“ I was getting frustrated listening to American records like the Motown stuff because the bass was a lot stronger than we were putting on our records. ” GEOFF EMERICK, BEATLES STUDIO ENGINEER FROM 1966, WITH SOME NEW IDEAS FOR THE SOUND OF THINGS TO COME
BY THE START OF 1966 THE BEATLES HAD BECOME THE WORLD'S MOST POPULAR BAND. THEY HAD ALSO BECOME FOUR VERY WEALTHY YOUNG MEN WHO HAD LITTLE OR NO PERSONAL TIME TO ENJOY THEIR SPOILS. THEIR MANAGER, BRIAN EPSTEIN, HAD HOPED FOR A REPEAT OF THE SUCCESSFUL 1964 AND '65 SCHEDULES. UNFORTUNATELY FOR EPSTEIN, THE GROUP HAD STARTED TO TAKE CONTROL.
No longer were The Beatles willing to sacrifice themselves to an apparently never-ending .sequence of live tours and TV appearances. Epstein had hoped to begin the year with another film By the middle of 1965 plans had been set for a third Beatle movie, a Western to be titled A Talent For Loving. Time had been scheduled for the film's production, starting at the beginning of 1966. But it never happened. The Beatles rejected the script along with the notion of playing cowboys. Epstein's idea of making them into Elvis-style movie stars was foiled.
So it was that Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr found themselves with three full months off. Almost no group activity was planned. There loomed the virtually unknown luxury of personal freedom. They were called upon only once during this period, on January 5th. They went to CTS Studios, a post-production film studio in west London, because the audio tape of the recorded 1965 Shea Stadium concert needed some work before the planned TV film of the show could be released. The group were required to recreate their live sound at CTS while watching the concert performance footage on a large screen.
A contemporary report described the session and some of the equipment being delivered to the studio. "When The Beatles' management filmed and recorded their performance at the Shea Stadium, Manhattan, in August 1965, the 57,000 fans killed pretty well all their sound. So the film company decided that all their songs would have to be dubbed on. Recently, The Beatles found time to go into a Bayswater studio to record them but had to borrow a complete set of equipment from Sound City as they had taken their gear to their own separate homes instead of leaving it all with the road manager, Mal Evans."1
The idea of having a fully equipped studio in each of their homes had become appealing to the group. By the beginning of this year, Starr and McCartney had just purchased new houses, joining Lennon and Harrison as property owners. Each Beatle now had several Brenell reel-to-reel tape recorders which they used to work out new ideas for songs.
As far back as late 1964 Harrison's studio had been mentioned in a magazine item. "George decided that he wanted to put all his guitars, amplifiers and other musical gear into one big room at his new house," wrote the visiting journalist. "He's had one wall knocked down and the result is a sort of small recording studio. He also likes to have the ends of his guitar strings sticking all over the place. Says they're useful to stick ciggies onto, especially when there's no convenient ashtray near."2
Also in late 1964, Lennon's set-up had been reported. "John is having his new house completely redecorated, and one of the rooms is being equipped as a small recording studio. In future, he wants to make demos of new songs in the comfort of his own home."3 It had also been noted that Lennon had ordered an electric piano for the new home studio - presumably one of the Hohner Pianets the group had acquired. "Knowing the genius he has for extracting the most sounds out of ordinary equipment, everyone in the recording world is waiting to see what Lennon does with his piano."4 As we've learned, the results were plainly heard on Rubber Soul.
Just over a year later, in early 1966, visiting reporters had even more to see and scribble about. "Anyone who has visited John's home will no doubt be impressed by his music room," wrote one. "It is situated at the top of the house and its decor is a multi-coloured effort by John. Amplifiers, guitars, organ, piano and jukeboxes: you name it, he's got it. Everything is littered all over the place. He just can't keep it tidy like George does."5
During their three-month hiatus, the group began to write and demo new material for an upcoming record. It was reported at the time that they planned to reconvene in the spring of 1966 to record in Memphis, Tennessee. "There is a very strong possibility that The Beatles' new single will be recorded in America. After working on arrangements during late March and early April in EMI's St John's Wood studios they plan to fly to Memphis to actually record several numbers on April 11th. They have wanted to do a recording session in America for a long time now."6 Another item added: "They've heard so much about the American techniques and sound engineers so they want to see for themselves whether it makes any difference. George Martin will be accompanying them."7
Unfortunately the group never made the recording trip to Memphis. A Beatles single made at Sun studios would have been an interesting experiment. Instead, they wound up back at Abbey Road for another string of sessions, starting on April 6th. The sessions would eventually become part of the Revolver LP
The idea to record in the US grew from the group's continuing desire to improve and refine their sound on tape. So even though the trip to the States was off, the April sessions at Abbey Road found them pushing ever forward in the studio, striving to set fresh standards for new kinds of recording and production. The key word for these sessions would be experimentation.
A 1965 Gibson SG Standard similar to the one used by George in the studio and briefly on-stage during 1966. At the time this distinctively styled instrument was the flagship model in the Gibson solidbody electric line. Gibson's 1964 catalogue offered the SG model in three different styles: the three-pickup Custom and two-pickup Standard and Special.
Fender catalogue shot from the period showing the 'black-face' piggy-back style Showman amp and cab, which The Beatles used in the studio on the Revolver sessions.
One element in the new direction came with a change in recording personnel. At the start of the Revolver sessions the group's long-time head engineer, Norman Smith, was replaced by Geoff Emerick, a young EMI engineer eager and willing to experiment. Emerick had worked on various Beatles sessions as second engineer as far back as 'A Hard Day's Night' in 1964, but now he joined George Martin's production team as chief engineer to help translate The Beatles' ever-expanding musical ideas.