Brian Kehew & Kevin Ryan answer your Lectures questions

7th June 2019
Before our Lectures event kicks off this August, guest speakers and authors of Recording The Beatles, Brian Kehew and Kevin Ryan, have taken time to answer some of your fan questions. For those of you who are attending but missed out, don't worry; there'll be plenty of opportunity on the day.
 
David Caputo:
The Day tripper guitar tone? Was it a happy accident or done on purpose? On take one of the song it's not there: by take three it is! Doubling the riff does not recreate the sound even by de-tuning slightly on the overdub. How was it recorded?

Kevin: It’s difficult to say exactly how anything was done, but the main guitar riff is definitely double-tracked on Take 3 (though not on Takes 1 and 2). George doubled the guitar part while John and Paul laid down a second vocal pass; all of it — guitar, vocal, and Ringo’s tambourine — were recorded to the same track, Track 4. Available outtakes show a moment toward the end of the song where the original part and the overdubbed part diverge, exposing the two parts more clearly.

Brian: Keep in mind, only a tiny fraction of the Beatles' work was notated or remembered. They worked very freely each day and moved forward, always trying things. So that experimentation leads to what you called a “happy accident” - a combination that worked for the moment. Beatles fans who are also experts in vintage equipment met in Los Angeles and tested out original equipment, specifically focusing on the two types of amplifiers the Beatles had during that period of “Day Tripper.” Exactly half the group thought one of the amplifiers sounded like the record, the other half thought it was the other amp that was “the sound.” So, we can't tell by listening, and there aren't many written notes.
 
Winston Lennon:
How much importance do you give to the vocal recording of the Beatles? comparing it with the instruments/orchestras recording? In my opinion, it's crucial. The sound of their voices is the magic touch in their recording career. Nobody ever get even close.

Kevin: Outstanding vocals, no question. Paul and John in particular had remarkable pitch, and all of the Beatles, really, had extremely distinctive voices. When you hear John Lennon singing, you know it’s John Lennon. Same with the others. And when John, Paul, and George sang together, it was just THAT SOUND. It was the sound of the Beatles. Very unique, and very specific to those vocal cords. There were lots of groups with multiple talented singers. But nobody sounded like the Beatles.
 
 
Rick Van Osten:
It would seem with the shift from tape to digital that there are less opportunities for the engineers and staff at Abbey Road to craft interesting and cool effects for recordings like back in the 1960's and 1970's. Are there any notable records from the last 20 years where the staff crafted a cool effect without using a computer to create the sound?

Brian: Anyone can create something new at any time, we just tend not to think that way, or people think “an effect” must come from a computer or pedal. I'm giving away a story from our lectures, but it's significant: Paul McCartney was working on “Memory Almost Full” in Studio Two and used a short hallway to the echo chamber for a new drum room sound. No one had ever tried that before – and it sounded great. But the drums leaked out into the neighborhood and he had to stop! Again – Paul was being the creative type, still trying novel things many decades into his work there. There ARE always simple things to try there that anyone could do – if they only thought like The Beatles did. (Note: that short hallway will be open and - for the first time ever - we can show the public the inside of the famous Echo Chamber there!)
 
Steve Stockmar:
I've heard many times the story of how they went "into a little room" to record Yer Blues during the White Album sessions. They wanted the close, intimate feel of a small room so they went into one. However, i have never seen a picture of this room at Abbey Road to be able to see its layout, size, etc., or even if the room still exists. Can you get us a pic of this room and some of its basic info? Thank you.

Brian: Good question! The Room 2A is long gone; it's now part of the back half of the enlarged Studio Two control room. The 2A space was originally for 4-track tape machines in the early days, then for the 8-track machine around 1969. In 1968 when they did that song, it was mainly a storage closet, about maybe 5 meters by 3 meters. A tile floor, painted plaster walls. Nothing special at all, but very tight to record in! One eyewitness said they were shoulder to shoulder in that room.
 
P?raig Seac:
Abbey Road. Wasn't the studio with the most modern equipment, yet mangled and pushed existing technology to produce sounds that changed the world. Was it merely down to The Beatles influence? Was it down to the particular combination of talented individuals that worked in Abbey Road? Was it a post-war ethic of innovation? In short, how do you think this world leading and world changing ethos of experimentation developed within Abbey Road? And how did it thrive within a company that actively dissuaded improper use of equipment and the use of innovative technology without years of testing?

Kevin: The Beatles were tireless innovators, no doubt. But digging through thousands of pages of internal EMI/Abbey Road communications from the 50s and 60s has shown us that the engineers within Abbey Road were a bit more forward-looking than previously thought. Beginning in the mid-50s, there was a lot of internal discussion about the need for “new” and “modern” sounds and better equipment which would allow them to build up pop recordings layer-by-layer. We’re talking six or seven years before the Beatles arrived. So, while some administrative people within the EMI organization may have frowned on “improper” use of the equipment, there was also a group of creative engineers who were itching to trying new things. And I think the Beatles’ walked into this setting and fanned an already existing spark into an open flame of innovation. Particularly when the younger generation of engineers started rising through the ranks in the mid-60s. When the Beatles and their engineers would come up with some new technique on a session, it would soon spread throughout the building to other engineers and artists (and I’m sure there were probably a couple of occasions where the Beatles benefitted from innovations that were taking place on other artists’ sessions as well!). We do know that the Beatles got a “pass” to do some things that were otherwise forbidden by the studio higher-ups, things other artists were not allowed to do.
 
Bernard O'Hara:
I guess due to the nature of Abbey Road there have often well known bands recording in different studios at the same time. We've heard the story about Pink Floyd being invited into the Beatles studio whilst recording parts of Sgt Pepper - but what do you think was the most interesting collaboration between bands recording in different studios at Abbey Road at the same time which could have, yet didn't happen?

Brian: That's an interesting question. The Zombies were pretty close to the Beatles in creativity and songwriting during the 1967 era fits fairly well-accepted now that their Odessey and Oracle album is as good as most Beatles records. It would not have been more strange or creative, but had they written something together, it might have been amazing pop music.
 
Brad Hassebrock:
At the end of Helter Skelter, you can hear someone shouting “I’ve got blisters on me fingers!?I?e always attributed that quote to John. But someone recently told me it was actually Ringo. Can you please clarify?

Kevin: Have always been told it was Ringo.

Brian: Agreed, no proof has surfaced, but if it's on the drum mics/track – that would be him. The guitar and bass microphones would not have picked that comment up as clearly.
 
 
Gerry McNeice:
As both a life-long Beatles fan and a producer of records, I have found recording The Beatles a very entertaining read and a valuable reference tome. Where do you think the obsession amongst Beatles fans to deconstruct and analyse the individual elements of their comes from? Does this happen with other artists? Personally I still love to listen to the records as I did in the days before I understood how they were made; wonderful music that has an unexplainable effect on me!

Kevin: I think the need to deconstruct the songs comes from a simple desire to get as close to them as we can. For some of us, digging deeper into the recordings and breaking them apart allows us to appreciate the songs on another level. There are only so many Beatles songs, and after listening to them so many times, we often crave new ways of relating to them. Digging deeper can give us something new to latch onto. I think it also highlights the human element a bit more and allows us to relate to the Beatles more as individuals; for instance, when you hear Paul’s bass track on its own, you are slightly more aware of the fact that a single human being is making that sound. That is a performance by that person, doing his best in that moment. Sometimes you hear little imperfections or subtleties that you never noticed, which again, brings us closer to the human element behind all of it. That’s my own experience anyway.

Brian: Yes, there is a feeling that there are secrets that we might uncover (which is a little true) and also if there were 1000 more Beatles songs to hear, we wouldn't fixate so much on the small details; the music is what we really want more of. When the music is fixed/limited in amount, you then want to go deeper. Same way you watch a movie, then check out the director's comments or scene outtakes – you want more of the meal, but all you have is the crumbs on the plate. It's not really important stuff, like the music, but can teach us lessons and give us insights.
 
softshoeshuffler:
Is your book ever going to be reprinted? The second hand prices show how much demand outstrips availability!

Kevin: A new version is definitely coming!

Brian: We had it on sale for almost 10 years, then decided to do something special with it next, which takes a long time. The original took more than a decade, and we want the new version to be greater, if possible.
 
jeppebjorck:
Compared to most other early 60’s pop/rock recordings - it seems the Beatles had a different clarity and a more ”modern” or timeless sound. Could you explain what you think are the reasons for this (apart from the sheer musicality of course :)

Kevin: A lot of this was a result of the then-new production techniques being embraced and innovated on their sessions, but I also think part of it comes down to the originality of the songwriting. The songs themselves are simply more timeless as compositions. The Beatles weren’t ones to lean on trends. A song like “Something”, for instance, doesn’t really belong to any one time period. It truly has a timeless quality, both as a composition and as a recording. So many of the Beatles songs are like that. They took the music that had preceded them and they absorbed it and built onto it in new and unique ways, always trying to innovate and outdo themselves. Many artists from the 60s (and all eras, really) were simply chasing trends and recycling what other people had already done. The Beatles weren’t doing that.

Brian: The middle period Beatles sound from Revolver and Rubber Soul is significant. I think they invented “the modern rock sound” of less reverb, closer microphones, plus less leakage between sounds. So they moved away from the “live” sound most people had and liked, and also away from the glossy “studio sound” of sappy pop music of the time. Yet, if you listen closely, something like I'll Follow the Sun sounds even cleaner, a more hi-fi sound that matches what they did in the room. We like the slightly processed nature of those 1965-66 sounds as the studio-creation that became modern music – and has lasted. Dryness (less reverb), heavier compression, overdubbed and doubled parts – these are effects of studio recordings, and many people have grown to love that sound for modern pop.
 
lea.jajas:
I am very interested how “Tomorrow Never Knows” was recorded. It is an psychedelic masterpiece and one of the most unique songs from The Beatles’ opus. I know that McCartney’s laughter was used in the course and it resulted to sound of seagull which amaze my every time I listen it. So can you explain us how they used tapes to make that sound and techniques because in that time you have to be very creative and careful with tapes which would wore off quite easily. And also how they placed microphones all over studio to make that special sound?

Kevin: Most of the strange sounds heard on that song were actually recorded at home, on the Beatles’ personal tape recorders. They would put a literal loop of tape on the machines and let it cycle round and round while recording onto it. They would record at one speed and then playback at another, which changed the pitch and overall sound. Interviews from the 1960s with John Lennon suggest that Paul was the primary contributor of the loops for the song. Back at Abbey Road, each loop was played back on its own tape machine, and then they were all played at the same time. Each one was sent to its own channel on the mixer. The Beatles, George Martin, and their engineer Geoff Emerick could then raise or lower them at will on the mixer to bring them in at certain times.
 
 
massielmancebo:
What do you believe are some of the greatest differences (aside from modern technology) between the way the Beatles were recorded originally, and the way in which they would be recording today. Is there a new methodology?

Kevin: Things would be extremely different if the Beatles were recording in a modern studio. As George Harrison once said: “You wouldn't want to hear The Beatles doing 'Mr Kite' on a 48-track machine. It wouldn't have the same charm.” The limitations of their studio resources in the 1960s meant that the Beatles and their engineers had to be very clever to pull off what they were trying to do. The limitations also meant that the Beatles very often were playing together, as a band, in the same room, at the same time. They were playing and recording as a unit. That’s how most recording was done back then, and it is not how most recording is done today. Even if a band does play together today, they perform with the safety net of knowing that they can go back and fix things or replace their parts if they want. Most of the time, the Beatles didn’t have that luxury. They had to play their parts together, they had to play them right, and if someone messed up, they had to start over. There was very little room for correction or “touching up”. So the stakes were a bit higher, and the performances had to be there. The limitations of the equipment also meant you had to commit to a sound, since it was often being recorded in a way that meant things couldn’t be changed or altered. Today, there is infinite opportunity to change things and refine and tweak, and oftentimes the “soul” gets groomed out of the music. The equipment and processes of the time lent the music a kind of sound that was also very specific to that time and place. On the other hand, what might the Beatles been able to accomplish with no technical barriers to their imagination? It would be interesting to see what might have emerged.

Brian: Maybe the biggest difference is choice. In those days, they had about 6-8 microphone types they used all the time. Almost anyone's home studio has more than this, and many professional studios now offer dozens of choices. They had two compressor options; most have a dozen or more now. They had 2, 4 or 8 tracks of tape to record onto – now we have hundreds of tracks per song available. So – the many modern options actually are a burden; you spend time trying out equipment and settings rather than just worrying about the music. Yes, they struggled more to get “new sounds” and better sounds, but there just were less choices. There is a concept that limitation equals MORE creativity. If you only have a pencil and paper, that can make you become a greater artist than having 2000 paints to work with. So – their lack of options actually made them become more creative than people are today.
 
rhodeshullmusic:
When recording A Day in the Life, what was the process like of recording John's interlude of just him and the orchestra? It is my most favorite moment in any song and I’m curious on how many takes it took, and just johns emotions about it in the process?

Brian: That famous climbing interlude also has some instruments underneath and the vocal – the orchestra was added later in a special session – several takes of the same orchestra doing it over and over. That makes that huge sound, very powerful. There is a BIG controversy over who sings that part, as everyone always assumed it's John's voice doing a distant and typically nasal tone. But current analysis seems to think it's Paul singing there – and it is his “part of the song.” Although one Abbey Road person who's heard it says he thinks it is BOTH of them singing the line, one after the other – he's heard the isolated actual tape track and still can't tell for sure!
 
sitting_on_a_corn_flake:
If history was altered, and The Beatles were signed by Decca records (instead of EMI), do you think they still would have achieved all the monumental recording breakthroughs if they had recorded in a studio other than Abbey Road, and without George Martin?

Brian: No – this is a “perfect storm” combination of talents and timing. George Martin, the engineers, the technical staff, and a massive record company with unique roster of talents. They also made their own equipment at EMI, not things you could buy in a store or catalog. Still, we all know the key element IS the Beatles. Consider The Inner Light which was recorded at a studio in India without George Martin or the other Beatles; they added some parts in London later, but it's still “A Beatles record” for sure. Although George Martin wasn't present on all their later sessions, his guidance and experience certainly set them on their direction that kept them commercial, accessible, creative and successful.
 
drbergstrom:
Hello! I’ve heard that engineer Ken Townsend used a speaker as a mic to record Pauls bass on ”Paperback Writer”. Can you confirm this and if so, what exactly was the unusual set up, do you think? The bass sound is epic on that track!

Kevin: This is indeed true. The speaker was actually a big playback speaker on wheels. It was in a large white cabinet resembling a refrigerator, and it was known by studio staff as “The White Elephant”. Artists usually used the speaker to listen to playback of their songs on the studio floor. Speakers and microphones operate on similar principles, so Ken wired the speaker up in such a way that it was actually receiving sound, rather than sending sound. It apparently worked a bit too well, though, as it was picking up all kinds of sounds, not just bass frequencies. So, Geoff Emerick has to aggressively filter the sound to remove all frequencies except for those low bass frequencies heard on the record. The same process was used on their song “Rain”.

Brian: Yes, it is a fantastic bass contribution, and it's a good example of their whole team contributing to their records. Ken Townsend was different kind of engineer; from the technical staff, not a recording engineer as we know them now. Using a speaker or headphone as a “reverse microphone” has been known around the world for ages, but rarely used. (You can even use a microphone as a speaker at VERY low volumes sometimes!) A big bass speaker will actually respond more to the low frequencies and less to the higher treble tones. So it was a natural kind of EQ they got. One must always give credit to the fingers and the player – who totally controls how something will be articulated and the parts chosen; it's great bass-playing!
 
 
jabanch:
What’s the big difference between the way The Beatles recorded their songs and any other way of any other band.

Brian: It's fair to say they were not that different than any other band – they used the same rooms, microphones, amps, instruments as other groups did. Yet this is what makes it special; their outcome is incredible, given the same basis. But each Beatles track can be very different than the previous Beatles' music: compare Yesterday to Hard Days' Night and Tomorrow Never Knows and I Want You. These are all iconic, but they were done in different ways – and all great Beatles' music.
 
deezy3770:

Can you please tell me who did what part of the recording of “You Know My Name, Look Up The Number”? I have heard that they all did play a part but I’d love to know who did what?

Brian: For vocals, it should be easy to tell. There are group vocals and individual voices you can identify. Keep in mind the track was done over several sessions and it's not all documented (as with most of The Beatles' work.) We feel uncomfortable guessing at all on such things, so the best likelihood is their usual instruments, plus percussion - although the piano sounds like a typical McCartney part. Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones supposedly added the saxophone, Yoko and Mal Evans contributed some parts – a big mixture of things.
 
marcel_walden:
Which mics did they normally use on the Toms and Overheads?

Brian: For the first few records, they only used an overhead mic for all the drums (except the kick drum.) That single overhead was an STC4038 ribbon microphone. What's nice is, this ribbon gives less brightness so the louder/brighter cymbals balance a little better with the quieter, darker toms (and snare) in the “mix” that the microphone created. For the rest of their career we usually see AKG D19c microphones on the drums. With very few exceptions, so likely this is the microphone you seek. Before our book was released, the D19c was available at decent prices, now they have become a fairly expensive microphone; but the results are still good – people love them!
 
rodbujan:
Time-travelling...Which 21st century producer would have been a good fit for the band and why? (Excluding Giles Martin for obvious reasons)

Brian: It's an interesting idea, because modern electronics may factor into the style of production a lot; loops, tuning, sampling, synthesis, processing etc. I really like Dave Sardy's work – he keeps much of the band's original qualities and sound, while “framing it” in a good-sounding production.

Congratulations to Pádraig Seac who has also won two tickets to the lectures with his question selected as the winner by Brian and Kevin. Tickets are selling out fast, get yours now: abbeyroad.com/lectures