Rest in peace, Geoff Emerick: The Beatles, “A Day In the Life” (1967)

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(Above: Geoff Emerick with a well-known collaborator.)

Geoff Emerick was a production genius. Anyone who spends any time in radio working as a production director has dreams of spinning the dials on a fantastic production. Emerick, who passed away yesterday at the age of 72, was at the controls for some of the most legendary pieces of music to pass through the wires at Abbey Road Studios. Just his Beatles work alone – Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Magical Mystery Tour, Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road, Let It Be – that would be a resume worthy of note by itself. But it doesn’t stop there: Emerick also engineered Paul McCartney’s solo work. He formed the sound of the Zombies’ Odyssey and Oracle, another fantastic album. Throw in America’s H albums, Badfinger’s Straight Up and No Dice, Supertramp’s Even In the Quietest Moments, Cheap Trick’s All Shook Up, work for the Climax Blues Band, Split Enz,  and Elvis Costello… a sizable chunk of my record collection was created by one man. (And, lest you think he wasn’t still active: do you have the soundtrack album for the TV series This Is Us? Yeah, he produced that, too.)

In case you’re not feeling fully inadequate, I should add that EMI Studios, the precursor to Abbey Road, hired Emerick when he was fifteen years old. He is said to have sat in on the session for “Love Me Do” in 1963.  His first album as lead recording engineer was Revolver, completed when he was twenty. That same year – 1966 – he engineered “Pretty Flamingo” for Manfred Mann, which went to #1 in the UK (and should have been a bigger hit here). I work with some twenty year olds who are doing some great work, but if I had to judge the class on the production value of “Tomorrow Never Knows,” well, the curve is busted.

Yet with all of the work to pick from, the choice of a song here is simple. Emerick himself cited “A Day In the Life” as the high point of his career. “The night we put the orchestra in,” he once said, “was the night the world went from black-and-white to color.” (Given the number of people still watching TV in B&W in 1967, especially across Britain, the metaphor is especially apt.) The plan was for a 90-piece orchestra to play on the track per Paul McCartney’s wishes, but it couldn’t be done in the studio. Emerick instead opted to work with a smaller orchestra looped over itself to sound larger. For as much as Sgt. Pepper was an experiment in sound, Geoff Emerick was without question the mad scientist in the laboratory.

Hear for yourself: you can hear Geoff’s work on “A Day In The Life” by clicking here. (Extra points if you can pull out an original copy of the LP and still hear the note meant for dogs.)

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