Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust is a fascinating rock ‘n roll first person account by a guy who not only engineered The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour and The Beatles (“The White Album”), but as if that isn’t enough crowning achievement, went on to produce some of the most highly regarded music from rock ‘n roll’s most exciting era, including David Bowie’s The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars and George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass.
Ken Scott’s contribution to engineering and producing some of the finest music of the 20th Century is staggering. Add these titles to his resume: Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World, Hunky Dory, Aladdin Sane and Pinups; Elton John’s Madman Across The Water, Honky Chateau and Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player; Jeff Beck’s Truth; Lou Reed’s Transformer; Supertramp’s Crime of The Century; The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers; the list goes on.
It’s an inside “hands-on” book which offers John, Paul, George and Ringo bustling about Abbey Road Studios like it’s just another day at the office. The rock ‘n roll dignitaries breezing through the pages of Scott’s volume is like a stroll through the history of modern rock. Any given page may find Elton John ringing up on the telephone asking Scott to meet him in France to produce his next album. Frank Zappa knocks on his door and offers the use of his home-built recording studio while he’s away on tour. George Harrison calls just to chat and to persuade Scott to re-master All Things Must Pass.
Scott grew up in a working class London family with a fascination for recording devices and a healthy human lust for the girl singers on British TV. After a university stint, he secured an assistant sound engineer position at recording giant EMI, which led to his long association with the Beatles. His relationship with the Beatles lasted long after their break-up and is climaxed by his stay in Harrison’s castle during the final days of Harrison’s life.
His wonderful fan-based story, which finds him first as an impressionable lad encountering the Beatles in the hallways of EMI Studios, where he is tempted to “scream like one of the girls” at the sight of them, is merged with his knowledge of sound technology which is as telling as his personal narrative. For true sound buffs, a more specified “tech talk” is included on separate highlighted pages of the book.
His anecdotes on the legion of rock-and-roll royalty offer a brand new history that finds Yoko Ono and Linda McCartney most welcome and passive in the studio while recording the Beatles. He can’t recall a single incident of agitation regarding The Beatles’ wives. It is no surprise that John Lennon is described as a wonderful guy who could be a bit of an “arsehole.”
My enthusiasm for the book is curbed a bit in the second half which isn’t nearly as thrilling as the first as Scott takes his career into the 1980s and ’90s. Peculiar anecdotes still abound as Devo is described as “standoffish,” Duran Duran are seen as foolishly extravagant with money, and medical emergency personnel are summoned to Scott’s posh Los Angeles pool party when a guest gets his “thingy” stuck in the Jacuzzi suction cup.
Far too many chapters (three!) are devoted to L.A. new wave band Missing Persons, a group that Scott managed, who scored a hit record with “Words”, and quickly faded into obscurity. There is a significant number of testimonial letters and quotes from record label executives, musicians, and fellow engineers and producers, pasted throughout the book attesting to Scott’s value as a producer, that become gratuitous and leaves an air of insecurity.
But the importance of the documentation of such monumental music is not to be underestimated. It helps that Scott was strictly anti-drug when working and his vivid recollections are vital and studious. His song-for-song account of The Beatles’ “White Album” is historic.