Saturday, May 24, 2008

Norman Smith Continues Talking About Balancing The Beatles

"I've been on all their sessions. I event went to Paris with them--they did 'Can't Buy Me Love' there. How have they changed? Well, I think they're much more fussy these days . . . more Hit Parade conscious, if you see what I mean, in terms of sound. They're absolutely determined not to duplicate tempos, or intensity of sound. They want to come up with something different each time in the studio. Maybe we put forward a suggestion. If the boys don't like it, they'll try it just the same--having turned up their noses. They then do it as badly as they can . . . until we get the point and forget all about the suggestion!

"Paul has a lot of musical ideas, though he's not so good at expressing them. I suppose there's been only one song that has got us beat--it's one written for the new film. I'm not supposed to mention the title as yet, but it's proving a problem for us.

"Ringo? Well, he still doesn't have a lot to say. He'll start off with one sort of rhythm, then be enlightened by John and Paul as to the particular way they 'hear' it in their original song. Usually, they make the point by referring to some American disc that I probably have never heard of. Ringo then comes up with it. It's fantastic the closeness of the group -- they way they're all on the same wavelength and read each other's thoughts.

"I'd say they are rather slower in the recording studios now than they were in the early days. It's a matter of comparison . . . I also do the engineering for Manfred Mann, Billy J. Kramer, Freddie and the Dreamers, Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers, Johnny Kidd and so on. So I can compare.


"The Beatles don't like working in the mornings. They always want to get some play time in, and that's usually most of the night. So if they turn up in the mornings, you don't get much done. It's really just loosening up. And of course they make the jokes. I think Paul is probably my favourite Beatle humorist . . . some of the things he says tickle me pink.

"My own favourite Beatle song? Hard to say. But 'This Boy' rates very high--I remember that as a thoroughly enjoyable session. The boys didn't think it was all that great at the time. But I think they've got a sneaking feeling for it now, after all our plugging for it.

"There was the 'Twist and Shout' session, too. A tremendous day's recording . . . an all-time record for the Beatles. We did thirteen titles in ten hours--all for the first LP. A day of musical excitement. Their voices must have been rasping. But John suddenly thought of 'Twist and Shout' and said he wanted to do it. We felt sure his voice would never stand it. But it was done in one 'take.' No over-dubbing. Just one straight take. Normally, we do four-track recording for the Beatles -- Ringo and Paul on one track, then John and George, then the voices, then any extras like Maraccas.


"No, the Beatles certainly know what they want. In that sense, they've really improved since their very first session. I don't know what to say about their songs. I mean, nobody could have foreseen just how important they would be in the world of music."

Norman Smith is obviously proud of the part he played in capturing Beatle techniques on record. An ever-present member of the team, in fact, since that day when the boys first wandered wonderingly into the studios in Abbey Road, North London. His personal ambition is to produce hit records himself, as A and R man.

And he says: "I'm also very keen on song-writing. The 'B' side of Freddie Garrity's latest, 'Things I'd Like to Say', was one of mine--I did it specially for Freddie. And I've written a lot of others . . . so the ambition is to have a hit in that way, too."

The man who wanted to be a musician but ended up a top recording engineer has led a well-varied life. And there's a lot of variety yet to come with the Beatles. That's for sure.


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