Behind the Board with The Beatles

Book Review: HERE, THERE AND EVERYWHERE: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles by GEOFF EMERICK with Howard Massey (Gotham Books)

By Bradley Bambarger <2007>

Seemingly anyone who had anything to do with The Beatles has written a book about the experience. Geoff Emerick, as the recording engineer for the band’s greatest albums, is one of the few with first-hand insights about the way the foursome’s revolutionary sounds were put to tape.

But there is more to Emerick’s gracefully written book — penned with Howard Massey — than tales of studio alchemy. Here, There and Everywhere is at its best when evoking the class-bound dowdiness of early-’60s Britain, giving the reader a fresh appreciation for the way that The Beatles and the subsequent London pop scene were like a rainbow coloring a black-and-white world.

Vitally, Emerick is also forthright about his view of the Fab Four’s shifting personalities, as well as of their record producer and his senior partner in the studio, George Martin. Close in age to the Beatles, Emerick had a sensibility more akin to the group than did the elder Martin. Yet Emerick was often an outsider on the inside. When The Beatles took dinner breaks in the studio, engineers were never invited to eat with them.

Emerick’s sizing up of individual Beatles isn’t necessarily surprising, but the details tell — whether it’s John Lennon’s nerve-wracking sarcasm or his vivid, if technically challenged, way of describing the sounds he was after. Paul McCartney tended to say, “This song needs brass and timpani.” Lennon would say, “Make my voice sound like the Dalai Lama chanting on a mountaintop.” It was Emerick’s job to translate simile into reality.

The young engineer did just that in “Tomorrow Never Knows,” achieving Lennon’s desired effect by putting his vocal through the rotating Leslie speaker usually used with a Hammond organ. It only sounds simple because Emerick thought of it first.

Just as vivid are recollections of McCartney — depicted as considerate if perfectionist — beating a tambourine to help keep Ringo Starr in time (those being the days before drummers were aided by metronomic click tracks). George Harrison comes off as often insecure in the studio; after the guitarist flubbed several solos while recording his song “Taxman,” it was McCartney who picked up the six-string to let rip the iconic outburst.

Regarding later, unhappier times with The Beatles, Emerick describes the unpleasantness that keeps him from enjoying the “White Album” today. He blames Martin for not exerting his authority at this stage. And regarding the crazy days of Yoko Ono as Lennon’s shadow in the studio, there is a hilarious anecdote about Harrison finally losing it when she helped herself to his potato chips — yelling out a word that rhymes with itch.

Emerick worked with McCartney solo, and their hapless experiences in Nigeria recording Band on the Run make for an entertaining chapter. As a coda, he remarks on his later, non-Beatle projects. The commentary on Elvis Costello’s Beatlesque, Emerick-produced Imperial Bedroom is disappointingly vague, although Costello provides the book’s thoughtful forward.

(Originally published in 2007 in The Star-Ledger of New Jersey.)

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