Every once in a while, someone approaches us to ask, "Telstar, eh? So do you take your name from the satellite, or the song?"
The answer is: Yes.
The history of the song is inseparable from the history of the satellite. Produced by Joe Meek, inspired directly by the launch of Telstar I, and recorded by the Tornadoes, "Telstar" became a #1 hit in the UK and US in 1962, just a few weeks after Telstar I settled into orbit. It went on to become an instrumental-only oldies/surf standard, covered by the likes of The Ventures... and many lesser lights.
Today, the original "Telstar" sounds like the kind of music you'd expect to hear during all all-skate session at your local roller rink. But it's certainly fun. Give it a listen for yourself...
Wikipedia history of "Telstar" (the song): Link
Joe Meek's original "Telstar," performed by the Tornadoes (1962): Download MP3
"Telstar" by the Ventures (1963): Download MP3
"Telstar" by Hans Annéllsson (1999): Download MP3
"Telstar" by Seksu Roba (2004): Download MP3
More "Telstar" history, as cribbed from RetroFuture:
It's July 10, 1962. Millions of people are watching television hoping to catch a glimpse of the first transmission from a tiny communications satellite called Telstar. Among those who are sitting glued to their TV sets is a British music producer named Joe Meek.
An avowed space buff, Meek watches with wonder as the first transmission is relayed and the first TV picture -- an American flag-- is beamed from space. The age of telecommunications has begun.
Meek is inspired by what he has seen. After the show ends, he begins work on a new composition he calls "The Theme from Telstar." The song has an infectious melody and Meek realizes it has all the makings of a hit.
The next morning, he gives a call to the Tornadoes, a crack instrumental outfit popular on the British club circuit. They trek up to Meek's studios at 304 Holloway Road in North London to give a listen to Meek's latest stab at pop immortality. Although they are not immediately impressed by "Telstar," they decided to give it a try anyway.
After the session is completed, the Tornadoes leave Meek's studio and go back on the road. But Meek--a visionary producer with an abiding love for weird special effects--is far from done. He knows his ode to "Telstar" needs something extra. First, he overdubs the sound of a Clavioline, an electronic keyboard with an otherworldly sound.
And, finally, for extra effect, Meek adds the reverberation of a rocket lifting off (purportedly the sound of a flushed toilet played backwards).
In one frenzied burst, Meek creates a three-minute pop music masterpiece. Decca Records, hearing its potential, rushes the record out with the shortened title "Telstar" and, in short order, it vaults to number one on the British music charts. Eventually, it becomes the best-selling instrumental in the country's history.
Overseas, "Telstar" is an international sensation. When the single climbs to number one in the U.S., the Tornadoes achieve the notable distinction of being the first British group to top the charts in America, a full year before the Beatles and the British Invasion.
UPDATE APRIL 2007:
The always-excellent Office Naps blog has compiled a collection of derivative tunes inspired by Joe Meek's "Telstar." Links and background provided at The Sounds of the "Telstar" Vapor Trail.