[5 January 2012]
Among the various source quotes on the back cover of Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles is one by David Letterman sidekick and bandleader Paul Shaffer. Lauding the book as a dream come true for Fab music scholars, he reminds readers that its author (in the recording studio at least) was that rarest of things” a true Beatles insider. “The cat was there!” Paul exclaims.
Indeed, the “cat” in question, recording engineer Geoff Emerick, was that and much more. A fixture behind the recording console for a large part of The Beatles’s career, Emerick did much to shape the ground-breaking sounds of The Beatles’s post-touring studio years (1966-1970). Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heats Club Band and Abbey Road all benefited from the sonic innovations of the young man known as “Mr. Golden Ears” by his EMI colleagues (though reading the book one can suspect the nickname was served up with generous helpings of English taking the you-know-what).
Even today Emerick’s contributions aren’t always common knowledge. The fact that this self-effacing man’s story has been so seldom told makes Here, There and Everywhere a must read for any serious fan of The Beatles music.
The book, serviceably penned by Emerick and American music journalist Howard Massey, shrewdly begins with Emerick (19 years old but already with three years EMI experience) nervously taking the place of Beatles sound engineer Norman Smith and staking out his turf first day on the job. Of course, this is no ordinary day – it’s the start of the Revolver sessions and The Beatles are recording “Tomorrow Never Knows”. “Where’s Norman?” intones Lennon ominously as the session begins. “Oh, Norman is out….Geoff will be carrying on in his place,” replies Martin casually.
So much for modern job orientation techniques then, The Beatles are hungry for new sounds. Lennon’s voice put through a rewired Leslie speaker and a revolutionary new drum sound for Ringo? All in a good first day’s work for Geoffrey. The Fabs are smitten, Emerick is relieved and EMI’s “proper” use of equipment manual is put on notice. From there, we’re quickly taken through Emerick’s childhood in post-war London and his early fascination with music and recording.
Persistence and a bit of luck garner him an interview with EMI during the summer of 1963 and Geoff is soon employed as a teenage assistant sound engineer. With its quaint English ways and colourful cast of characters, the atmosphere at EMI is almost Dickensonian and Emerick does a good job of conjuring up the era. Geoff is present at The Beatles first ever recording session (his second day of work no less) and a lifetime friendship with McCartney quickly develops.
This partly explains the book’s recurring Macca-centred viewpoints. While The Beatles conquer the world Geoff enters what are essentially his “wilderness years” as he moves up the ladder (and around EMI) learning the various phases of record making. There are fleeting encounters with The Beatles and other luminaries such as Judy Garland (one of the book’s most charming bits) but Emerick is soon frustrated at being “away from the action” of doing sessions.
That all changes in April 1966 when he learns George Martin and McCartney have had their eyes on him all along. The triumphs of Revolver and Sgt Pepper follow and are explained in detail (60 pages alone are dedicated to Pepper). With Emerick behind the console the studio becomes an instrument in itself through the use of varispeed recording, heavy compression, backward tape loops, new microphone techniques and an overall pushing of the envelope. Absurd as it seems now, Emerick’s experimentation doesn’t always fly with the staid EMI brass and more than once he’s reprimanded for “misusing” equipment.
Geoff’s love/hate relationship with EMI is a constant theme (in studio manager Alan Stagge we discover a previously unknown villain in The Beatles saga) and his griping about EMI’s tie and white lab coat dress code is often amusing (as are Lennon’s droll remarks about his attire). Things soon grow darker as Brian Epstein dies while overwork and burnout take their toll. By the summer of 1968 The Beatles are abusing each other, George Martin and the EMI staff while Emerick teeters on the edge of a nervous breakdown. He quits halfway through the White Album sessions and it’s hard to blame him (tellingly, Martin actually says he envies him as he’s leaving).
In the following months Geoff realises he’s actually dodged a bullet (he sits out the miserable Let it Be sessions but returns in time for the final triumph of Abbey Road). By now The Beatles have largely worn out their welcome at EMI (few engineers even want to work with them by 1969) and their supposed “state of the art” Apple studio is a sham (this compliments of Greek hustler and Emerick nemesis Alexis Mardas, known in Beatles lore as “Magic Alex”).
Emerick goes on to describe The Beatles’s final death throes and the frustration of his years at Apple (he builds The Beatles’s dream studio only to see it demolished on a whim by Ringo of all people). He also dedicates a couple of chapters to his more notable projects after The Beatles (McCartney’s Band on the Run and Elvis Costello’s Imperial Bedroom). The book ends with The Beatles Anthology sessions and a few choice words about how recording and the music industry have changed (mostly for the worse) since the ‘60s.
While the book contains few shocking revelations about The Beatles themselves, Emerick does provide a handful of rather startling critical opinions (Elvis Costello alludes to this in his excellent introduction). While praising George Martin’s musical and arranging skills and extolling the producer’s calm guiding hand during The Beatles early years, he also presents him as manipulative, occasionally cruel (he enjoyed embarrassing subordinates to keep them in line apparently) and (gasp) “lacking in the proper leadership skills”. In Emerick’s view, Martin relinquished control to The Beatles during 1967 because he feared instilling some needed discipline would’ve cost him his job. All of this can be unsettling to fans that have come to see Martin as the unflappable white knight playing Q to The Beatles’s Bond.
For some reason, Geoff also rarely misses a chance to carp about Harrison’s guitar playing (particularly on the early records) while George’s crucial contributions as a harmony singer go barely mentioned until Abbey Road. Musically, Ringo gets full kudos but even the Starr of the show gets painted as sullen, sarcastic and “unimaginative” (even on those “A Day in the Life” fills, Geoff?) Well, well, well……
Despite a few blemishes (the dialogue, particularly between The Beatles themselves, is sometimes more cartoon Yellow Submarine than fleshed out Help / Hard Days Night), Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles is a fine read and a treasure trove for anyone interested in what really went on behind the sealed doors of EMI Studio Two (it makes a particularly good companion to Mark Lewisohn’s excellent The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions). Emerick, who under today’s rules would’ve likely received co-producer credit on Sgt. Pepper, surely deserved an opportunity to tell his story. It’s to the benefit of Beatles fans everywhere that he made the most of it.
And by the way….if you’ve ever wondered who muttered “take two” at the beginning of “Revolution” (White Album version), it was Geoff. The cat was here, there and everywhere.