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Published on Nov 22, 2008
Telstar is a 1962 instrumental record performed by The Tornados. It was the first single by a British band to reach number one on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, and was also a number one hit in the UK. The record was named after the AT&T communications satellite Telstar, which went into orbit in July 1962. The song was released five weeks later on 17 August 1962. It was written and produced by Joe Meek, and featured a clavioline, a keyboard instrument with a distinctive electronic sound. This novelty record was intended to evoke the dawn of the space age, complete with sound effects that were meant to sound "space-like". A popular story at the time of the record's release was that the weird distortions and background noise came from sending the signal up to the Telstar satellite and re-recording it back on Earth. It is more likely that the effects were created in Meek's recording studio, which was a small flat above a shop in London. It has been claimed that the sounds intended to symbolize radio signals were produced by Meek running a pen around the rim of an ashtray, and that the "rocket blastoff" at the start of the record was actually a flushing toilet, with the recordings made to sound exotic by playing the tape in reverse at various speeds. The record was an immediate hit after its release on August 17, 1962, remaining in the UK pop charts for 25 weeks, five of them at number one, and in the American charts for 16 weeks.
A French composer, Jean Ledrut, accused Joe Meek of plagiarism, claiming that the tune of "Telstar" had been copied from La Marche d'Austerlitz, a piece from a score that Ledrut had written for the 1960 film Austerlitz. This led to a lawsuit that prevented Meek from receiving royalties from the record during his lifetime, and the issue was not resolved in Meek's favour until a year after his death in 1967. It is unlikely that Meek was aware of Austerlitz, as it had been released only in France at the time.
"Telstar" won an Ivor Novello Award and is estimated to have sold at least five million copies worldwide.