I learned yesterday of the passing this past Tuesday of Geoff Emerick, who engineered the Beatles’s catalog from Revolver onward. If the name does not ring any bells that is not entirely accidental: producer George Martin was fiercely territorial of his relationship with the Beatles in the recording studio and did not want others getting credit for what he saw as his domain. Emerick complained justifiably in his memoir Here, There, and Everywhere of him and others being minimized cavalierly as merely “the staff” despite their important contributions. Martin’s accomplishments were of course significant but one can state with strong accuracy that had Emerick not been there in the Abbey Road studios that Revolver and Sgt. Pepper in particular would not have been the albums that we have now been listening to for half a century.
Emerick worked in a supportive role on Beatle recordings from virtually the outset in 1962 and became their chief engineer in April 1966 when Norman Smith left to produce Pink Floyd. The first song Emerick engineered was “Tomorrow Never Knows.” He was all of twenty years old. The Beatles went on the road that summer for what would be their final tour. When they regrouped in London later that year they began the Pepper sessions, beginning with the double-A side single of “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane.” The pressure was truly on Geoff Emerick at this time because the Beatles had made clear to him that they would no longer be touring and that the studio releases were the band’s authoritative communications. It was his job to take their ideas and and find a way to get them on tape. That was no small task in the days before digitization.
It was a seminal year in British history; 1966 came fifty years after the battles of the Verdun and the Somme, nearly twenty years after V-E Day, and a decade after Suez. England defeated West Germany in the Word Cup that summer. Austerity Britain was giving way to Swinging London. Drab greys were giving way to the technicolor uniforms the Beatles would wear in 1967, the style inspired by the nostalgia for neo-militaria that was common in Britain in those years immediately after the Empire’s collapse. So much of that seems dated and overdone today, a relic of a time gone by. I suppose none of that really matters anyway. All that is left of true importance is the magic of what happened in those studios, in which Geoff Emerick played such an important part.
(image/Clusternote via Wikimedia Commons)