008

England, 1962

11-13-08 England, 1962

For the next couple of days, I am going to be looking at what was once referred to as the “British Beat Boom”. While it could be argued that it began with either Lonnie Donnegan (“Rock Island Line” or “My Old Man’s A Dustman”) or perhaps Lord Rockingham’s XI (“Hoots Mon”)…I have chosen The Tornados “Telstar” as the starting point for this examination.

British producer Joe Meek had already had big hits with singer John Leyton (notably “Johnny Remember Me”) – but I have always suspected that The Tornados were formed to be in the style of The Shadows (Cliff Richard’s backing band). How were they to know that “Telstar” would virtually wipe away the competition – internationally!?

It’s too long ago for me to remember the sequence clearly; did I hear “Telstar” on the AM radio before or after The Beatles? America, even the west coast – so far away! The ‘order’ of the ‘beat boom’ doesn’t match between the UK and the US. Indeed, the US even got some different ‘hits’ than the UK (as we’ll see later on).

Other stuff in the chart in England in 1962: Cliff Richard & The Shadows, Elvis Presley, B. Bumble & The Stingers, Mike Sarne with Wendy Richard, Ray Charles (“I Can’t Stop Loving You”), and Frank Ifield. These are the artists with the really big hits of ’62 – with The Tornados. I suppose it’s possible to consider that “Telstar” derives from a combination of the power of instrumental rock & roll records of the day (i.e. The Shadows “Wonderland Land” or “Kon-Tiki” and possibly even new entrants B. Bumble & The Stingers “Nut Rocker”). But one thing is certain – Joe Meek did something that few in England had ever done: He got the attention of the American record-buying public.

The astonishing feat of selling British music to America did not originate with “Telstar” – the previously mentioned Lonnie Donnegan had US singles (notably “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose It’s Flavor On The Bedpost Overnight?”), and let’s not forget Mr. Acker Bilk “Stranger On The Shore” (also a US hit in ’62).

The timing is slightly “off” – Elvis Presley “Return To Sender” – big hit in England 12/13/62, big hit in the US 10/27/62. Evidence of how long it took to get from the US to the UK – but did the machine even move in the other direction? With both “Stranger On The Shore” and “Telstar” – the ‘machine’ (of the music business) did, in fact, operate in the direction of England to the US. Not that you’d know that by how things seem to go in 1962/3!

“Love Me Do” by The Beatles charted in October 1962. It only got to #17.

The British ‘beat boom’ reached America (officially) on February 1, 1964, with The Beatles “I Want To Hold Your Hand” becoming a massive US hit. The machine would definitely (eventually) speed up.


Blogger chas_m said...

You're hitting a lot of my buttons here! While criminally underrepresented in my physical-CD collection, the "transition" of rock from fringe to mainstream -- which really seemed to come to a head in 61-62, right around the time I was being born -- is a subject I've researched many times. It's definitely a period that doesn't receive the attention it should, as like every good period of musical turmoil, a hell of a lot of timelessly great material is created.

The Tornadoes always remind me of vintage toys -- obviously a product of their own age, but still endlessly fun and enjoyable!

Somewhere there is an alternate Earth, where the Beatles never got it together, Cliff Richard became the biggest star in the world, and Joe Meek was a household name associated with can't-miss hit music.

9:12 AM  
Anonymous Jim Donato said...


I thought Sir Cliff WAS the biggest star in the world! WHat else do you call a man with a career EVEN LONGER than the Rolling Stones??!! I mean 260 MILLION records sold; that ain't chopped livah!

12:55 PM  
Anonymous Jim Donato said...

Hey! Want to listen to OMD's boffo cover of "Telstar" from their primordial ooze daze? Listen here:

12:58 PM  

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