Geoff Emerick is a legend among engineers and producers. He was the young "balance engineer" for The Beatles on Revolver through Abbey Road, with a spell off for later White Album and Let It Be sessions. Geoff went on to work on many other landmark albums, including the Zombies' Odessey and Oracle (which gets barely any mention here), Paul's Band on the Run (crazy stories here), and some of Elvis Costello's best work (Imperial Bedroom). Geoff is humble and unassuming in person, but this book seems to be written in a different tone than that, a bit cocky at times, questioning George Martin's decisions (with hindsight), claiming many engineering breakthroughs (many possibly debatable), but at best portraying The Beatles as he saw them. This portrayal is the part I find the most refreshing-in almost a myth-busting way. George Harrison enters as an unsure younger member of the group who could barely play a solo without cocking up, and leaves as an equal of John and Paul, able to tell Paul off and deliver songs like "Something". John Lennon is a wild dreamer who is impatient in the studio and eventually brings his wife to every session (oh my). Paul McCartney is the practical, keep- moving workaholic who keeps The Beatles on track long after they should have imploded. Ringo, well, he doesn't say much! Geoff's perception of The Beatles as a closed unit, rebuffing even George Martin in the end, makes sense but runs against the "peace and love" picture many fans would like to perceive; but it rings true with any of us that have worked on sessions day in and out with highly creative people.
Howard Massey's contribution to this book was probably massive; it reads very well (he's a great writer and former engineer), and the smooth flow of the book really helps. The only complaint a Tape Op reader might have is that the book reads more as a "general interest in The Beatles" tome, and not as a technically-orientated book on how things were done. A few details show up, but overall, it's about the experiences... and when those experiences include recording "Strawberry Fields", Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour... you know many of us are gonna line up to read about it. Keep an eye out for an upcoming interview with Geoff in Tape Op this winter. -LC
Having just read this book myself, I would add two comments to Larry's review of it. One, it's interesting to note how much of the book conveys Geoff's feelings about the personalities involved. Not just him being empathetic in order to get the job done, but how much he cared about the people he worked with on a personal level. It's also interesting to note that bottom line, Geoff was a huge, unapolagetic fan of The Beatles. Both of these observations bely the somewhat commonly held (especially back then) notion of the engineer as an impartial, emotionless technician. Geoff retained his professionalism but was very much emotionally involved in his work, while clearly being a great engineer.
($26 MSRP; www.penguin.com) -JB