Joe Meek was the first significant record producer. There had been people who had been messing about with tapes and stuff in America, like Les Paul and Mitch Miller, but Meek was the first person to make records that really didn’t sound remotely like somebody playing live in the studio – it always sounded like a studio concoction. So this one’s got manic galloping drums like something from a Western, and a wailing girl in the background like a ghost. It’s an amazing record.
There are so many ‘death discs’ like this – loads of girl group ones, like the whole Shangri-Las career basically, and Joe Meek did several others as well. At the time, obviously with Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran, famous people died in plane crashes and car crashes who were very young, and teenagers could relate to them. It would have been a very real part of your life. And teenagers are morbid, they’re really morbid! It was an interesting micro-genre.
What also helped was negative publicity about the song itself, being a "death disc" so automatically some derided it as being "sick." In fact the original recorded lyric featured the line "The girl I loved who died a year ago" but this was changed to "The girl I loved and lost a year ago" since it was feared it the original line would lead to it being banned.
So there was a lot of hype attached to this disc which worked in it's favour. It brought Joe Meek into the public eye too since critics ripped it to pieces saying it was over the top and that Leyton sounded like he was singing from the bottom of a well!
The reality was and remains, Meek, Stigwood, Geoff Goddard, arranger Charles Blackwell and Leyton combined had created a memorable record that sounded unlike anything else heard up till that time.
Gothic, western, romance – a pulp trinity, and “Johnny Remember Me” is on this list because the British love a melodrama. The best melodrama is played with an intensity which dares you, snarling, to take it lightly. The best melodrama is also often a little camp. Leyton doesn’t let his audience down – as he rips through those wonderful opening lines you can almost hear his nostrils flare. By the end of the song, as his spectral lover keeps calling he sounds genuinely doomstruck. A rich treat and a remarkable record.