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Encyclopedia > Norman Smith

Norman Smith is a musician and record producer. He was also an engineer on several of the albums by The Beatles up until 1965 when EMI promoted him from engineer to producer. He was unable to work on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band as he was already committed to The Piper at the Gates of Dawn which was being recorded in a neighboring studio at the same time. Smith only produced two albums for Pink Floyd as the band deemed him "too old-fashioned" for their tastes. A musician is a person who plays or composes music. ... In the music industry, a record producer (or music producer) is (among many other tasks) primarily responsible for completing a master recording so that it is fit for mass production and commercial release. ... Audio engineering is a part of audio science dealing with the production of sound through mechanical means. ... The Beatles were a British pop and rock group from Liverpool. ... 1965 was a common year starting on Friday (link goes to calendar). ... The EMI Group is a major record label, based in Hammersmith, London, in the United Kingdom and with operations in over 25 other countries. ... Sgt. ... The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is Pink Floyds debut album, and the only one made under Syd Barretts leadership, although he made some contributions to the follow-up, A Saucerful of Secrets. ... Pink Floyd (formed in 1965 in Cambridge, England) are a British progressive rock band, noted for their progressive compositions, sonic experimentation, album art and live shows. ...

In the early 1970s, Smith produced a US #3 hit "Oh Babe, What Would You Say" under the name Hurricane Smith. This recording was a demo of a song that Norman had written for a different artist to record. When he played it for record producer Mickie Most, Mickie was impressed enough to tell him to release it as it was. This article provides extensive lists of events and significant personalities of the 1970s. ... ... Mickie Most, born Michael Peter Hayes (June 20, 1938 - May 30, 2003), successful record producer notably with a string of Number 1 hit singles with his own RAK Records label and acts such as The Animals, Hermans Hermits, Donovan and Suzi Quatro. ...

Although Norman Smith's resume is not mind-blowing, it does include significant work with the Beatles and Pink Floyd, one of the first rock concept albums, and a one-shot hit as a recording artist. He joined Abbey Road studios as a tape operator in 1959, and was the primary sound engineer on virtually of the recordings the Beatles made through the end of 1965. While his contributions were in no way as significant as those of producer George Martin or even of Smith's replacement, Geoff Emerick, it seems that he and the Beatles got along well.

In Mark Lewisohn's The Beatles Recording Sessions, he remembers the little-known incident that almost, he claims, resulted in the Beatles recording one of his compositions. The Beatles were finishing the Help! album in mid-1965, and were looking for another song to round out the LP. Smith used the opportunity to play a song of his to John Lennon and Paul McCartney. According to Smith they liked the song (which is unnamed in the book) and wanted to record it, but told him the next day that they couldn't do it as Ringo needed to have a lead vocal on the album, which he would do on "Act Naturally." Had the Beatles covered Smith's song, it would have marked the only time in their career that they covered a composition that had not previously been recorded by another artist (except for their 1962 version of "How Do You Do It?," which didn't come out officially until the mid-1990s).

In February of 1966 Smith became part of EMI's A&R staff, and in early 1967 he got the chance to work as a producer with Pink Floyd, which had just signed with the company. Smith's assumption of this post was not without controversy. Pink Floyd's first single, "Arnold Layne," had been recorded independently with Joe Boyd as producer, before the band had an official deal. It might have been expected that Pink Floyd would have had a greater natural affinity with Boyd. He was a man of their own age who had already been heavily involved with the band as one of the prime movers behind the UFO Club, the underground/psychedelic venue crucial that was crucial to Pink Floyd establishing their reputation. The older Smith seemed more of the business establishment, but he was enthusiastic about the group after seeing them at the UFO. More importantly, it was usually company policy for EMI to use their own producers rather than independent ones, especially for a new act.

In any case, Smith ended up as producer of Pink Floyd's first two albums, Piper at the Gates of Dawn [+] and A Saucerful of Secrets [+]. Piper at the Gates of Dawn [+], the only album the band recorded to feature original singer/songwriter/lead guitarist Syd Barrett throughout, was one of the greatest psychedelic rock albums, and Smith produced it ably, although he has recalled that it could be difficult to communicate with Barrett. Barrett left the band soon after A Saucerful of Secrets [+] commenced, and with his departure Pink Floyd's sound became less song-oriented and spacier. Smith did not have as much of a grasp of such material, and some band members have said that his rapport with the Floyd weakened at this point, with the musicians finding him too old-fashioned.

It's curious, however, that at the same time Pink Floyd were becoming dissatisfied with Smith, he was doing some interesting, and at times rather Floydian, psychedelic rock with the Pretty Things. The Pretty Things started out as a Rolling Stones-like R&B-rock group, but by 1967 had changed their personnel and their style substantially, going full-tilt into experimental underground sounds. Smith had already gotten a chance to get acclimated to psychedelic sounds with Pink Floyd's Piper at the Gates of Dawn [+] when he produced the Pretty Things' first out-and-out psychedelic single, "Defecting Grey"/"Mr. Evasion," in late 1967. "Defecting Grey" in particular, and some of the other tracks the Pretty Things cut in 1967 and 1968, rather resemble the Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. In 1968 the Pretty Things did S.F. Sorrow [+], a loose psychedelic concept album following the life of the protagonist named in the album's title from birth to death, that was a probable influence upon the Who's Tommy [+] (not released until 1969). The Pretty Things' lead singer, Phil May, has emphatically noted that Smith was the only person at EMI fully supportive of the project, and that his technical expertise was invaluable to the effects and sounds on the album; he once even referred to Smith as a "sixth member" of the band. This doesn't sound like a guy who was too much of a stuffed shirt to help young musicians get into way-out sounds, as Pink Floyd sometimes inferred in regards to A Saucerful of Secrets [+].

The Pretty Things continued to work with Smith for several other albums, and continued to investigate some psychedelic and progressive rock sounds on these, although their style tilted more toward ordinary hard rock as time went on. In the early 1970s Smith, under the name Hurricane Smith, scored an improbable #3 hit in the US with "Oh Babe, What Would You Say," a throwback to the music hall/vaudeville era.

Posted by Richie Unterberger [+] | Jun 18, 2004

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