IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Behind the mixing board with the Beatles

In new book, engineer Geoff Emerick details the band's tensions
/ Source: Reuters

There haven’t been many people who can say that there was a time when they had had enough and decided to quit working for The Beatles.

But so begins Chapter 11 of “Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles” by recording engineer Geoff Emerick and co-author Howard Massey.

It was July 1968, and Emerick had his hands on the recording console at Abbey Road Studios, creating the signature distorted guitars for John Lennon’s “Revolution.”

An impatient Lennon, seemingly forgetful of the hard work his engineer had put into great such seminal works as “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Bands” and “Revolver” impatiently snorted, “Three months in the Army would have done you good.”

A few days later, while recording “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” for ”The Beatles” (aka “The White Album”), Paul McCartney snapped at veteran Beatles producer George Martin, after he gave McCartney direction on recording his vocal.  “Paul said, ‘Well, why don’t you come and f---ing sing it.’”

It was the last straw in a painful period in which Emerick saw the world’s most famous rock band begin to fall apart.

Unlike other books detailing the group’s recording history, Emerick’s provides the kind of day-to-day experience of what it was like working with the world’s most famous rock group.

Spanning a careerAt age 15, Emerick was present at The Beatles’ very first recording session in September 1962 at the famed EMI’s Abbey Road Studios in London, and he recorded their last, in January 1970.  He continued to work with former Beatle Paul McCartney over the years, as well as recorded the group’s “reunion” songs in the mid-’90s, “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love.”

The Grammy-winner recalls his first sight of the group, at the session which produced “Love Me Do,” their first single. ”They were young kids. I wasn’t terribly impressed.”

A more memorable date was in July the following year, when the group, with Beatlemania now in full tilt, came to the studio to record their fourth single, “She Loves You.”

“There was always a buzz on days when they were due to come in,” Emerick said.  The group arrived early for a photo session in the alley behind Abbey Road, the sight of which got the fans outside in a wild swarm.

“When we started to record, fans burst ... into the studios.  The Beatles were loving it.  Once recording started, the energy from what was happening was reflected in the recording.” The disc became the group’s third No. 1 single.

Emerick climbed the Abbey Road ladder until one day, in early 1966, at the ripe old age of 19, he was asked to become The Beatles’ engineer by producer George Martin.

Emerick made an immediate impression on the group, creating the unusual sounds they were beginning to seek in their music, as they began to focus more on recording and stopped touring.

During the recording of “Tomorrow Never Knows” for the 1966 LP, “Revolver,” he said, “I put John’s vocal through a rotating organ speaker, called a Leslie, and gave John the sound he wanted.  So I sort of passed the first test.”

The Beatles kept to themselves in the studio, even setting up a little area for just themselves and their circle.  “They were stuck in that studio for such a long time, year after year. They had to have their own space,” Emerick said.

“But they never asked us, except on a few occasions, to have a meal with them on a Saturday night.  You could never get close to them. It was a line you couldn’t overstep.”

The group’s highlight in the studio, for many fans, was the recording of “Sgt. Pepper,” in 1967, for which Emerick won his first Grammy for Best Engineered Recording.

Endless infightingBut the next year, the band began to crack apart. As the hatred between the band members grew, it began to take its toll on the production team.

“The Beatles were constantly bickering and annoying each other, second guessing everything.  It was as though they were trying to outdo each other and fight each other at the same time. It was horrible to see going on.”

The book details the growth of the Beatles as separate musicians, tired of being trapped at Abbey Road every day as well as their competitiveness and artistic differences.

Equally difficult was the presence of a fifth person in the studio, Lennon’s new girlfriend, Yoko Ono. Emerick said he and the production staff became used to her attendance at sessions, Lennon’s bandmates weren’t quite as accepting.

In one incident, Ono suggested Lennon sing a vocal that McCartney was in the process of recording, causing him to “give John a look of disbelief, and then walk away in disgust.”

Eventually Emerick could take no more, and, in the middle of the sessions, quit working with them.

In 1969, though, he was asked by Paul McCartney to head up building The Beatles’ own studio at their Apple offices in London. He returned to work with the group on “Abbey Road,” for which he and co-engineer Phil McDonald both won Grammys.