“Turn off your mind relax and float down stream…”
This spring I read the book In Their Lives: Great Writers on Great Beatles Songs. Because author Andrew Blauner believes nearly everyone has a favorite Beatles song, he reached out to a host of professional writers to each write a chapter about their favorite. The book is arranged in chronological order so that the first chapters deal with their earliest albums and songs, etc. The writers selected include authors of bestselling books, journalists for the New York Times and The New Yorker, and others such as Roz Chast on “She Loves You,” Jane Smiley on “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” Rosanne Cash on “No Reply,” Gerald Early on “I’m a Loser,” Rick Moody on “The End,” Maria Popova on “Yellow Submarine.” What’s clear, by the 29 song selections — or rather, by the body of material left on the cutting room floor — is how great a body of work the Fab Four generated and why it is that they continue to be listened to, continue to be influential.
Many of the events of my own life have been marked by Beatles music. The Beatles made their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show just under three weeks after our family moved to New Jersey the year I turned 12. Our family watched variety shows from as early as I can remember and our television set was tuned to Ed Sullivan on Sunday nights. More memorable than the event itself was the reaction of classmates at Hillside School the next day and following.
When the Beatles performed at Shea Stadium the following summer, the kid across the street was there, as were several of the girls in our school. One of them told how she and a friend climbed in through a window of the hotel the Beatles were staying at hoping to chase them down.
Just as so many of us recall exactly where we were when we heard the news that JFK had been assassinated, I recall exactly where I was when I first heard several of the Beatles albums, specifically Magical Mystery Tour, the White Album and Let It Be. And like many in my generation, I played Revolution #9 backwards to gather clues regarding the purported death of Paul.
One of the big questions since that time revolves around when the Beatles’ music matured from four guys performing songs they wrote to the complex studio explorations of their later work. I always felt that Sgt. Pepper was the turning point, simply because it was a complete concept piece, seamlessly stitched together, as close as you can get to perfection in my opinion.
I’ve found however, that many people point to Rubber Soul as the turning point. One of the authors in this book, In Their Lives, makes a case for this. But there are a pair of others who point to Revolver as the tipping point, the place where their new LSD-unhinged imaginations were unleashed.
While the studio sessions for Revolver were being set up George Martin decided to switch out the lead engineer, putting a young Geoff Emerick in charge of this responsibility. At least two of the writers in the book reference the 19-year-old Emerick’s role in the development of the Beatles new sound.
The move wasn’t totally off the wall. Emerick had been an EMI/Apple engineer for the Beatles since 1962. He must have been 15 at the time. After two of these writers mentioned Emerick I decided to pick up his autobiographical account of his experiences working with the Beatles in Abbey Road Studios.
The book begins with his being notified that he will be in charge for the Revolver sessions. From the getgo he became responsible to create sounds that had never been created before because the first song they set out to do was “Tomorrow Never Knows.” And here was the challenge: John Lennon said, “I want my voice to sound like the Dalai Lama chanting from a mountaintop, miles away.”
OK, so how do you make that happen? You can read about how Emerick did it via his book, or in the essay here in In Their Lives. The tape looping, speed modulations, backward recording and other studio gyrations produced something unheard of in contemporary music. Though its placement on the album is last, it was the first song recorded by Emerick and a harbinger of things to come.
Those who say Revolver was the Beatles’ turning point have a strong case, in my opinion. And since “Tomorrow Never Knows” was the first song recorded in these sessions, and the first Emerick/Beatles collaborative effort, I would suggest that this was indeed the turning point in their evolution.
TOMORROW NEVER KNOWS
Turn off your mind relax and float down stream
It is not dying, it is not dying
Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void,
It is shining, it is shining.
That you may see the meaning of within
It is being, it is being
That love is all and love is everyone
It is knowing, it is knowing
That ignorance and hate may mourn the dead
It is believing, it is believing
But listen to the colour of your dreams
It is not leaving, it is not leaving
So play the game Existence to the end
Of the beginning, of the beginning…
Songwriters: John Lennon / Paul McCartney
Tomorrow Never Knows lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
Geoff Emerick’s book Here, There and Everywhere
Though Emerick’s book is insightful, it is pretty much despised by its detractors because of the heavy favoritism he shows to Paul while staining the images of George, John and Ringo. One Amazon reviewer of the book wrote, “Where this book shines is in the descriptions of the recording process. From about 1966 on, the Beatles were searching for unusual sounds — a guitar that didn’t sound like a guitar, for instance — and it was the job of the engineer to figure out how to make it happen. Fortunately for the Beatles, Emerick was young and experimental and willing to break the steadfast EMI rules about how recording was to be done, which often landed him in hot water with the administrative higher ups. While George Martin was a gifted producer and orchestral and vocal arranger, it’s clear that he relied heavily on the engineers to satisfy the Beatles’ demands in their quest for the ultimate sound.” Another reviewer, however, emphatically stated, “This book is NOT accurate, it is not ‘the truth’ and does not deserve to be supported. It is very damaging to the good reputations of such people as George Harrison, George Martin, John Lennon, Chris Thomas, Ringo Starr, Phil McDonald and the list goes on. The only one who is rarely mentioned negatively is Paul McCartney, the only one to have employed Geoff after the Beatles.”
For more details on some of the errata in Emerick’s book read the comments in this forum.
Meantime, life goes on…
Originally published at pioneerproductions.blogspot.com