Musical Interlude: Telstar

 

Telstar satellite-CnAM 35181-IMG 5408-gradient.jpgSaturday, July 10, 2021, was the 59th anniversary of the launching of Telstar 1, a 170 lb. communications satellite launched for the purpose of receiving ground signals and re-transmitting them back to earth. According to britannica.com:

Following Telstar’s launch on July 10, 1962, a giant movable horn antenna near Andover, Maine, locked onto the satellite when its shifting orbit (apogee 5,600 km [3,500 miles]) reached an appropriate point. Minutes later the first television pictures were transmitted across the Atlantic Ocean and received, via relay stations in England and France, on European television screens. Telephone, telegraph, data, telephoto, and facsimile transmissions were also successfully made.

So much that we take for granted these days. And yet, at the time, it was almost miraculous and portended a future of instantaneous communication, where no part of the world was disadvantaged by remoteness, and no person was out-of-touch. (Here at the end of the first quarter of the 21st century, it’s possible to look back from a “careful what you wish for” perspective, but at the time we had no such thoughts. The world was our oyster, science was progress, and we believed.)

Still, and all, what I remember most about Telstar (I was almost eight years old when it was launched) isn’t the technology: It’s the music.

Telstar was a British instrumental recording written and produced by Joe Meek (a pioneer and genius of early ‘pop’ sound engineering and electronic composition/recording), and performed by the English band The Tornados. It was released on August 17, 1962–a little over a month after the satellite was launched–and has the distinction of being the first recording by a British band to chart at #1 in the United States.

The weirdly electronic-sounding music (played on early electronic keyboard synthesizers) was not without controversy, as a French composer accused Meek of plagiarism, a case that wasn’t resolved (in Meek’s favor) until several weeks after his suicide in 1967.  By then, Meek, a deeply troubled man, had set up what he believed were communications with the dead, and had succumbed to long-term depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

But once again, we knew none of that at the time.

Here’s Telstar. One of the few contemporary (45 rpm) pop records we owned, and the opening bars of which catapult me back to childhood–and a simpler world–every time I hear them:

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  1. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    I remember this song. It was still getting play on the radio a few years later. 

    I also remember the graphic “LIVE VIA TELSTAR” or sometimes “LIVE VIA SATELLITE” that appeared across the bottom of live broadcasts when those started in 1967. I just went on an image quest to find an example, but some things the internet just doesn’t have, apparently.

    • #1
  2. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Mom decided that I had to watch Charles become Prince of Wales.

    “I thought he already was Prince of Wales.”

    “I … he … I don’t know why. It’s history. Go watch TV.”

    She almost never said that. So I did. The bottom of the screen said LIVE FROM LONDON, as TV networks hadn’t discovered lower-case letters yet.

    About three weeks later, I was watching TV again. Now it said LIVE FROM THE MOON across the bottom of the screen.

    • #2
  3. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    There were also songs celebrating the completion of the original Atlantic cable.

    • #3
  4. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Reminds me of yet another song, I think very little known, but nice:

     

    • #4
  5. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    This version seems to have cleaner sound:

     

    • #5
  6. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    Percival (View Comment):
    About three weeks later, I was watching TV again. Now it said LIVE FROM THE MOON across the bottom of the screen.

    After Dad died, my sister took all his slides (he was an avid photographer for most of his life) and had them digitized.  I highly recommend, if you have an elderly relative in this situation, that–if you can–you do that before he or she dies, so that you can enjoy them together.  The whole “slide” setup–the carousel, the screen (or a sheet on the wall), the upside-down and backwards, the getting stuck and melting business–just became intolerable as time went on.  We did manage to get his 8mm cine film put onto videotape, and had a marvelous family gathering for the first viewing while Mum and Dad were both still alive.

    Anyhoo, there were six or eight shots, when I loaded the returned CD into Photoshop and looked at the thumbnails, that I thought must have been mistakes.  The above was one.  This was another:

    I finally twigged what they were when I loaded them in the editor, and saw this one:

    The back garden at Droitwich.  Very, very, early in the morning.  Watching it live, just like the rest of the world.  All the neighbors there because we (who were in England for the summer in 1969) were the only ones with a television (which we’d rented for the occasion).  Snacks and drinks.  Dad running in and out of the house like a small child with his camera, alternately taking photos of the moon (outside) and the TV screen (inside).  A sweet memory.

    Only 52 years ago.  The blink of an eye, really.

    Percival (View Comment):
    Mom decided that I had to watch Charles become Prince of Wales.

    I watched the investiture of Charles the Twit (July 1) with Granny in Birmingham.  She thought he was a lovely boy.

    • #6
  7. Charlotte Member
    Charlotte
    @Charlotte

    She: and has the distinction of being the first recording by a British band to chart at #1 in the United States

    This is a superb trivia question/tidbit.

    • #7
  8. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    Charlotte (View Comment):

    She: and has the distinction of being the first recording by a British band to chart at #1 in the United States

    This is a superb trivia question/tidbit.

    I think you’re right!  Because wouldn’t people’s first instinct be to go in a Beatles direction?

    • #8
  9. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    She (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):
    About three weeks later, I was watching TV again. Now it said LIVE FROM THE MOON across the bottom of the screen.

    After Dad died, my sister took all his slides (he was an avid photographer for most of his life) and had them digitized. I highly recommend, if you have an elderly relative in this situation, that–if you can–you do that before he or she dies, so that you can enjoy them together. The whole “slide” setup–the carousel, the screen (or a sheet on the wall), the upside-down and backwards, the getting stuck and melting business–just became intolerable as time went on. We did manage to get his 8mm cine film put onto videotape, and had a marvelous family gathering for the first viewing while Mum and Dad were both still alive.

    Anyhoo, there were six or eight shots, when I loaded the returned CD into Photoshop and looked at the thumbnails, that I thought must have been mistakes. The above was one. This was another:

    I finally twigged what they were when I loaded them in the editor, and saw this one:

    The back garden at Droitwich. Very, very, early in the morning. Watching it live, just like the rest of the world. All the neighbors there because we (who were in England for the summer in 1969) were the only ones with a television (which we’d rented for the occasion). Snacks and drinks. Dad running in an out of the house like a small child with his camera, alternately taking photos of the moon (outside) and the TV screen (inside). A sweet memory.

    Only 52 years ago. The blink of an eye, really.

    Percival (View Comment):
    Mom decided that I had to watch Charles become Prince of Wales.

    I watched the investiture of Charles the Twit (July 1) with Granny in Birmingham. She thought he was a lovely boy.

    I remember thinking “that kid has a lot of names.”

    • #9
  10. Midwest Southerner Member
    Midwest Southerner
    @MidwestSoutherner

    Percival (View Comment):

    I remember this song. It was still getting play on the radio a few years later.

    I also remember the graphic “LIVE VIA TELSTAR” or sometimes “LIVE VIA SATELLITE” that appeared across the bottom of live broadcasts when those started in 1967. I just went on an image quest to find an example, but some things the internet just doesn’t have, apparently.

    I’m (finally) catching up on posts from earlier this month… and this one sent me on the hunt for photos and more info. :-)

    Found this article, Telstar: A History of the Most Important Satellite You’ve Never Heard of. Includes a photo with “LIVE FROM PARIS VIA TELSTAR” and a collage of similarly labeled photos:

    Live from Paris via Telstar

     

    Telstar photos

    • #10
  11. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Midwest Southerner (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    I remember this song. It was still getting play on the radio a few years later.

    I also remember the graphic “LIVE VIA TELSTAR” or sometimes “LIVE VIA SATELLITE” that appeared across the bottom of live broadcasts when those started in 1967. I just went on an image quest to find an example, but some things the internet just doesn’t have, apparently.

    I’m (finally) catching up on posts from earlier this month… and this one sent me on the hunt for photos and more info. :-)

    Found this article, Telstar: A History of the Most Important Satellite You’ve Never Heard of. Includes a photo with “LIVE FROM PARIS VIA TELSTAR” and a collage of similarly labeled photos:

    Live from Paris via Telstar

     

    Telstar photos

    I just love it when they tell me about things I’ve never heard of that I’ve heard of. I really liked the late Iris Chang’s book The Rape of Nanking, but I’d heard about the event before the book. When the movie Windtalkers came out, I saw it. It was pretty good. But I’d heard of the Navajo code talkers well before that.

    • #11