Remembering the legendary engineer outside of his groundbreaking work in the Fab Four’s peak period
Late Sunday night, the news broke out across Facebook among the music people that Geoff Emerick, the engineer behind the Beatles’ four best studio albums, had suffered a massive heart attack and died at the age of 72. It was sudden and unexpected, as Emerick had upcoming appearances throughout October.
On Facebook, the past week has brought some beautiful sentiments and fond memories from so many prolific acts who had the privilege of Emerick’s magic ears inside the control room.
“Geoff was the brains, the inventor of so many cool techniques and musical studio ‘tricks of the trade’ we now take for granted, but he was the genius that cooked them up in the first place,” stated Steve Nieve of The Attractions, who worked with Emerick on three Elvis albums, including Get Happy!!!, Imperial Bedroom and All This Useless Beauty. :A very gentle man, we worked together on many occasions, and he always made you feel at ease in the studio and then captured your best work. At the end of the day he made you sound better than you ever sounded before or after. And working with him you learned so much, and you had fun, musical fun. Thank you Geoff for all your patience, for Imperial Bedroom, for All This Useless Beauty, and for all the times after when we ran into you along the road.”
“A great producer/engineer, a pleasure to know and a joy to work with,” wrote fellow Attraction Bruce Thomas. “And a never-ending source of wonderful Beatle anecdotes.”
“He was slated to produce my band The Three O’ Clock,” wrote Michael Querico of the Paisley Underground luminaries. “Geoff came to our rehearsal space and hung out with us for three hours listening to our new songs and answering any Beatles question I put to him. I was taken aback at how down to earth and friendly he was. An experience I will cherish forever along with the catalog of utter genius that he engineered.”
Though he may be most known for his work with the Fabs, including much of Paul McCartney’s work in Wings and as a solo artist along with a chunk of the Apple Records discography, Emerick’s impact on modern rock and pop stretches far beyond his most famous clientele. Here are five albums from his history in particular you should check out.
Rest in peace, Geoff.
Cockney Rebel The Human Menagerie (1973)
“As we entered Air London Studios to begin work in the summer of 1973, the news that our engineer would be the nigh-immortal Geoff Emerick brought wide-eyes excitement to those of us who knew details of Beatles’ albums’ sleeve notes,” described Steve Harley, frontman for the annoyingly overlooked Britsh glam group Cockney Rebel in conversation with Harley about the band’s debut LP The Human Menagerie. “Neil Harrison came in as Control, and was himself fearless as he allowed my imagination to run loose. It was Neil who suggested orchestra and choir for so much of The Human Menagerie. And Andrew Powell was brought in to write the arrangements. Such a budget for a new signing is pretty close to unthinkable today. I’m still not sure how Neil persuaded the money-men to sign such crazy big cheques, but his nous and his charm helped turn those big tracks into epics and I’ll forever be in his debt for that.”
Tim Hardin Painted Head
In ’72, American folk hero Tim Hardin moved to England in an attempt to dry himself out of a nasty heroin addiction. But while he was there, he booked some time with Geoff Emerick at Apple Studios and created a freewheeling electric LP with an ace session band that included Peter Frampton on guitar, founding Genesis drummer Chris Stewart on bass and Bruce Rowland of Fairport Convention on percussion among others, performing a loose set of songs by Pete Ham (“Midnight Caller”), Jesse Winchester (“Yankee Lady”), Randy Newman (“I’ll Be Home”) and more.
Robin Trower Bridge of Sighs
On Sgt. Pepper, Emerick was able to help make four men sound like an orchestra. As the chief engineer for Robin Trower’s classic second solo album, he gave the same sense of detail to the context of three musicians, giving the bluesy crunch of the guitarist in unison with singer/bassist James Dewar and drummer Reg Isidore creating arguably the best British hard rock album of the 1970s.
Split Enz Dizrhythmia
For their third album, Split Enz left their New Zealand motherland for London to record it. By the time they got to AIR Studios, they were a different lineup that included both Neil and Tim Finn for the very first time as the Enz. And leave it to Emerick to showcase that indelible brotherly connection in its infancy, sowing the seeds of pop majesty the Finns would develop on later Split Enz LPs and more signifucatly as Crowded House.
Tommy Keene Songs from the Film (1986)
With all the rock star deaths we’ve been pummeled by these last three years, let’s not forget the unexpected passing of power pop veteran Tommy Keene from natural causes at the all too young age of 59. The mid-to-late 60s Beatles undoubtedly played a key role in shaping Keene’s style since his early days in The Razz. But to have Emerick himself helm 8 of the 12 tracks on his first solo album, which was released only on cassette and vinyl in 1986 before being expanded with an extra nine bonus cuts (including a cover of “Teenage Head” by the Flamin’ Groovies) when it debuted on CD in 1998. Songs from the Film is going upwards of $35 on Amazon, so it would be great to see someone like Omnivore reissue this magnificent 80s pop record once again for the masses.
Chris Bell I Am The Cosmos
As acclaimed music journalist Bob Mehr best explained it in the liner notes to the recent deluxe edition of the Cosmos LP, Bell was in Europe with his brother when he got to meet Emerick and collaborate with him on “Cosmos” at George Martin’s AIR Studios. Chris Stamey would then release the song as a 7-inch on his boutique indie Car Records with the equally gorgeous “You and Your Sister” on the flip. It would be the only proper release Bell would see in his lifetime. “Just a few months after the record was pressed, Bell would die in a late-night single-car accident near his home in East Memphis,” Mehr wrote in a piece for Trunkworthy. “He was 27. Four decades later, however, Bell’s music—particularly “Cosmos”—lives on: massive in scope, achingly intimate in nature, a beautiful paradox that’s only become more pronounced over time.”