Not an artist in the traditional sense of the term (he couldn't play or sing at all) producer Joe Meek has nonetheless been belatedly recognized as an important, even inimitable, figure of early British rock & roll. Like Phil Spector, Meek developed idiosyncratic production techniques that, much more than the artists he worked with, stamped a vision of mad genius on his recordings. In Meek's case, this usually amounted to super-compressed sound, wavering sped-up vocals, ghostly backing violins and choruses, spooky echo and reverb, ticky-tack variable-speed piano, and all manners of Halloween and outer-space sound effects. The recordings were all the more remarkable for being produced not in a state-of-the-art studio, but in Meek's own bedroom-sized facility, located over a shop within the flat he rented.
Meek couldn't rightly be compared to Phil Spector -- he favored gawky, dippy teen idol fare for gawky, dippy teen idols, not the gutsy soul- and R&B-infused Wall of Sound. But he was a trailblazer in his own right -- even before Spector, he set up shop as rock & roll's very first independent producer of note, making recordings on his own terms and leasing them to labels for distribution. In the United States, he only scored big with the Tornados' "Telstar" (the first British rock & roll record to top the American charts, a year before the Beatles) and the Honeycombs' "Have I the Right." In the U.K., he produced scores of records, many of them flops, and many others hits, for the Tornados, Honeycombs, Screaming Lord Sutch, John Leyton, Heinz, the Outlaws (featuring Ritchie Blackmore for a time), and many more. Highly prized by some collectors, Jello Biafra noted in the book Incredibly Strange Music, Vol. 2, "You can tell a Joe Meek record a mile away."
Meek's business and production methods may have been ahead of his time, but his actual musical tastes actually started to run behind the times with the advent of the self-contained groups of the British Invasion. He actually recorded a few respectable efforts in the R&B/mod vein, but his career was in a severe spiral by the time his life ended in tragic circumstances in early 1967, when he shot his landlady and himself. John Repsch's book The Legendary Joe Meek (published in the U.K. only) is a biography of this fascinating figure. ~ Richie Unterberger