Thursday, January 12, 2012

#515: Recording The Beatles, Take 1

Geoff Emerick was The Beatles' sound-engineer from REVOLVER onward. Emerick was the guy who made John Lennon's voice sound like John was the Dali Lama chanting from a far-off mountaintop on "Tomorrow Never Knows." Emerick's idea of sending John's voice thru a rotating Leslie speaker kept Lennon from being suspended by a rope from the studio's ceiling & swung past the microphone....
Pushed by The Beatles at their creative height 4 ever-newer & more unusual sounds, Emerick ended up winning engineering Grammy Awards 4 SGT. PEPPER & ABBEY ROAD. He also engineered Paul McCartney & Wings' BAND ON THE RUN album, among many others.
He's also the guy who walked out 1/2way thru sessions 4 the WHITE ALBUM cos he couldn't take the stress -- endless long days of Beatles arguing with each other & snapping at the studio staff.
Despite his reputation as Beatles' producer George Martin's ever-loyal low-key right-hand man, some of Emerick's opinions might suprise you.
Emerick & Howard Massey's HERE, THERE AND EVERYWHERE (2006) starts with Emerick being promoted at the start of the REVOLVER sessions, then backtracks 2 his childhood -- where Emerick's discovery of a box full of old 78-rpm records triggers his lifelong obsession with sound (I admit I skimmed most of this).
Then we follow as young Geoff applies 4 an engineer/tape-operator job at London's EMI studios -- & is miraculously accepted. These early chapters show clearly the almost laboratory-like atmosphere of EMI's Abbey Road complex before The Beatles came along: the strict studio hierarchy, the engineers in their regulation long white coats, etc.
Emerick is there 4 The Beatles' 1st session & follows their career from that point on. He sees how the Fab 4 help the young engineers & tape-op's at EMI loosen up. The long white coats R eventually dropped, but shirts & ties stay as required studio wear.
When Emerick gets promoted 4 REVOLVER (upon engineer Norman Smith's departure 2 produce Pink Floyd's 1st album), Emerick dreads how the Fabs might react if he makes a mistake. He's especially worried about that acid-tongued Lennon, & the often-grumpy George Harrison. But he gets thru that, & he & McCartney form a lifelong friendship.
The details from the years of sessions that follow R solid -- you might not learn NEthing new about the Fabs, but Emerick's stories will confirm what you've already heard or read. There R 2 long chapters about the making of SGT. PEPPER that paint probly as clear a picture as Beatles fans will ever get.
The chapters on the WHITE ALBUM might B tough 2 read if you're a fan, but it's a matter of record that those sessions were stressful. The LET IT BE sessions were worse. Emerick's only around 4 a little bit of that, but his only chance 2 meet legendary producer Phil Spector ain't a pretty picture.
What suprised me was some of Emerick's opinions about some of these people. He points out many times what a stuffed shirt George Martin was -- how Martin apparently wanted no1 on the studio staff 2 get credit 4 the technical end of Beatles recordings Xcept himself. In Emerick's view, Martin always wanted 2 appear essential, irreplaceable 2 the recording process. (Emerick sez this despite the fact that Martin later offers him a job at Martin's AIR Studios, & Emerick takes it.)
Emerick also sez & shows that Martin was often exasperated by the Fabs' requests, by their immaturity, by their inability 2 grasp what could & couldn't B done thru recording. But Martin & Emerick & their crew found some way 2 make it work anyhow.
Emerick also zings Harrison repeatedly -- talking about how it often took George HOURS 2 get even the simplest guitar solo down properly, & how George's early songs often failed 2 inspire the band's best work. It isn't until ABBEY ROAD -- when Harrison shows up with "Something" & "Here Comes the Sun" -- that Emerick allows George a little respect. He sez at that point George seemed 2 have settled in2 his role in the band, found a place 4 himself & relaxed in2 it.
Some of Emerick's fellow engineers also get zinged. Engineer (& later producer) Chris Thomas gets jumped on 4 not knowing his place & talking 2 much during Martin's sessions. (Remember that studio hierarchy?) Engineer & later producer Ken Scott starts work during the WHITE ALBUM sessions, & ends up replacing Emerick on the project. & the brief up-close look we get at Phil Spector makes him look like an out-of-control maniac.
It's not that I don't think this is how things were, or that Emerick doesn't have a right 2 his opinion -- it's that this score-settling is unexpected coming from the kind of low-key, gentlemanly guy that Emerick was always portrayed as being.
There's a lot more: Emerick works a few years at Apple, recording & producing Badfinger among others, & trying 2 get Apple's basement studio straight. 1nce he gets the studio set, within a coupla years the Apple "management" levels the building.
Emerick travels 2 Nigeria & dodges lizards & giant cockroaches 2 record Paul & Wings' BAND ON THE RUN. He produces Elvis Costello's IMPERIAL BEDROOM & others. He continues 2 engineer Paul's later solo albums, TUG OF WAR, PIPES OF PEACE, GIVE MY REGARDS TO BROAD STREET, FLAMING PIE, & others. He helps assemble The Beatles' ANTHOLOGY's & records the 2 "reunion" singles that Paul, George & Ringo make based on John's demos. & he receives a "Technical Grammy" 4 lifetime achievement in recording.
& at the end of the book it's clear he isn't done yet.
If you're a Beatles fan you might like this -- the chapters on REVOLVER & PEPPER R especially good, filled with great stories & lotsa behind-the-scenes info. But the later chapters featuring the Fab 4 arguing endlessly Rn't much fun 2 read. Even ABBEY ROAD ain't all that much fun.

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