The Tornados

The Tornados' first single (Love and Fury, 1962) sank without trace, but their second (Telstar, also 1962) won an Ivor Novello award for Joe Meek, who wrote it, and sold over five million copies worldwide. It was the single that made the Tornados the first British group to top the American charts.

Not the first British act to do it though. That honour had gone to Vera Lynn, ten years earlier, with Auf Wiederseh'n Sweetheart – which enjoyed nine weeks at No. 1 in the USA (despite only making No. 10 in the UK). Ten years later, the jazz clarinettist Acker Bilk became the second British artist to top the American charts (and the first since the launch of the iconic Billboard Hot 100 in 1958), with Stranger on the Shore. The Tornados were the third, seven months later (December 1962).

The fourth? Well it was the Beatles, of course, with I Want to Hold Your Hand (February 1964).

The Beatles would have been the first British vocal group to top the American charts; the Tornados were exclusively instrumental. Wikipedia tells us that Telstar "featured either a clavioline or the similar Jennings Univox, both keyboard instruments with distinctive electronic sounds. It was recorded in Meek's studio in a small flat above a shop in Holloway Road, North London."

Wikipedia goes on to quote Tim Wheeler, of the Northern Irish Indy rock group Ash, who neatly summed up Telstar's appeal and influence (speaking in 2007): "This was one of the first sci–fi–influenced pop songs. For its time it was so futuristic and it still sounds pretty weird today. It features Matt Bellamy's dad George on guitar ... You can hear traces of it in Muse. Knights of Cydonia was definitely him tipping his hat to his dad."

After Telstar, the Tornados had one more Top Ten hit in the UK: their follow–up, Globetrotter (released in January 1963) reached No. 5. But their next two singles only made the low teens, and Dragonfly (October 1963) just failed to make the Top 40.

Wikipedia describes the Tornados' decline thus: "For a time The Tornados [had been] considered serious rivals to The Shadows ... [but] pop instrumentals began to lose a following with the British audience during 1963 as the Mersey Sound, from the Beatles and other groups, began to take root. In the summer of 1963, Joe Meek induced The Tornados' bassist Heinz Burt to start a solo career, as The Tornados' chart success as an instrumental outfit waned, and from that point onwards The Tornados began to fall apart. By 1965 none of the original lineup remained.

© Haydn Thompson 2021