Some Tales From Abbey Road

Originally posted May 28, 2008

It’s been a while since I read a book about the Beatles.

And it’s been a long while since anything about the Beatles interested and intrigued me as much as my current reading has. It’s the 2006 memoir of Geoff Emerick, the engineer whose work helped shape much of the Beatles’ catalog. Co-written with Howard Massey, Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles, is a fascinating account of the years during which the Beatles were doing something new almost every time they stepped into the studios.

Emerick was 15 when he was hired by EMI, the British company that owned, among other things, some record labels and a recording studio complex on London’s Abbey Road. Not long after his hiring, EMI’s Parlophone label signed the Beatles, and by the time the group was recording Revolver in 1966, Emerick was pretty much their full-time recording engineer (although he worked other artists’ sessions, too). In 1969, Emerick left EMI in 1969 to join the Beatles at Apple.

I’m don’t know yet how that move came about. I’m currently reading about early 1968 and the unhappy sessions for The Beatles (generally known as The White Album). As grim as those sessions were for the Beatles, for producer George Martin and for Emerick and his fellow engineers, there is a fascination there, an awareness of the train wreck about to happen. But the book also holds my interest in Emerick’s tales of how the Beatles’ records were created: When they needed a certain sound, a certain effect, from Revolver on, it was Emerick’s job to create it. For example, when John Lennon said he wanted his vocal for “Tomorrow Never Knows” to sound “like the Dalai Lama chanting from a mountain top,” Emerick found the electronic formula to create the effect.

And he was mighty good at it. Emerick notes in the book that he was disappointed when he wasn’t credited for his work on the jacket of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but he adds that his work was noticed by his peers: He was awarded a Grammy for 1967 for the Best Engineered Album.

Along with the tales of how the sounds of the Beatles’ records were accomplished, Emerick gives his readers vivid and sometimes new sketches of the characters of the four Beatles. Maybe tales of the high-jinks and the nitty-gritty of who played what part on what song have already been told – it’s been a long time since I read anything about the Beatles, and there have been books in that interim that I have missed – but as well as having a good ear, Emerick seems to have a good eye. He noticed who was pleased or displeased by the way a session went, and he could tell which Beatles were truly engaged in a project and has some good ideas why or why not.

It’s a quick read but an interesting one, and I’d wager that anyone interested in the Beatles – that might include most music fans, I’d guess – would find a few hours spent with the book to be a good investment.

Delaney & Bonnie – D&B Together
As I was reading about early 1968 last evening, reflecting on the imminent break-up of the Beatles, a song from Delaney & Bonnie’s 1972 album D&B Together popped up on the player. “Ah,” I thought, “another partnership in the process of dissolving.”

D&B Together was the sixth or seventh album the duo made with their collection of friends. (Genesis, listed on All-Music Guide as a 1971 album, is – I believe – a collection of outtakes from very early sessions, so I discount that as an album. But AMG lists an album titled Country Life on Atco in 1972, and I know nothing about that album. Anyone out there?) But regardless of whether it was Number Six or Number Seven, it was the last. The partnership of the two singers – musical and marital – was coming to an end.

For the most part, that last album is a good collection of country-rock with the gospel and R&B inflections that charged the duo’s best albums. For me, the question always arises: How much of the credit for their good and great albums belongs to Delaney & Bonnie, and how much should go to their famous friends? I’m not sure how one would divide the credit, but as good as Delaney and Bonnie were, the quality of their records was at least in part due to their ability to attract superlative musicians into the studio. On the other hand, Delaney was a very good producer. And all of those factors were assets on D&B Together.

Here’s some information from the notes to the 2003 CD reissue of the album (a reissue that seems to be difficult to find, if not out of print):

On “Only You Know And I Know,” guitar work comes from Dave Mason and Eric Clapton.

Tina Turner joins the duo on “Sound Of The City.”

“Comin’ Home” features work once more by Clapton and Mason, and Clapton also joins in on “Groupie (Superstar),” the Bonnie Bramlett/Leon Russell composition that was a hit for the Carpenters in a slightly bowdlerized version.

A quote from Delaney is a little unclear, but if I read it correctly, Duane Allman – in what had to be one of his last bits of session work – added guitar on “A Good Thing (I’m On Fire)”.

The next-to-last track on the album “I Know Something Good About You,” has a pretty good cast, too: King Curtis (in what must have been one of his final sessions, as well), Billy Preston, Bobby Womack, Venetta Fields, Clydie King, Wilson Pickett and a singer Delaney identifies in the comments about the track as Aretha. (Franklin? She’s not mentioned in the long list of general credits, but neither is any other Aretha. And at the end of the list – compiled in 2002 – Delaney writes: “If I left anybody out, I’m sorry, I’m old.”)

Other musicians of note mentioned in that long list were Carl Radle, Jim Gordon, Jim Price, Bobby Keys, Larry Knechtel, Bobby Whitlock, Steve Cropper, James Jamerson and Merry Clayton. (Somewhere in the notes, I also saw a mention of drummer Jim Keltner but I don’t see his name on the list.)

So, as usual, Delaney and Bonnie drew a pretty good crowd of friends. And they did a pretty good job. I don’t know if the album is up to the standard of their earlier albums, but it’s not far off. Highlights for me are the gospelly “Wade In The River Of Jordan,” “Comin’ Home,” “Move ’Em Out” with its great sax solo (likely by Keys) and “A Good Thing (I’m On Fire).” Disappointments? Only a couple: I’m not fond of the version of “Groupie (Superstar)” and I could do without the string-laden and overly long intro to “Country Life,” a song Delaney co-wrote with Bobby Whitlock.

Track listing:
Only You Know And I Know
Wade In The River Of Jordan
Sound Of The City
Well, Well
I Know How It Feels To Be Lonely
Comin’ Home
Move ’Em Out
Big Change Comin’
A Good Thing (I’m On Fire)
Groupie (Superstar)
I Know Something Good About You
Country Life

Delaney & Bonnie – D&B Together [1972]


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