To label this book merely fascinating would not do either its author or the subject matter it covers the justice both so richly deserve. As the EMI Records engineer hand-picked by George Martin himself to record the Beatles during what most will agree was their most important records — the 1966 to 1968 period between Revolver and The White Album — Geoff Emerick had a ringside seat for the making of music history.
He witnessed (and had a considerable hand in helping to create) such artistic landmarks as Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. He also was there as the Beatles began to dissolve before his eyes during the making of The White Album. Their engineer, Geoff Emerick, recalls both with equally riveting detail in this firsthand account.
Starting as a 15-year-old studio engineer, Emerick would go on to a play a key role in creating some of the most memorable music of the 20th century at a mere 19 years of age. Emerick's recollections of this time — which range from such matters of history as the collective gasps of those privy to the magic being created during the Sgt. Pepper sessions to the frustration felt by anyone in the studio during more difficult albums like The White Album and Let It Be — provide a priceless insight into some unique moments in music history.
In often painstaking detail, Emerick tells the story of how he watched (as a somewhat personally detached, yet very much professionally invested observer) the Beatles go from four famously good-humored mates to four separate individuals who could barely stand being in the same room with each other, all the while creating such musical landmarks as Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road. Make no mistake; this is a book about the Beatles.
In many ways, it may be the definitive book because of the way it describes the creation of their monumental late sixties work. As the studio engineering geek that Emerick no doubt is, the book does occasionally get bogged down in such details as the specific type of tape used for various sessions. In the context of the narrative being told, this doesn't always work. Occasionally it does, such as when Emerick reveals the painstaking hours getting a track like "Strawberry Fields Forever" just right, or when he reveals his frustration with Beatles hangers-on like "Magic Alex."
A particular favorite of John Lennon, the guru-like "Magic Alex" wormed his way into the Beatles inner circle by promising huge technological leaps, basically summed up here by his failure to create a recording studio for Apple (which Emerick eventually completed). Emerick also goes into great detail regarding EMI studio politics at a time during which the Beatles (as the biggest selling artists in the world) were given free creative rein. This often flew in the face of the stiffer, prevailing corporate attitude of the EMI studio heads at the time.
Most interesting here however, is Emerick's observations as a firsthand observer of the Beatles themselves. Here one watches the creative competition between Lennon and McCartney in particular go from a simple matter of one-upmanship during Sgt. Pepper to a personal battle of wills during the making of The White Album.
With the Beatles recording virtually as separate solo artists by this time, Lennon and McCartney — once boyhood friends — could barely stand to be in the same room together. While Lennon dismisses the multiple takes required for McCartney's "Ob La Di, Ob La Da" as more of McCartney's "granny shit," Sir Paul is equally horrified with Lennon's notion of "Revolution #9" being a single, no less an album track.
Emerick's personal recollections are most telling as he recalls George Harrison trying to bring songs like "Only A Northern Song" to the table, songs that would later be relegated to "lesser projects" like the Yellow Submarine soundtrack, which the Beatles apparently viewed as a mere fulfillment of a contractual obligation. By the time of the album, which would come to be known to the world as Let It Be, the Beatles are apparently together in name only, while producer Phil Spector tries to hold together the mess things have apparently become.
The happy ending comes when the Beatles manage to put aside their differences long enough to record the dueling guitar solos heard on Abbey Road’s second side. Here, there is a rare moment of unity recalling the Beatles early days as four boys from Liverpool destined to change history that is enough to erase the bitter division marking the band's final months together.
As the guy sitting behind the studio console during these pivotal years in the history of a band that would go on to change the world, Geoff Emerick tells a most compelling story. For Beatles fans looking for a unique first hand perspective into the music which changed history, your search stops here.