9/18/2006

Emerick and McCartney, Sitting In A Tree


Somewhere around 1989, marked roughly by the release of the astonishing Beatles Recording Sessions book, the Modern Period Of Revisionist Beatle History began. The milieu was perfect; everyone remembers the hideous sixties revival of the late '80's- it started with Paisley Underground bands like my beloved Malarians and reached right on up into the creative jugular of older, more popular acts of the day because it happened to represent the psychedelic landscape of their childhoods.

As with anything else of passing cultural interest it was over by the time it hit the cover of Time magazine and we had that whole wretched 20th anniversary of th' Summer Of Love in '87. And Elvis Costello teamed up with Paul McCartney and there was that whole Jeff Lynne Mafia from Th' Traveling Wilborings to the admittedly peerless Roy Orbison. And Petty started channeling Roger McGuinn.

And XTC, of course, was there first with the whole Dukes Of Stratosphear thing that bled into Skylarking so fetchingly. And I'm sure you will recall that George Harrison was like fuckin' Elton John there for a while with his Cloud Nine. 'Twas ubiquitousish. Dream Syndicate, The wretched Bangles, th' wretched 10,000 Maniacs, those rockin' geezers Th' Smithereens- a million bands, good and horrid, marched to th' neopsychedelic thing. I think Lenny Kravitz came out of that.

Brian Wilson put out his eponymous head-scratcher in '87- the Hallmark-Greeting-Card- Special-Olympics nightmare Brian Wilson. I of course got it and studied it no end and my girlfriend made fun of me by jutting out her chin and singing the retarded lyrics. "...Love and merceee that's what yoo neeed toniiight..." I still think it had some fine moments musically although lyrically it was just awful.

Bearing all this in mind it's easy to see how a major reboot of Beatleology could go down. Ned got me The Beatles Recording Sessions in 1989 when I was just starting to plot my post-Malarian career and I opened that fucking book and I didn't come out for two years. This coincided with my first serious creative efforts to define myself as a song writing artist and I dove into recording with a vengeance in my beautiful loft in Northampton MA.

Homemade Leslie speakers, bathtubs used as echo chambers, tape flanging, backwards recording, creative compression, "wobble" chorus, double tracking- this was all stuff I was already doing without really realizing the legacy I was tapping into. It's just what you end up doing when you're working with analog tape and limited outboard processing.

We didn't have th' Intarweb back in those dark days and one had to scour album sleeves and book stores to find Recording Wisdom. For me one name kept popping up, usually right after Beatles producer George Martin: Geoff Emerick. Emerick was a child during his association with the Beatles, starting out as an assistant engineer/tape op at EMI studios in London in 1962 at the age of fifteen. Emerick was involved in various capacities throughout the Beatle's recording career, bowing out briefly for the Help! and Rubber Soul sessions. He walked out of the horrible White Album Sessions, missed the whole Let It Be/Get Back debacle and engineered Abbey Road and many post-Fab recordings by all four Beatles.

For sheer paradigm-smashing, this book ranks very close to the top of the list, topped only by Barry Miles' fantastic, eye-opening, detailed, McCartney bio Many Years From Now and Get Back: The Unauthorized Chronicles Of The Beatle's Let It Be Disaster, another fine gift from th' Nedster. What Here, There And Everywhere gives the reader is a paradigm shift in the clearest sense of the word: one is truly placed, at long last, on the other side of the glass. We experience the Beatles recording career not as insiders but as rank employees and it is an eye-opening experience.

There is ultimately no love lost between Emerick and the less-cute Beatles. Neither is George Martin spared as a credit-stealing power player. I'm reminded of my experience as a rock star roadie: there's nothing fun about the creative process when you're watching from the sidelines, knowing that if a guitar lead craps out in front of 20,000 people you're going to have a very bad day. When Emerick is offered the job of engineer on the Revolver sessions his misgivings are profound and his decision to accept the seat is accompanied by many sleepless nights.

In many ways Here, There And Everywhere emerges as a chronicle of Emerick's professional love affair with Paul McCartney. McCartney emerges as a respectful, smart, nice, patient dude with an ability to wrap his head around the finer points of record production that the other three Beatles do not share. While Emerick makes no attempt to hide his awe for Lennon, Mr. Peace And Love comes off as drug-addled, impatient, and sometimes just an asshole. Not to mention sort of mean at times. Harrison's insecurity as the Third Wheel disappears gradually over the years but initially is painful and off-putting. Ringo also comes off as profoundly insecure and actually as a bit of a cipher. One guy's perspective, you know?

The best parts of the book have to do with Emerick's interaction with McCartney, in particular the innovations they developed in recording and thinking about the bass guitar. Beginning with the "Paperback Writer" single in '66 the bass guitar was afforded an importance and harmonic prominence that was unprecedented and it is here, aside from his drum production techniques and psychedelic flourishes, that Emerick makes his greatest mark. Even more to McCartney's credit, Emerick is permitted to make his mark. Introducing room ambience to bass tracks, even over McCartney's objections, is something we haven't heard about and it goes a long way towards achieving the amazing, breathing, sinuous basslines of Sgt. Pepper.

I've always felt that one of the strongest qualities of a leader in any discipline is to trust his team members and to let them have whatever positive impact over the finished product they can. I've always worked and lived by this as a musician, especially in the late '90's when I found myself supported by publicists and producers and sidemen and engineers. I'll always look back fondly to all the work I did in fiction with our engineer Michael Head. Mike and I developed such a mutual sympathy and such a common language that we could work for hours without speaking. And I loved to let him try things because, well, you never know. And it's not about letting the help have their way- it's about getting help that you respect enough and that vibes enough with you that damn it, their way might be better. Being part of a great team is the highest calling of a man.

The living, breathing soul of this book is to be found in Studio Two at Abbey Road in the wee hours when the whole cast of characters have left and Emerick and McCartney are alone with the bass track. The dance of overdubs and punch-ins and retakes and arrangement-tweaking is recreated with such loving, positive recall and one realizes that this is the one time where Emerick gets to relax in his engineer's chair and enjoy the buzz of working with possibly the most fertile mind in all of modern popular music.

Anyone with a hunger for the more technical side of Beatleology will love this book- it's a whole new experience to be privy to their recording career from the other side of the glass. Good on yer, Geoff.



9 Comments:

Blogger fgfdsg said...

Sounds great. No release in Australia yet, but the import price is $45 (!) so i'll just have to wait for that one.

I miss my early 4-track recordings, where i'd try *anything* to get a different sound. I once dropped a mike down the innards of an upright piano, put a brick on the loud pedal and sang *against* the strings to get a very creepy, ambient reverb effect. It's nowhere near as much fun just selecting effects off a recording menu.

11:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Bobby,

Howard Massey here (Geoff's co-author). Nicely written! It's been fascinating for me to see what different readers are getting from the book, and your perspective was one of the more interesting ones.

One minor chronological point: Geoff started work at Abbey Road in 1962, not 1959. Yes, he was just fifteen years old (something which blew MY mind!) and on just his second day at work the Beatles rolled up for their first ever recording session at EMI... and he got the opportunity to sit in.

BTW, we're working on securing an Australian publisher so hopefully the book will become available there soon at a much more affordable price. In any event, the paperback edition is due out next February.

Cheers, and I look forward to reading future blogs!

7:02 AM  
Blogger Kevin Wolf said...

I'm afraid my music library tends toward encyclopedias of jazz, blues, etc. I really should read up on the boys. I hear they had quite an impact once and are rather well remembered.

Bobby, what do you think of Emerick's production of Elvis Costello's Imperial Bedroom? It works for me, though I suspect the advance single from the album, "You Little Fool," was entirely produced by EC.

9:34 AM  
Blogger Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

I had a suspicion that McCartney was really into the behind-the-scenes stuff. There was a PBS special a couple of months back -- "An Evening with Paul McCartney" or something like that -- where Paul sat pretty much by himself in front of a small audience & talked about the production of many Beatles songs (plus a lot of his own stuff, of course). But, he had all of the instruments and machinery right there on the stage and gave live demonstrations on using the (mainly analog) equipment. You could tell the guy was no stranger to those machines.

9:53 AM  
Blogger Highlander said...

As with Neddie, and the guy over at Alicublog (Roy Edroso, I think) I love your writing, even when it's about something I don't have much interest in. Mind you, "Paperback Writer" is maybe my favorite Beatles tune ever, but it sure as shit isn't for any technical reasons like the goddam bass line; I just think it's got great lyrics and it rocks on out. But I know nothing more about music than most of the idiots like me who listen to the radio.

I imagine this is exactly how nearly any random surfer feels when they come across my blog and I'm going on and on and on about superhero comics or HeroClix or some fucking thing like that. If you ain't in that reality tunnel, you just ain't interested.

But still, again, I always love your writing.

12:12 PM  
Blogger Bobby Lightfoot said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:05 PM  
Blogger beyond passionate said...

Ah, I've just found the next book I'm going to read (I'm currently reading "Shakey"- bio of Neil Young- thanks to an aside from the Nedster a few weeks ago)

5:44 PM  
Blogger Bobby Lightfoot said...

All you clever, clever bahhhstards:

Simon- I *love* the piano thing. And I have actually seen a plug-in that simulates piano-string reverb. Next they'll have one that puts vocals in tune.

The Esteemed Mssr. Massey- I'm honored that you read my bit- I corrected my glaring date flaw. I'm kind of hazy on dates that occurred before my all-important birth.

Also, sorry about my musician's myopia in never complimenting you by name for your work on this project which is *stellar*. Consider your perceived transparency as a compliment in itself. I only notice *bad* writing.

I was really glad that you were the one who took this on because your producing and engineering chops made for a never-technically-innaccurate read, which was refreshing. I love things like the fact that these guys started on the road to modern production by moving microphones closer to sources and ganging gainstages.

I'll probably read this book a dozen times. I hope you sell millions of copies and get hideously, repulsively rich.

Kelvin- Gracious, I?ve been thinking about how badly I need to listen to Ballroom. I don?t think I?ve even listened to it since I?ve been obsessed with production. This?ll be great.

BSUWG- I'd love to see that. I always miss crap like that, ding bust it. There's a thing in Anthology were Paul and George Martin are sitting at a mixer bringing up tracks from "Tomorrow Never Knows" that I pretty much have down verbatim. It's HUGE at parties. "Do the Abbey Road thing, Bobby! Please!!"

Auslander- thanks, man. Th' coffee industry is also a big fan of mine.

We musically/technically oriented people make a tragic decision when we choose to experience music from the inside out. It's like a vow of silence or celibacy. We never get to appreciate it the same way.

Beyond- I?m looking forward to Shakey. Look up Barry Miles? Many Years From Now. It?s much, much more than your average bio.

7:29 PM  
Blogger Employee of the Month said...

This is a favorite of mine:

http://tapeop.com/

10:26 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home