Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Not So New Music

It's hard to put into words the impact that Joe Meek has had on the past fifty years of pop music in a brief blog post. I am going to do what I can but I also recommend you download the two out-of-print collections I have provided below, read the book The Legendary Joe Meek: The Telstar Man by John Repsch and that you watch the fantastic Arena documentary The Strange Story of Joe Meek, conveniently embedded below.

Joe was one of those cats who seemed to have no sense of the world around him, or if he did he openly thumbed his nose at it. Meek's output as a producer in the early to mid sixties offers a seemingly endless treasure trove of twisted pop gems. Tales of teenager heartache infused with elements of the occult (which Meek was VERY interested in) and recording techniques that, then and now, defy logical thought.

Meek had been recording and engineering sessions for artist of all genres throughout the 50's but his most important work wasn't until the dawn of the sixties. It was then he opened up his in home studio where he would do all his recording, his way throughout the decade. Working in his own home, in his own element outside the watch full eye of studio execs allowed Meek the freedom to take risk and record those risk on tape.

Above all Joe Meek just didn't give a fuck in the studio. His experimentation with effects, recording tricks, instrument deconstruction and noise had nothing to do with a hard fought internal struggle to break down pop conventions (Brian Wilson, Syd Barret) and everything to do with manifesting the music that bopped in his brain . His disregard and eventual disdain for the mainstream hit factory had surprising positive results. The kids loved it and bought it in droves, many of those hits can be found on the collection posted here.

The main stream hits that Meek released mirror most his American counterpart and contemporary Phil Spector. Both were pop visionaries at a time when pop music was about as lame as it has ever been. Both sought to turn the idea of what "the kids" would be listening to upside down, but in very different ways. Both share a dirty and amateur sound. No great singers or crystal clear vocals, all heart and spunk without the studio refinement. Spector had his Wall of Sound and honed in on the precise elements that composed that sound. With each ground breaking and chart topping single Spector worked to refine that Wall of Sound. Meek took a different approach by never getting caught up on one idea, technique or approach. Instead he would constantly be experimenting and recording, painting as many pictures as he could with sound.

The naiveté inherent through out Meek's recordings is endearing like no other. There is an emotional directness shared by his contemporaries Burt Bacharach and Hal David coupled with the anti-establishment sounds of Lee Hazelwood and Billy Strange. Meek takes this all one step further with his informed but innocent spirit resulting in post modern, yet personal avant art that acts like The Residents, Talking Heads and even Beat Happening would later explore.

Meek's popularity began to wain in the mid sixties due to a "lurid sex conviction" which shook up his personal life and drew him into depression and even deeper into his fascination and paranoia with the paranormal. Joe would do things like talk to cats, record in graveyards and commit a murder suicide on the anniversary of his idol Buddy Holly's death. All of these things, along with The Rolling Stones, left Meek with his last hit and last breath in 1967.

But I know what you are really here for is the free music! It's Hard to Believe It is the best one disc collection of the man's work. It is missing some key tracks including a personal favorite The Blue Rondo's Little Baby. Also included is the out-of-print Vampires Cowboys Spacemen & Spooks, a 2CD collection of Meek instrumentals for those of you who can't handle pop music.

Other releases that are in print and recommended, once you realize you can't get enough include I Hear a New World, the 1960 space pop oddity that has more in common with The Residents than anything going on with his contemporaries at the time. Much later in his career the desire to produce more hits and recover money he never received for past hits, forced Meek to jump on the "beat" bandwagon. It was in this time he recorded some more straight forward (but classically Meek) Nuggets style garage tunes. These can be found on the collection Joe Meek's: Freakbeat: 30 Freakbeat Mob & R&B. And if anyone can hook me up with a copy of Joe Meek: The Alchemist of Pop, which seems the only place to find the track Jack the Ripper on CD, that would be most appreciated.


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