MARCH 2006 ISSUE
By Geoff Emerick, Howard Massey
When it comes to books about The Beatles, they usually fall in one of two categories: "memoirs" (written by a myriad of folks that had contact with the band-some with legitimate ties and some with actually very little significance) and "archives" (including timelines, analysis, photos, recording info, etc). Now Geoff Emerick has joined the throe of Beatles authors by publishing his account that actually falls in between the memoir/archive genre. His new book "HERE THERE AND EVERYWHERE-My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles" is no mere "cash in", but a valuable insight to the workings of the group. While there are no real "Beatles revelations" contained other than those that true Beatle aficionados already know, such as the working title of the "White Album", John's accidental acid trip on the rooftop of EMI etc), the true value of this book is the first hand observances of the Beatles in their most important environment: the recording studio!
Some people are lucky enough to realize their "calling" early in life - and Geoff Emerick was one of those lucky few. An early love of music caused a natural fascination with the mechanics behind recording. His experiments with tape recording and his persistence led him to a job at EMI! While Geoff Emerick wasn't the Beatles recording engineer during their early years at EMI (he started as an assistant engineer), his employment there did grant him occasional views of The Beatles at work during the time of 1962-1966 when Norman Smith was their engineer. However, when Smith left to become a bona fide producer (going on to produce Pink Floyd's first two albums at EMI) it was Emerick who was promoted to the position of Beatles' engineer. So, Emerick was there during the true renaissance of the Beatles studio years: Revolver, Sgt. Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour, (part of) The White Album, and Abbey Road.
What about Let It Be, you ask? Well, it is well documented how bad tensions were during the recording of The White Album, prompting Ringo Starr to be the first Beatle to quit the group at the time. Further evidence of the bad feelings during this album can be seen in the departure of Emerick - he also quit halfway through the recording (but unlike Ringo, didn't come back for the album). So, he missed the whole Let It Be fiasco, until being asked to return for Abbey Road. He went on to design the Beatles personal recording studio, which sadly wasn't finished in time for The Beatles to actually use!
As witness to one of the Beatles first recording sessions ("How Do You Do It?"), Emerick paints a fascinating picture of the individual dynamics and personalities of each Beatle in the recording studio. Paul was the easiest to get along with, a true workaholic in the studio who, curiously enough was pegged as "the leader" by Emerick during the early sessions. John was often impatient, but curiously enough - it was always a new Lennon song that was first recorded for each new album session! Later, John's impatience actually paid off when they discovered they were one song short for completion of Revolver - they quickly finished John's "She Said She Said". Other tales include a funny story of the "fan siege" during the recording of "She Loves You" in which fans were running loose at EMI - which gave Emerick a first-hand view of Beatlemania and he comments that this "atmosphere" seemed to lend to the electricity of the recording. George Harrison was probably the least 'at ease' in the recording studio and had problems nailing his solos, such as his solo on "A Hard Day's Night". Ringo was basically quiet in the studio.
Emerick takes you behind the scenes of EMI in the '60s and exposes several of their antiquated and often outrageous rules, such as the rules regarding microphone placement (which he helped break and changed the way artists forever recorded in the process!). Another hilarious rule was the dress code- white lab coats for the maintenance staff and brown coats for the janitorial staff.
I read as quickly as possible to get to the Revolver/Sgt. Pepper recording sessions, and Emerick's descriptions did not disappoint! I was in Beatles-nirvana hearing how each song was recorded and the whole spirit of invention that went into Beatles' records - not just by the Beatles themselves, but by Emerick's ingenious solutions to the seemingly impossible requests of the Beatles, especially John. It was Emerick who came up with a solution for Lennon, who wanted his voice to sound like the "Dahlai Lama chanting from a mountaintop" on "Tomorrow Never Knows". His solution? Using a Leslie speaker to achieve the proper effect on John's voice. Also, in regards to Revolver, I wasn't aware that the tape trick (cutting up random bits of tape and putting them back together) that George Martin used on "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite" was first used on "Yellow Submarine"!
Of course, Sgt. Pepper was the pinnacle of the Beatles collective studio experimentation and it is amazing to hear the casual attitude the Beatles had during the sessions - it being the very first time that they weren't under any time restraints. George Harrison's lack of participation in this groundbreaking album is discussed. Fresh from his trip to India, George just wasn't interested, especially with Paul taking a lot of the lead guitar breaks and his first contribution to Pepper ("Only a Northern Song") being kindly put aside. The mysterious, still unreleased Beatles song, "Carnival of Light" (recorded during a five-hour session that also included vocal overdubs for the then-unreleased "Penny Lane") is discussed.
It is amazing how the Beatles went from the happy, creative Pepper sessions to the dreary White Album sessions in just one year! While Emerick left EMI for Apple, he avoided the bad scenes of the White Album and Let It Be, to concentrate on building the Beatles recording studio. However, he did get to attend one Phil Spector Let It Be session and his observations are contained within the book. Finally, the Beatles swan song, Abbey Road is detailed, from John's sometimes lack of interest (and Yoko's bed being brought into the studio!) to George's emergence as a studio talent.
Geoff Emerick went on to win a total of 3 Grammy awards for his Beatles work. While most of the book concentrates on The Beatles, he does mention some of his other projects, such as Paul McCartney's Band on the Run, as well as his work with The Zombies and Elvis Costello. Finally, he comes full circle with his involvement with the "Threetles" reunion sessions for the Beatles Anthology.
"HERE THERE AND EVERYWHERE-My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles" is truly a Beatles' book that delivers, in spades! A descriptive story of the Beatles in the recording studio has been sorely missed…until now.
And…if you were wondering about the missing gaps in the years that Geoff Emerick wasn't the Beatles recording engineer (from Please Please Me to Help!)- I have it from a very reliable source that we will also see a book by Norman Smith this year!