The song reached No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in December 1962 (the second British recording to reach No. 1 on that chart in the year, after Stranger on the Shore in May), and was also a number one hit in the UK. It was the second instrumental single to hit No.1 on both the US and UK weekly charts.
The record was named after the Telstar communications satellite, which was launched into orbit on 10 July 1962. It was written and produced by Joe Meek, and featured a clavioline, a keyboard instrument with a distinctive electronic sound. "Telstar" won an Ivor Novello Award and is estimated to have sold at least five million copies worldwide.
This novelty record was intended to evoke the dawn of the space age, complete with sound effects that were meant to sound "space-like". A popular story at the time of the record's release was that the weird distortions and background noise came from sending the signal up to the Telstar satellite and re-recording it back on Earth. It is more likely that the effects were created in Meek's recording studio, which was a small flat above a shop in Holloway Road, North London.
A French composer, Jean Ledrut, accused Joe Meek of plagiarism, claiming that the tune of "Telstar" had been copied from "La Marche d'Austerlitz", a piece from a score that Ledrut had written for the 1960 film Austerlitz. This led to a lawsuit that prevented Meek from receiving royalties from the record during his lifetime, and the issue was not resolved in Meek's favour until three weeks after his suicide in 1967. Austerlitz was not released in the UK until 1965, and Meek was unaware of the film when the lawsuit was filed in March 1963.