Thursday, December 22, 2005

Geoff Emerick and the Beatles

Yesterday morning I caught the closing credits of the dreadful movie, SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND on cable and I noted Geoff Emerick's name listed as Sound Engineering Consultant or something like that. I remember thinking that, except for Billy Preston and a few stars who appear only in the closing conglomeration of celebs, he might be the only one connected with this film who really knew the Fab Four! You know how it is. Off and on for the rest of the day, Emerick's name popped up in my mind for no apparent reason. Imagine my surprise come midnight when a friend presented me with an early Christmas gift of Emerick's new book! In fact, it's so early that the book won't even be out for another three months! (I may no longer work in bookstores but it's good to know people who do! Yay me!) I came home and started reading it immediately.

Geoff Emerick was the Beatles sound engineer from REVOLVER on, replacing Norman "Hurricane" Smith who went on to handle Pink Floyd (as well as becoming a one-hit wonder himself with the delightfully old-fashioned song "Oh, Babe, What Would You Say?" in the early seventies). This book offers his memories of working with the Beatles at their absolute peak and helping Producer George Martin to channel the creativity that just flowed from their (probably illegally enhanced) minds at that point. As you might suspect, there's a lot of technical stuff about boards and splicing and mixing and tracks but there are also some great anecdotes. According to Emerick, for example, Ringo had so little to do on the PEPPER album that his biggest memory was that he learned to play chess at that time.

My favorite part is the long chapter about the making of John's song, A DAY IN THE LIFE. The author details the craziness of getting a classical orchestra together and then asking them to play "noise." Paul suggests putting them in the mood by giving them all funny party hats and fake noses to wear and the intimidating form of Beatles assistant Mal Evans dutifully passes out the party goods! Then Beatle friends such as Mick Jagger and Mike Nesmith join the mix and they still can't figure out an ending to the song until much later! If you've ever seen the rare studio film of this recording session then you've seen everything he describes.

An issue that I have with this book, however, as well as with a number of biographies and histories, is that there are an awful lot of quotations. Is Geoff's memory really that good or is he paraphrasing from memory? When historians such as Alan Eckert write books with quotations, they have to call them "historical fiction" no matter how meticulously researched they might otherwise be because they weren't actually there. Okay, Emerick WAS there but still...

HERE, THERE AND EVERYWHERE (is there a Beatles song left that hasn't had its title co-opted for a book?) will also offer an introduction by Elvis Costello but my advance just has a placeholder. Same with pictures. Overall, though, a good read from a slightly different perspective than usual. Have the Beatles been analyzed well beyond the point of logic and good sense? Of course, silly, but nonetheless Beatles fans will want and enjoy this book come March!

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