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Obituary: Norman Smith

Obituary by Jack Foley

NORMAN Smith, the music engineer who proudly worked on every studio recording The Beatles made between 1962 and 1965, has died at the age of 85.

Nicknamed “Normal Norman” by John Lennon, Smith took charge of the band’s legendary first session at Abbey Road in 1962 and went on to oversee some of the greatest albums and bands of all-time.

His record label EMI affectionately described him as “a legendary figure in the history of EMI and British music”, adding in a statement: “We were very saddened to hear of his passing away, and our thoughts and condolences go out to his family at this time.”

Born on February 22, 1923, in Edmonton, North London, Norman served in World War Two as a glider pilot (but did not see combat) and came to the music industry rather late by industry standards. At first, he worked as a dance-hall and jazz musician, before taking an entry-level job at EMI Recording Studios in Abbey Road in 1959, at the age of 36.

But he quickly played a key part in the success of two of the biggest bands of all time: The Beatles and then Pink Floyd.

For The Beatles, he worked on some of their biggest and most popular hits, stretching between 1962 and early 1966, including I Want To Hold Your Hand, A Hard Day’s Night, Help!, Day Tripper and We Can Work It Out.

He also worked on the 1965 album Rubber Soul, upon which he is credited with helping Lennon and co lay the groundwork for they’re evolving, groundbreaking sound on later LPs Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Ironically, he didn’t think much of them when he first heard them, once recalling infamously in an interview in Recording The Beatles, the definitive studio history of the group by Brian Kehew and Kevin Ryan: “First impressions of the group coming into the studio were not very great, in point of fact. I mean, ‘Here comes another scrappy group.’ But I must say that I was taken with their hairdos because we hadn’t seen anything quite like them.”

In 1966, after being promoted from engineer to producer, he signed Pink Floyd and produced their early albums, including Saucerful of Secrets and The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.

And later in the early ’70s he enjoyed some musical success of his own, scoring Top 5 hits with Don’t Let It Die and Oh Babe, What Would You Say [under the name Hurricane Smith]. The latter was also a massive Top 5 success in America.

Smith continued to play an active part in the music industry until his death, from cancer, and was always extremely gratified to be recognised by contemporary Beatles fans who noted his contribution to the band’s success.

In 2004, he even released a new CD of his own, From Me To You, which included new recordings of his biggest self-penned hits, as well as messages in the liner notes from Sir Paul McCartney and members of Pink Floyd.

Besides Eileen, his wife of 62 years, Smith is survived by his son, Nick, also a recording engineer; his daughter, Dee Smith, a dancer and dance instructor; and a grandson. He passed away on March 3, 2008.

  1. I am SO sorry to hear of Normans passing. During the years 1964 to 67 my then singing partner and I were signed to Parlophone as ‘Shirley and Johnny’ Norman produced our final record for the label in 1967 ‘And I don’t want your love’. A fabulous producer and a great character! Condolences to his family and friends. Johnny Wheeler.

    Johnny Wheeler    Mar 12    #