Geoff Emerick

Although George Martin is generally credited with shaping The Beatles’ sound, the Abbey Road sound engineers were key in helping the group realise their visions. Arguably none were as influential and crucial as Geoff Emerick, who worked with The Beatles between 1966 and 1969.

The Beatles were in the right place at the right time. There was an anti-Establishment thing in the air, and everybody was looking for a youthful leader to latch onto. Everything came together. It just happened, really. And I could never see that happening again.
Geoff Emerick

Emerick was born in London in 1946, and joined EMI at the age of 15. He sat in on The Beatles’ first EMI session on 6 June 1962, in his first week at work.

He first worked with the group on 20 February 1963, when he was tape operator on an overdub session for Misery and Baby It’s You. He assisted on a number of sessions for Please Please Me, With The Beatles and A Hard Day’s Night, before moving into EMI’s disc-cutting team.

In April 1966, at the age of 20, Emerick was promoted to engineer on the first session for Revolver. The first song to be recorded was Tomorrow Never Knows.

The studio manager called me to his office and asked whether I’d like to be The Beatles’ engineer. That took me a little bit by surprise! In fact it terrified me. I remember playing a game in my head, eeny meeny miney mo, shall I say yes, shall I say no? The responsibility was enormous but I said yes, thinking that I’d accept the blows as they came.
Geoff Emerick
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

Emerick took over from Norman Smith, who had worked with The Beatles on almost all the sessions from Love Me Do to Rubber Soul. Emerick’s youthful age and willingness to experiment with recording techniques dovetailed perfectly with The Beatles’ quests for new sounds.

Geoff walked in green but because he knew no rules he tried different techniques. And because The Beatles were very creative and very adventurous, they would say yes to everything. The chemistry of George and Geoff was perfect and they made a formidable team. With another producer and another engineer things would have turned out quite differently.
Jerry Boys, tape operator
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

Being responsible for the innovative sounds on Tomorrow Never Knows would have daunted any new engineer, but Emerick rose to the challenge spectacularly. He went on to receive Grammy awards for his work on Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road.

I spoke to Geoff Emerick, the engineer, and he had a good idea. He said, ‘Let’s try putting his voice through a Leslie speaker and back again and re-recording it.’ A Leslie speaker is a rotating speaker, a Hammond console, and the speed at which it rotates can be varied according to a knob on the control. By putting his voice through that and then recording it again, you got a kind of intermittent vibrato effect, which is what we hear on Tomorrow Never Knows. I don’t think anyone had done that before. It was quite a revolutionary track for Revolver.

Geoff Emerick used to do things for The Beatles and be scared that the people above [in the EMI hierarchy] would find out. Engineers then weren’t supposed to play about with microphones and things like that. But he used to do really weird things that were slightly illegitimate, with our support and approval.

George Martin
Anthology
The night we dubbed in the orchestra on A Day In The Life, there was a kind of party in the studio. I set up a rough monitor mix to play for everybody, and Ron Richards, who was the producer for The Hollies, was in the control room. When I played back the rough mix, Ron just put his head in his hands. And he was serious. There was silence after we finished playing it back. It was like you were watching a black-and-white film, and suddenly there was color and Cinemascope. The feeling in that control room was just amazing. Nobody had ever heard anything like it in their lives..
Geoff Emerick

Despite his creative wizardry being invaluable to the group, Geoff Emerick became increasingly unhappy with the often tense atmospheres during the sessions for the White Album in 1968. He quit working with The Beatles on 16 July, while the group were recording Cry Baby Cry.

I lost interest in the White Album because they were really arguing amongst themselves and swearing at each other. The expletives were really flying. There was one instance just before I left when they were doing Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da for the umpteenth time. Paul was re-recording the vocal again and George Martin made some remark about how he should be lilting onto the half-beat or whatever and Paul, in no refined way, said something to the effect of ‘Well you come down and sing it’. I said to George ‘Look, I’ve had enough. I want to leave. I don’t want to know any more.’ George said ‘Well, leave at the end of the week’ – I think it was a Monday or Tuesday – but I said ‘No, I want to leave now, this very minute, and that was it.
Geoff Emerick
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

Emerick did, however, mix songs for the Yellow Submarine album, and engineered the orchestral recording sessions for the soundtrack in October 1968. However, he didn’t work with The Beatles again until 14 April 1969, when he engineered a session for The Ballad Of John And Yoko. He returned full-time in July, while the group were making Abbey Road.

I started working with them again at Paul McCartney’s request, just a week after I had left EMI to run Apple Studios. I went back to Abbey Road as the first freelance engineer that had walked in the building.
Geoff Emerick
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

After The Beatles split up, Emerick worked with artists including Paul McCartney, Judy Garland, Elvis Costello, Art Garfunkel, Cheap Trick, Split Enz and Jeff Beck. His work on McCartney’s Band On The Run album won him a Grammy, and he was awarded another in 2003 – his fourth – for lifetime Technical Achievement.

In 2006 Emerick’s memoir, Here, There And Everywhere: My Life Recording The Music Of The Beatles was published. It was co-written with music journalist Howard Massey. The book received some criticism for its dismissal of the contributions of George Harrison and Ringo Starr, and his assessment of Rubber Soul as “not especially noteworthy” and the White Album as “virtually unlistenable”.

This is the true story of the Beatles in the recording studio as I and many of my colleagues remember it. As The Beatles’ own Anthology project proved, put four people in a room and you will get four differerent recollections of the same event. That is simply human nature. Nonetheless, my co-author and I took great pains to ensure the accuracy of all that is stated in the book.
Geoff Emerick

In 2007 Emerick led a project to re-record Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with contemporary artists including Oasis, The Killers, Travis and Razorlight. The new versions, mostly recorded on Abbey Road’s original equipment, were broadcast on BBC Radio 2 on 2 June to mark the album’s 40th anniversary.

In a 2007 interview for Netscape, Emerick spoke of his distaste for the Love album.

I won’t listen to it. People have told me about it. Look, the four artists were present when we did the mono mixes of the original records. And the recordings were fresh in our minds when we did the stereo mixes: even if the Beatles weren’t present, they were involved. It’s their record – and now it’s been messed around with. The original records are iconic, they’re pieces of art. Would you go and repaint the Sistine Chapel? You don’t. Just leave it alone.
Geoff Emerick

Geoff Emerick moved to America in 1984, and currently lives in Los Angeles.

12 Responses to “Geoff Emerick”

  1. Ewan O'Doherty

    ‘Here, There and Everywhere’, written by Geoff Emerick with Howard Massey is a fascinating insight into what took place at Beatles recording sessions during Geoff Emerick’s time as assistant, and later, balance engineer -after I bought the book I couldn’t put it down! The innovations and new sounds they developed from uncomplicated 1960s recording technology (effects-wise, they had little if anything more than reverb and ‘tape echo’) made for some amazing sounds. On ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, Emerick gives an account of how the mixing console became a musical instrument (pp111-3), by running tape loops containing contorted sounds played from every available tape machine in the Abbey Road facility, speeding them up and down, fading them in and out etc- not the earliest example of non-instrumental music but very high profile because it was being offered to the Beatles’ mass audience. On ‘Revolver’ and ‘Sgt Pepper’ it was amazing what they could still do with just 4 tracks to record and ‘bounce’ on. No doubt the higher-ups at Abbey Road and EMI HQ (to their chagrin!) knew well what unorthodox things and taboo experiments were taking place in the studios but they must have turned a blind eye because of the millions the Beatles were making for them. ‘Here, There and Everywhere’ will certainly alter any Beatle afficionado’s perception of their music, like it did for me. Enjoy!

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  2. Jammy_jim

    While I found his book to be (occasionally) interesting for the insight into the Beatles recording technique, I cannot recommend it due to the obvious, lopsided favoritism he gives to McCartney.

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  3. FWD

    I am almost finished the book and I think its fantastic, I feel theres nothing in here we havent heard before regarding the beatles and their roles in the band. Yes, Paul is a perfectionist and workaholic, and John and George were pretty much over the whole thing by the time they hit it big. Its only natural that Geoff would appreciate the guy with the best work ethic as he was punching a time clock himself. Even Ringo admits to this in the new George Harrison film. We all know enough about the beatles to read this and still be able to draw our own conclusions, but the tidbits in here are priceless, please dont be dissuaded from reading it.

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  4. polymorphorism

    I’m but three chapters in, and there are pluses and minuses in the book. Generally, so far, I agree with Jammy_jim: the book has great insight into the technical aspect of how the recordings were made, and some of the off-the-cuff quotes made by George Martin et al, but then there’s the forced interpretation through his own filter – “Paul McCartney was the real leader” and such drivel.

    Read with a bit of skepticism about the more subjective sides of this book, but enjoy the window into the best era for music ever!

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  5. Zach Danz

    I’m also reading “Here, There and Everywhere” currently. It’s a great read. As an amateur Beatles historian, I’ve always imagined what it was like to be in the recording studio with these guys. Now I feel like I’m really getting to get in there some. I’ll occasionally read things that I don’t like as much. Yes, there is a very clear bias in the book towards McCartney and against George, whom he seldom has a positive or even neutral remark about. Such obvious bias, I lose faith in the truthfulness of what I am reading on occasion. I would still recommend it to any budding Beatles fan. Geoff had an incredible contribution to the sound of the band and I’m glad that it’s documented.

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  6. StanA

    I agree with FWD: in his book, Emerick is giving us a window into the Beatles recording sessions, through his eyes. Maybe what he says goes against the grain of what we would like to think about them, but he was there, at least for the period 1966-69. He reports Paul as the only one who really had any rapport with him, and that certainly colors his impressions. Otherwise look at what he says. That Paul was the “arranger”, with very precise ideas of how he wanted his songs to sound. John was a creative genius, but often surly (and often under the influence) and too impatient to spend the same time perfecting his songs that Paul did with his. George and Ringo were much criticized by John and Paul, and little time was spent on their songs. He found neither one very happy during sessions, both walked out at times, and Emerick describes Ringo as being bored most of the time, as he had little to do once the basic rhythm track was recorded. We know that George and Ringo had more complex personalities than Emerick describes, but he only saw them in Abbey Road studios under conditions that they often found distasteful. He is entirely complementary about Ringo’s drumming, and he recognizes that George’s guitar solos improved enormously over time. And in 1966-68 it seems entirely believable that Paul was the driving force behind the group. A great read, but keep an open mind and realize that it only deals with the recording sessions, and mostly in the contentious post-touring era.

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  7. rcsnydley

    I’m reading the book now and though little in it is unfamiliar to me I am enthralled by the different perspective that is usually presented. Because he is not so star struck he seems to be able to give his personal feelings on not only the sessions and band, but the individuals that make up the Beatles world and music.

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  8. paulsbass

    Too bad Mr. Emerick (who used to be a true Beatle hero for me) obviously didn’t tell excact memories all the time, since he had been under the influence himself at that time and couldn’t remember enough to make it into a book.
    So at least for some parts he plain right made up stuff and sold it as fact!
    Most infamous example for me is the part where he describes in DETAIL how John recorded the “Aaahs” for A day in the life – when it is PAUL on the record!

    So I guess it’s possible to enjoy the book as a work of fiction but not as an accurate description of what really happened.

    Oh, and I just read that he dislikes “Love”.
    I guess the fact that George Martin himself was involved wasn’t enough for him.
    Too bad, he misses a great collection of remixes of the original recordings that but new life and a fresh spirit to the legendary sounds – without ever damaging their legacy.
    Maybe he was pissed nobody asked HIM to be involved…

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  9. Bob Johnson

    I have almost finished reading the book, and having read these reviews, most of them are as colored by Lennon disciples as they accuse Emerick of being toward McCartney. The man was there, and he calls it like he sees it. I found it very even-handed regarding Lennons talent and song/musical contributions. He simply says that Lennon was often detached and lacked attention to detail, and was distracted alot. Wow, surprise. For those readers that are looking for a perspective of this period by a man who was THERE everyday, gazing out of the control room window, its a great read. Technical, revealing, and an excellent rememberance of that time. StanA’s review is true.

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  10. bob spadafora

    I was looking for a book on the Beatles when i found this one. I’m 62 and live in NY. At the time the albums described in Geoff’s book were coming out, I was getting my first stereo. I discovered that by fading the sound from the left or to the right speaker, I could pick out the separate parts as Geoff had mixed them. I used to bore my buddies with this sort of ” can you imagine being there during the session?” This book is perfect for musicians like me who spent hours trying to cover songs from the”Pepper” sessions only to be frustrated. I get it now! Great book.

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