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Geoff Emerick

Sad that former Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick died last night, aged only seventy-two. He seemed to be very active, so it seems like this was quite a surprise. Norman Smith was the Beatles' engineer before Emerick. Smith worked on Rubber Soul, which he thought was too arty. Interesting reaction, right? So, he left, and Emerick took up the engineer post with Revolver.

My all-time favorite album is the White Album. If we play the desert island game of which album would you most wish to take with you, I would say the Purple Chick version of the complete BBC sessions. And if you asked me to qualitatively rank the Beatles' albums, I'd have the White Album sixth. But Revolver is number one. (Revolver, Rubber Soul, Abbey Road, Sgt. Pepper, A Hard Day's Night, White Album.) I don't see how Revolver is not the best record made by anyone, ever, period.

Think of how young Emerick was when he worked on it. Early twenties. (He didn't work on the White Album, interestingly, but he was there for Abbey Road, which has beautiful production values. It was his decision to forgo work on the White Album, due to all of the bickering with the band and people being promoted whom Emerick felt should not have been, but he also wasn't a great stylistic fit for that double record.)

It was Emerick's idea to feed John Lennon's vocal through a Leslie speaker on "Tomorrow Never Knows." As pure sound--that is, a concept of sound realized--I know of nothing like "Tomorrow Never Knows." How many sounds are unique? I'm being elemental here. Think about all of the sounds you hear. Think about the sound a blue jay makes. It always catches your ear, but it's the sound every blue jay makes. "Tomorrow Never Knows" is the sound of nothing else on planet earth.

A Leslie speaker is what you'd find inside a Hammond organ. What's a Hammond organ? It's that thing that Jimmy Smith played.

Human voices aren't logically fed through Leslie speakers. But Emerick figured out how to do it, without the Beatles and the Abbey Road team having to drill into Lennon's neck and stick in some electrodes, which was joked at as a possibility. The first time I heard this--on the Compleat Beatles documentary--my thought was, "What the holy heck is that?" What it is is a sound unlike any there had ever been. The Leslie'd part kicks in after the backwards guitar solo at 1:26.


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