If George Martin was a wizard (and he was), Geoff Emerick was his familiar.
Geoffrey E. Emerick was an English audio engineer who worked with the Beatles on their albums Revolver (1966), Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) and Abbey Road (1969). Producer George Martin credited him with bringing “a new kind of mind to the recordings, always suggesting sonic ideas, different kinds of reverb, what we could do with the voices”.
Emerick also engineered the Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle (1968), Paul McCartney and Wings’ Band on the Run (1973), and Elvis Costello’s Imperial Bedroom (1982). He won four Grammy Awards for his work in the music recording field. His 2006 memoir Here, There, and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Beatles caused controversy for its factual errors.
Early career at EMI
Geoff Emerick was brought up in Crouch End, London, and educated at Crouch End secondary modern school, where one of his teachers heard about a job at EMI and suggested he apply. At age 15, he was employed as assistant engineer. The fifth of June 1962 was his first day at work, and on the following day the Beatles came to Studio 2 at Abbey Road for their first recording session for EMI. To familiarise Emerick with his work, he was placed under the supervision of another assistant engineer, Richard Langham, assistant engineer to Norman Smith, who would be doing the first recording session of the Beatles in the evening. As a new recruit, Emerick was not entitled to get over-time pay, but was lucky enough to witness this first-ever EMI recording session by the finalised line-up of the Beatles in 1962, during which the group recorded for the first time with new drummer Ringo Starr on what would eventually become their debut hit single, “Love Me Do”.
Working with the Beatles and others
As assistant engineer, Emerick worked on several early recordings by the Beatles, including “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. From early in 1964, his involvement with the band was limited due to his training program at EMI, as he progressed to lacquer cutter, mastering engineer and then balance (or recording) engineer. During that time, he helped record other artists for the label, including Judy Garland, and assisted at the EMI artist test of the Hollies. After working his way up to the recording engineer’s position, Emerick engineered the 1966 Manfred Mann single “Pretty Flamingo”, which became a number 1 hit in the UK.
In April 1966 at the age of 20, Emerick took over as the Beatles’ recording engineer, at the request of producer George Martin, when Smith became a producer. Emerick’s first album in this new role was Revolver, starting with the sessions for “Tomorrow Never Knows”. It was Emerick’s suggestion to record John Lennon’s vocal through a Leslie speaker on the song, to capture the ethereal sound Lennon wanted, and to close-mic Starr’s drums, formerly a prohibited practice at EMI Studios. In 1967, Emerick engineered “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”, one of the most musically complex songs on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Lennon told Martin he wanted to re-create the “carnival atmosphere” of the Pablo Fanque circus poster that inspired the song. For the middle eight bars, Emerick spliced together multiple recordings of fairground organs and calliope in an attempt to create the effect; after a great deal of unsuccessful experimentation, Martin instructed Emerick to chop the tape into pieces with scissors, throw them up in the air, and re-assemble them at random. Later in 1967, he engineered the Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle and Tomorrow’s self-titled debut album.
Emerick abandoned work on The Beatles (also known as the “White Album”) on 16 July 1968, fed up with the intra-band tensions and arguments that hampered the sessions. Emerick also objected to Chris Thomas, Martin’s inexperienced assistant, being elevated to the role of producer in Martin’s absence, with the band’s acceptance. He returned to work with the Beatles on Abbey Road. Emerick received Grammy Awards for the engineering of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road.
Despite his departure from the White Album sessions, Emerick remained on good terms with the Beatles, particularly Paul McCartney, who invited Emerick to quit EMI and come and work for their company Apple Corps in 1969. In addition to engineering duties, Emerick oversaw the building of the Beatles’ Apple Studio in the Apple Corps building.
After the Beatles
Following the Beatles’ break-up in 1970, Emerick continued to work with McCartney. He served as recording engineer on McCartney albums such as Band on the Run (1973), which netted Emerick another Grammy, London Town (1978), Tug of War (1982) and Flaming Pie (1997). Emerick later said that he had always been perceived by the other ex-Beatles as “Paul’s guy”. As a result, for their solo recordings, Lennon and George Harrison chose to work instead with Phil McDonald, another former EMI engineer.
Emerick was the sound engineer on Robin Trower’s 1974 album Bridge of Sighs, and was credited by both Trower and producer Matthew Fisher for that album’s sound. He also recorded some of the backing tracks for the debut album by Stealers Wheel, The Psychomodo, but resigned early on in the process, handing over to Apple recording engineer John Mills to continue working with producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The Stealers Wheel album featured “Stuck in the Middle with You” and went on to receive the Dutch Edison Award.
Following the success of EMI’s The Beatles at Abbey Road presentation in 1983, Emerick prepared an album of the Beatles’ studio outtakes, to be titled Sessions, for release. The former Beatles initiated legal proceedings to prevent EMI from issuing the album, saying that the work was substandard; when made available on bootleg compilations, his mixes and editing of some of the tracks were widely criticised by collectors. In the mid 1990s, these recordings were used for the Beatles Anthology CD releases.
Emerick also worked on albums by Elvis Costello (for whom he produced Imperial Bedroom and All This Useless Beauty), Badfinger, Art Garfunkel, America, Jeff Beck, Gino Vannelli, Supertramp, Cheap Trick, Nazareth, Chris Bell, Split Enz, Trevor Rabin, Nick Heyward, Big Country, Gentle Giant, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Ultravox. His other recording projects included Matthew Fisher’s first solo album, Journey’s End; Kate Bush’s demo tape to EMI, which landed her a record deal; and Nellie McKay’s critically acclaimed 2004 debut CD Get Away from Me. In 2003, he received his fourth Grammy, a Special Merit/Technical Grammy Award.
In 2007, Emerick produced a re-recording of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in honor of the album’s 40th anniversary. It included performances by contemporary artists such as Oasis, the Killers, Travis and Razorlight. Emerick used the original equipment to record the new versions of the songs, and the results were broadcast on BBC Radio 2 on 2 June that year.
From 1984, Emerick resided in Los Angeles.
Here, There, and Everywhere
In 2006, Emerick released his memoir, Here, There, and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles, co-authored by music journalist Howard Massey. The book caused controversy for its factual errors, and for its allegedly unfavorable portrayal of Harrison, bias towards McCartney and belittling and dismissal of Harrison and Starr’s contributions. According to Beatles biographer Robert Rodriguez, Emerick’s recurring theme that Harrison lacked prowess as a guitar player until the late 1960s is more reflective of Emerick’s personality, and is countered by several other sources, and some of his descriptions of the Beatles’ recordings are negated by the availability of bootleg compilations of the band’s multitrack masters.
Beatles historian Erin Torkelson Weber said that, apart from Lennon’s account in Lennon Remembers, the book also presents arguably the most negative depiction of Martin as a record producer. The publication led to an Internet flame war, as former Beatles engineer Ken Scott challenged the accuracy of Emerick’s recollections and stated that, before writing the book, Emerick had contacted him and other EMI technical staff saying he had limited memory of the events. Scott’s 2012 autobiography, From Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust, sought to correct Emerick’s statements in Here, There, and Everywhere, especially with regard to Harrison’s musicianship and character.
Emerick died from a heart attack on 2 October 2018, aged 72. He had been hospitalized two weeks beforehand after experiencing trouble walking, but was ruled to have been dehydrated. His manager, William Zabaleta, recalled talking to Emerick for the last time: “While on the phone, he had complications and dropped the phone. I called 911, but by the time they got there, it was too late. Geoff suffered from heart problems for a long time and had a pacemaker. When it’s your time it’s your time. We lost a legend and a best friend to me and a mentor.”
Paul McCartney commented on social media: “He was smart, fun-loving, and the genius behind many of the great sounds on our records. I’m shocked and saddened to have lost such a special friend.”
As buried in the article, he produced my beloved Badfinger (the No More album). The list of McCartney albums is not complete (Run Devil Run), but you get the idea.
Rest in peace, sir, and thank you.
About the blogger:
Michael Curry is a life-long Beatles fan and has written the short story “The Day John F Kennedy Met the Beatles”, available here on Amazon Kindle.