13 October 2010
Bud Ashton - Telstar
Year of Release: 1962
Way before those dodgy "Top of the Pops" low budget compilation albums we've already talked about, chock full of frequently inaccurate cover versions of the day's hits, came Embassy Records. Whereas Hallmark, Pickwick, Contour and endless other budget labels in the seventies crammed non-original artist takes of twelve hot hits across twelve glorious inches, Embassy were a bit more modest. The racks of Woolworths were filled with their singles offering one song per side. If you were hard up for cash and not especially fussy, you could walk out with a record by The Typhoons rather than The Beatles and see if anyone noticed at your next house party (they'd have to be either very drunk or tone deaf not to observe the differences, mind you).
For me, it's always more interesting when the session musicians attempt to take on anything with either a technically advanced production or complex arrangement. The "Top of the Pops" gang managed to create a creditable version of "Bohemian Rhapsody", but for the most part, the least convincing tracks in any budget sound-a-like marketing formula are those which simply couldn't be created effectively in one quick recording spree. "Telstar", then - one of the most unique sounding records of its day - would surely be screwed, wouldn't it?
The answer is a somewhat surprising yes and no. Bud Ashton, whoever he may be (somebody hiding behind a pseudonym, I don't doubt) begins gamely, trying to replicate Joe Meek's effects-fest at the start of the record, and not failing entirely, even if there's a tad more squeakiness to it all. The intro builds convincingly, the keyboards buzz confidently, and it seems like we're blasting off into a reasonable enough replica. But then the track gets going, the bass line plods in a timid and out-of-depth manner, some of the arrangements sound very muddy indeed, and the faults begin to show. By the time the record gets to the tail end, Mr Ashton can't even be bothered to re-do the sound effects which clearly bookend Joe Meek's original effort. Perhaps he ran out of time.
If anything, it shows that many of the strengths of the proper version of "Telstar" lay not in its melody, but in the depth and adventure shown in its production, apparent to this day. Ashton's version begins to sound boring and repetitive a minute and a half in, whereas Meek's paces its ideas neatly, allows the instruments room to breathe, and is beguiling as a result.
The flip side to this is a version of Adam Faith's "Don't That Beat All" by Rikki Henderson, but please pardon me if I don't waste too much time dissecting it. I've included it below for the benefit of the curious, however.
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