Phil Dirt - Reverb Central - PO Box 1609, Felton, CA 95018-1609 USA
Collection: Vampires Cowboys Spacemen And Spooks: The Very Best Of Joe Meek's Instrumentalsdotdotdot
artworkJoe Meek has mystical cult status in the record business. Unlike most others, his is based on not doing great things within the mold. Meek was fired from many studios during a period in England when recording engineers wore white lab coast and did things in very precise ways. Meek, on the other hand, did things his way. Where others were trying to always improve sound quality and dynamics, meek was all about squishing the life out of everything using compression, or more correctly, levelers, often in series. The affect could be likened to Phil Spector's wall of sound, but without the thick layered arranging. Meek was a totally unique character. This monumental two CD set contains 60 instrumental tracks, mostly singles, from his huge body of work. While it's a mere scratch on the surface, it sure does present the flavor and style of Joe Meek.
Picks: The Ambassadors - Surfin' John Brown, The Flee Rekkers - Green Jeans, Sunday Date, Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers - Can Can '62, Totem Pole, Roger LaVern And The Microns - Moon Rocket, The Moontrekkers - Night Of The Vampire, Dance Legless Russian, The Outlaws - Swingin' Low, Valley Of The Sioux, Ambush, Last Stage West, The Ramblers - Just For Chicks, Dodge City, The Saints - Wipe Out, The Saxons - Saxon War Cry, The Spooks - Spook Walks, The Tornados - Ridin' The Wind, Life On Venus, Robot, Exodus, Jungle Fever, Telstar, Dragonfly, The Ice Cream Man

Track by Track Review


The Ambassadors - Surfin' John Brown dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Another Joe Meek attempt at the surf sound, based on "Glory Glory Alleluia." Little more than interesting, like a minor Tornadoes thing, though the guitar is quite intense and almost has a surf twang.

The Ambassadors - Big Breaker dotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Joe Meek's production does not make this surf, nor does the inclusion of the annoying chorus. It has the UK guitar sound of the Shadows, not the surf sound, and a melody that is clearly not West Coast. The Ambassadors are believed to be the Saints in disguise.

Chico Arnaz and his Latin American Orchestra - Yashmak dotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Among the few stereo tracks Meek cut, "Yashmak" features exotic percussion and a beat that fits the name. The horn, on the other hand, is just too smooth for the song unless you are expecting adult contemporary klezmer.

Charles Blackwell Orchestra - Taboo dotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Margarita Lecuona and Bob Russell's "Taboo" is one of those really cool melodies that is so flexible that it is easy to adapt. This version starts out with great booming bass and percussion, but looses its edge when the horns and chorus come along. Extra points for being inventive orchestral.

Charles Blackwell Orchestra - Midnight In Luxembourg
Rock (Instrumental)

Violins, fake mariachi horns, and a playful middle of the road melody. If "Midnight In Luxembourg" was playing in the lobby of your dentist's office, you wouldn't look up from your 9 month old copy of Outdoor Life. The chorus sings a verse, and it doesn't help.

The Checkmates - West Point dotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Some cool drums work, big piano melody, and goose honkin' sax. "West Point" has "Magnificent Seven" written all over it.

Chris and the Students - Lass Of Richmond Hill dot
Rock (Instrumental)

Vibrato harmonica and slightly country banjo-like guitar. If Lonnie Donnegan was into rock instead of skiffle, his backing band might have sounded like this.

Chris and the Students - Kickin' Around dot
Rock (Instrumental)

A sow drum beat brings on a downer piano line and sad horn. "Kickin' Around" can't decide if it's easy listening or chumpy faux rock. I vote for the latter.

The Dauphine Street Six - Shenandoah
Rock (Vocal)

The guitar calls from the distant reverbed chamber as it delivers lines from this ancient traditional song. Skiffle banjo and an unhelpful chorus bury the faux trad jazz styling, and the vocal is just too crappy for words. It's funny to hear the British mispronunciation of the title.

The Flee Rekkers - Green Jeans dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

"Green Jeans" is a gnarled version of "Green Sleeves" that's murky and horn fed. The horn's harmonies are not too far from some of the Delano soul sound, giving this an intriguing angle.

The Flee Rekkers - Sunday Date dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Bongs and easy listening stylings, crystalline guitar, and big twang tremolo. "Sunday Date" is kinda pretty, intense in a loud but easy way, and not hard to take.

Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers - Oo La La dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

"Oo La La" is a pumping bouncy sax rocker with some tasteful guitar work. It's all fun and flair.

Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers - Can Can '62 dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers cut a bunch of interesting tracks. Peter Miller, aka Buzz of Shig and Buzz, lends some tasty licks to this very chunky version of the classic bawdy dance. Very unusual, unless you're a Joe Meek-ophile, in which case, what else could it sound like?

Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers - Totem Pole dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

With introductory chords much like The Tornados' "Ridin' The Wind," this song sports an easy flowing melody, and the muted echoed passage is very cool. The dark sax brings it down from it's perch.

Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers - Poet and Peasant dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

This grunty stomp is original, but doesn't really make for a memory. Sax lead most of the time and some guitar lines. There's plenty of spunk, and the guitar break is really cool - perhaps the song should have been built around that instead.

Roger LaVern And The Microns - Moon Rocket dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Giant rocket launch effects open what sounds like a minor league Tornadoes spinoff. This is a very murky track that's OK, but is very derivative of "Ridin' The Wind" aurally, just not as optimistic.

Roger LaVern And The Microns - Jackson's Jump dotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

While kinda fun, this is just a riff and a thump. The piano is neat sounding, though.

Roger LaVern And The Microns - Reindeer Ride dotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

In a sort of Holiday sounding track with chorus, the bell like keyboard playfully delivers a rolling piano melody that's all fun. The tremolo guitar adds some credibility.

Roger LaVern And The Microns - Christmas Stocking dotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Cool brass tack piano and a dumb chorus front a very fun song. "Christmas Stocking" is all about play.

Joe Meek Orchestra - Cry My Heart dot
Rock (Instrumental)

I don't know who the musicians are here, but this is very unremarkable. Slow, sappy, etc. Its saving grace is it's super compressed audio and pumping kick drum. By the time the vocal verse arrives, i just didn't care.

Joe Meek Orchestra - Kennedy March dotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

All pomp and no circumstance. The romance with Camelot seems hard to fathom at this distant point, but it crept into many realms, including Joe Meek's lair. Interesting, but you won't miss it. Big film score stylings.

Joe Meek Orchestra - The Theme Of Freedom dot
Rock (Instrumental)

This is an orchestral mishmash of Joe Meek and patriotism. It's a soundtrack-like number that's all boomy. Unremarkable.

The Moontrekkers - Night Of The Vampire dotdotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

This is one grode scary Halloween tune from Joe Meek's Moontrekkers circa 1961. Intense, weird, and thumpy stompy. The guitar borders on surf in places where the reverb is used slightly and the notes damped. Truly inspired!

The Moontrekkers - Dance Legless Russian dotdotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

There are some very cool guitarisms here, that are hard to ID as guitar at first - sort of muted wire wound string grating from the pick edge, which become obvious only when the pick slide comes in to separate verses. The melody and general rhythm imply Russian themes. At first, this was just odd, but soon enough, I fund that I liked it a lot.

The Moontrekkers - Hatashiai dotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Twirly guitar effects give this an eerie edge, but the overall effect is just weird. melodic, but too far into the abstract sound wise. "Hatashiai" means "Japanese Sword Fight."

The Moontrekkers - There's Something At The Bottom Of The Well
Rock (Instrumental)

Splash, water bubbling, tweaky keys, and a "Farmer In The Dell" riff with shouts and stuff. Just fluff.

The Moontrekkers - Return Of The Vampire dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Gimmicky and predictable, yet with some endearing nonsensical effects. "Return Of The Vampire" borders loosely on the Tornados' sound, but never quite rises to their level. Slow and plodding with hokey twerpy fee-fi-fo-fum keys under near surf guitar plucking, which uses a dragged out chord progression to create a tweaky riff. The effects are cheesy horror stuff. It's a cool composition, but way too gimmicky an arrangement. This is also called "The Bogey Man."

The Original Checkmates - Union Pacific dotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

"Union Pacific" is a Meek-drenched middle of the roader with goofy chorus and horns, without which, it just might rock.

The Original Checkmates - The Spy dot
Rock (Instrumental)

Goofy chorus and goofy rhythm track back an organ track that's supposed to say spy, but says throwaway. Totally dismissible.

The Outlaws - Swingin' Low dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

A cowboy rhythm a la Johnny Cash with gritty glissandos create a western theme that's pretty cool. The goofy percussion stuff adds weirdness, and the picked bass solo runs are really cool. Lots of changes in the arrangement and excellent twang.

The Outlaws - Valley Of The Sioux dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Ultra compressed legend music this... The Outlaws play a fine melody with rich guitar and thumpy thunder. Fluid and haunting, while not very heavy. After the break, the guitar lead is double picked, giving it surf credentials. Cool cover material for some rising surf band.

The Outlaws - Ambush dotdotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

A thick wash of ricocheting gunshots overwhelms the opening of "Ambush," as do the shouts and crashes. Some double picking, echo drenched surfisms, whammy dips, and more. You can imagine this surfed out very easily. Egad!

The Outlaws - Last Stage West dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

A chumpy beat with a hyper compressed guitar playing the melody, "Last Stage West" is not very western, and while thick and sporting a double picked bridge, it just doesn't bring you back.

The Packabeats - The Traitors dotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

A "Tequila"-like rhythm section and a slow Shadows style melody. Super compressed big guitar Shadow-sie number that is mysteriously intriguing. Echoplex and Compressors and Surf Wham. Slightly interesting and a little odd.

The Packabeats - Evening In Paris dotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

The Tornadoes' "Ice Cream Man" sound without the guts.

The Phantom Hussar - Unknown dot
Rock (Instrumental)

"Unknown" is all weirded out with what sounds like intentionally induced flutter, but which is probably echo laced organ suicide. It's very unique, but that doesn't translate into cool or even memorable.

The Ramblers - Just For Chicks dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

This melody was liberated from The Northern Lights' "Typhoid" in the late fifties, later rerecorded as "Bust Out" under their new name, The Busters. It lacks the magic and edge of the original, but is nonetheless spunky and cool.

The Ramblers - Dodge City dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Sax and thumping bass play Indian themes in that way fifties rockers used to on all those obscure b-sides. The chorus is unnecessary, and the piano too high when it comes in on occasion, but "Dodge City" is nonetheless an interesting experiment that will bring a grin.

Dave Rowland - Besame Mucho dotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Consuelo Velasquez's "Besame Mucho" is trashy and crude in a thick morass of layered sound. The melody line is pretty subdued. A very odd mix.

The Saints - Husky Team dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Galloping drums and low register guitar twang with high notes between verses. In many ways, this is a lot like a commercialized Atlantics tune. Very cool, with a catchy sound and riff. Just as you're ready to vote for it, the cheesy chorus ruin it.

The Saints - Wipe Out dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

The Brits just never got what surf was all about in the sixties. Even this overplayed standard was messed up by lame guitar tones and horrid drum sounds. Joe Meek's super compression did not help surf, not that this was a surf delivery. The Saints' "Pipeline" is pretty credible. This is just an interesting insight into the UK surf mindset.

The Saxons - Saxon War Cry dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Tornados-like guitar and sound... and that's because Joe Meek made them over in their image for a series of tracks, some released as by The Tornados! As a Tornados track, it's moderately cool. Collectable, but not essential.

Sounds Incorporated - Keep Moving dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Some cool drums and piano, raw rock sax, and a melody liberally morphed from The Piltdown Men's "Brontosaurus Stomp," which is where much of the arrangement also originated. There is some tasty drumming.

Sounds Incorporated - Order Of The Keys dotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

The rhythm in the beginning of "Order Of The Keys" seems like it wants to be Latin, but the guitar is al Brit-rock. Lots of echo.

The Spooks - Spook Walks dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

"Spook Walks" is a grode slowish number with a bit of a menacing edge, which sets it apart some from the bulk of Joe Meek's work, which was on the poppy side. Its melody is somewhat exotic, and the dirty bass is very dark. Great tremolo!

The Stonehenge Men - Pinto dot
Rock (Instrumental)

"Pinto" is OK until the horns come in. The guitar licks are kinda cool, but the murky sound is just not friendly at all.

The Stonehenge Men - Big Feet dotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

"Big Feet" is murky and thick, with frying pan percussion and a semi Piltdown Men sound, only less flippant. Not particularly interesting.

The Thunderbolts - March Of The Spacemen dotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

This Joe Meek creation is way too much like his work with The Tornadoes, but it doesn't rise to that level of cool.

The Thunderbolts - Lost Planet dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

This single is less intense and more fluid than it's flip, and even more like a Tornadoes rip-off. OK, but kind of so what. The organ is too whistly.

The Tom Cats - Tom Tom Cat dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Latin percussion, some rich guitar, a simple riff, and relative power, though the breathing of the compressors detracts from the song's edge. Still, there's something here worth a spin.

The Tornados - Ridin' The Wind dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

In this highly melodic and thickly produced wall-of-noise masterpiece, earthly floating happiness cohabits with the darkly brooding expanses of space. Infectious and almost pretty, if any Joe Meek production can be so characterized.

The US version is much more like "Telstar" aurally than the lighter UK version.

The Tornados - Life On Venus dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Space sounds, a news flash about sounds from Venus, and then a typical Tornados tune, melodic and a mix of MOR and space sludge. Amazing.

The Tornados - Robot dotdotdotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Talk about amazing! "Robot" opens with just about the best reverb kicks and deep crackling effects anywhere, then promptly evolves into a thick and dark stompin' monster.

The Tornados - Exodus dotdotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

What a weird cover this is! Dramatic, cheesy, and very VERY weird. It's a cross between the mall organ salesman (Korla Pandit) and the wonderful world of Pink Floyd. Totally unique.

The Tornados - Jungle Fever dotdotdotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

This was the B-side of "Telstar." It is beyond great. The compression is as much an instrument as any band member's implement of acoustic slaughter. Thick and utterly undynamic (the meters just sit there at zero VU plus-or-minus 1 dB), this is a masterwork of layered sound. The jungle noises, the growling organ, even the male chorus is superb. There is not another track like this anywhere.

That said, this is a rare fake stereo version that's muddier than anything Meek ever did, and only seems to work on headphones. The echo-delayed stereo separation is too weird, with the drums moving from their cardboard sound to utterly raving maniac horse hooves on trampolines. Very strange!

The Tornados - Telstar dotdotdotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

This is it, the Tornados signature hit. Brilliantly filled with damped plucking, rhythmic churn, and whirring space. Joe Meek wrote this tune. It is utterly unique in the annals of rock. Meek was the UK master of thick completely filled sound, compressed until totally flat, and very cool. This 1962 release has been done by a bazillion surf bands. A must have for any serious instro fan. It is the Tornados signature tune.

As with "Jungle Fever," the fake stereo is over the top weird, sapping some of the power out of the song while replacing it with psych acoustic energy. Yikes!

The Tornados - Globetrotter dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Organic thick pop sludge, with a melody that hints of "Venus In Blue Jeans," while being pretty darn syrupy under the dull roar. very strange sounding track.

The Tornados - Dragonfly dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Plucky and heavy, with guitar lead and a solid MOR melody line. Both gentle and thick, playful and thunderous.

The Tornados - The Ice Cream Man dotdotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

What a grand concept! Childlike joy at the sound of the ice cream truck delivered in the cold sterile environs of the asteroid belt. Marvelously melodic and playful, thick and powerful.

Chris Williams and his Monsters - Monster dot
Rock (Instrumental)

Piano and bass rumble, over compressed sax, and goofy calls of the title. All gimmick and little substance. The compression is so severe here that you notice the dynamics breathing more than the song at times.