Geoff Emerick, recorded the Beatles in their prime, dies at 72

NEW YORK — Geoff Emerick, a sound engineer who recorded, among others, the Beatles, helping to shape the band’s ever-evolving music on pivotal albums like “Revolver” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” died on Tuesday. He was 72.

Abbey Road Studios posted the news of his death on its website, though it did not specify where he died. Colleague William Zabaleta told Variety that Mr. Emerick collapsed and died Tuesday while they were talking on the telephone. He said Mr. Emerick had suffered from heart problems in recent years.

Mr. Emerick was just out of Crouch End Secondary Modern School in North London in 1962 when he was hired for an entry-level job as an assistant engineer at EMI’s Abbey Road studios. In his memoir, “Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles” (2006), written with Howard Massey, Mr. Emerick described his second day on the job, when he watched as producer George Martin brought in his newly signed foursome — Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr — for an early recording session.

“It’s almost embarrassing to admit today,” Mr. Emerick wrote, “but what struck me most about the Beatles when I first saw them was their skinny knit ties.” He bought himself one, and he wasn’t alone. “Within a short time,” he wrote, “it seemed like everyone at EMI was wearing them.”


Mr. Emerick assisted on some of the Beatles’ first records while also working on other projects for the studio, including classical recordings. Then, in 1966, he was chosen to replace Norman Smith (who became a producer) as the group’s chief engineer.

His first record in that capacity was “Revolver,” the 1966 album that included “Eleanor Rigby,” “Yellow Submarine,” and the otherworldly “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

In one famous story that Mr. Emerick told on numerous occasions, he came up with a unique solution when John Lennon told him he wanted his voice to sound like ‘‘the Dalai Lama singing from a mountaintop 25 miles away from the studio’’ on ‘‘Tomorrow Never Knows.’’ Emerick found a way to process Lennon’s voice through a revolving speaker to produce a landmark of psychedelic music.


‘‘That sort of won John over,’’ Mr. Emerick said in 2016.

On Wednesday, Lennon’s widow, Yoko tweeted that she was ‘‘shocked’’ by Mr. Emerick’s death.

‘‘He was the best engineer,’’ Ono wrote. ‘‘Not only was he the best engineer, he was very, very kind.’’

The next year came “Sgt. Pepper’s,” one of the most innovative and influential albums of the era.

It was Mr. Emerick’s job as engineer to figure out how to create and capture the sounds that the band was after. With the Beatles reaching for new levels of musical complexity, that was not easy.

“If there was going to be a piano used on a track, or a guitar, it was always John or Paul or George saying, ‘Well, we don’t want it to sound like a piano or a guitar,’” Mr. Emerick told The Boston Globe in 1987. “I had no gimmick boxes to play with, like there are today. All we had was tape machines, and four tracks.”

Mr. Emerick also engineered later Beatles albums, including “Abbey Road” (1969), and he engineered or produced solo albums by McCartney and albums by Elvis Costello, Art Garfunkel, the group America, and many more.


Paul McCartney, in an online tribute Wednesday, wrote that Mr. Emerick ‘‘had a sense of humor that fitted well with our attitude to work in the studio and was always open to the many new ideas that we threw at him. He grew to understand what we liked to hear and developed all sorts of techniques to achieve this. ... We spent many exciting hours in the studio and he never failed to come up with the goods.’’

Geoffrey Ernest Emerick was born in London on Dec. 5, 1945. His father was a butcher, his mother a homemaker. There was no information on survivors immediately available.