43: The Beatles Called Him “Normal”

March 3, 2016

Podcast, Podcasting


In this episode, Robert and Richard discuss the career of engineer/producer Norman “Hurricane” Smith, who worked with The Beatles from “Love Me Do” through Rubber Soul. Hear him in his own words describe the time, in an exclusive interview recorded by Richard in the 1990s.

Songs include: “Devil in Her Heart,” “Don’t Let It End,” and “Oh Babe What Would You Say.” 

March 2016 is here and so is the Something About The Beatles 2016 calendar – get one of the last remaining copies in stock here and specially priced!

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    15 Responses to “43: The Beatles Called Him “Normal””

    1. Paul T Says:

      Excellently researched & expertly articulated as ever – thx guys. The only gap for me is the assertion that he plays hi-hat overdub on Cant Buy Me Love. Would have been good to get your view on this. By its omission, are you dismissing this assertion?

      Roll on No.44


      • Us Says:

        Thanks Paul!

        I nearly brought this assertion up – it comes from Geoff Emerick’s book, after all – and because, as far as I’m concerned, it’s an unproven allegation – I didn’t want to waste show time on what we don’t know. (We never got around to playing “Remember A Day” as it was!)

        Norman Smith himself vehemently denied it in his interview with Andre Gardner, which should carry a certain amount of weight. But there’s been a lot of looking into this, and I’m inclined to give the most weight to engineer Steve Hoffman, whose ears I trust:

        See what you think, Paul!



        • Paul T Says:

          Cheers RR! A very interesting thread and my money goes on Steve’s 29/3/06 comms on page 2 – case solved! And I secretly knew that as the story came from Emerick that you would only give it a 50-50 chance of truthfulness at best! Glad to keep the discussions going. Endlessly fascinating.


    2. Jordan Heal Says:

      Excellent stuff. Do you think there will be an Emerick show too?

      I have a signed copy of ‘John Lennon Called Me Normal’ it’s a strange read – am I sitting on a gold mine? – My copy came with an extra A3 page insert entitled “On ‘Audition Day'”In which Norman asserts that there was an Artists Test that George Martin attended,(he mentions the ‘I Don’t Like Your Tie’ comment occurring here). He also says that it must have been a special test as George Martin wouldn’t normally attend but that it wasn’t 6th June 1962. He doesn’t provide a date, but says that the 6th June date was the first session for ‘Love Me Do’with him and Ron Richards at the helm with Pete Best on drums.
      Curious chronology, which presumably has been set straight with the publication of ‘Tune In’.


    3. RB Says:

      At least neither Norm or Geoff were responsible for Terry Wogan asking George Martin if he played drums on ‘Love Me Do’…


    4. Andy Oz Says:

      Another great show. The comments on Ringo’s drumming and his perspective on Paul were fascinating. Wonderful to hear people like Norman Smith speak after years of just reading their names in Beatle Books. Keep it up,guys.


    5. Keith Moore Says:

      Hating Cliff Richard would have instantly endeared him to The Beatles


    6. Jordan Heal Says:

      At 24:42 Zubes throat lozenges are mentioned – yet in the interview for the Abbey Road presentation in 1983, Norman remembers a giant can of Hacks in the studio.
      On P16 of NME Originals magazine (Vol 1 Issue 1) on the Beatles,accompanying a related article about the Please Please Me LP session there is a photo of John posing for the camera in his collarless jacket (1963)holding a giant can of Hacks to his mouth.
      I’ve not seen a photo of Zubes anywhere. Do we know where the Zubes fact comes from?
      I know I should get out more, but these tiny details fascinate me.


      • Us Says:

        Hi Jordan,

        Agreed – it’s the little details that are so fascinating!

        It’s interesting that Smith said “Hacks” in 1983, because only a few years later, he said this:

        “Someone suggested they do Twist And Shout, the old Isley Brothers’ number, with John taking the lead vocal. But by this time all their throats were tired and sore – it was 12 hours since we had started working. John’s, in particular, was almost completely gone so we really had to get it right first time, The Beatles on the studio floor and us in the control room. John sucked a couple more Zubes [throat sweets], had a bit of a gargle with milk and away we went.”

        Now it’s possible that he really couldn’t remember which cough drops it actually was. (It’s also possible – indeed, likely – that the writer here doesn’t know what he’s talking about: https://www.soundonsound.com/sos/may08/articles/normansmith.htm )

        But Zubes seems to be the accepted brand these days, at it was the brand, supported by the Norman Smith quote, that Mark Lewisohn described in The Beatles’ Recording Sessions. Since then, it’s pretty much been accepted as THE most accurate account.


        • Jordan Heal Says:

          Oh -THAT writer who does the Sound on Sound articles! – Now that I’ve seen the link I can remember reading that too! (I read SOS regularly). I particularly remember your article on the recording of 10cc ‘I’m Not In Love’ fascinating detail on how they did all those multitracked ‘aaahhhhhs’ in a chromatic scale on the 16 track recorder! but I digress. Thanks for the reply… Just about to listen to the Yoko podcast which has just arrived. Can’t wait. Thanks again.


    7. Erick King Says:

      Remember most of Ringo’s innovative drumming was after Rubber Soul, 66 and on, so I see Norman’s perspective in a way.


    8. Ray Appel Says:

      This was another great episode! I wonder about Norman’s story where he says he wrote a sone and the Beatles really considered it. Have any of the Beatles backed up that story?

      Thanks for another amazing podcast!


    9. Chris Says:

      I’m sure he was great at his profession, but in listening to the interview snippets, I found his speech to be incoherent and boring. If I had to interview this guy, I’d have fallen asleep.


    10. Paul Says:

      Well spotted on the Mind Games vs What Would You Say strings similarities.

      I noticed Don’t Let it Die has a touch of “Love is fine for all we know – For all we know our love will grow” in the second half of the verse too.


    11. Tony S. Says:

      Great program! I just discovered this interview and found it fascinating. So, of course, I have to add my two cents.

      Despite his memory lapses, I take “Normal” at his word when he speaks of difficulties at the “Rubber Soul” sessions. First, I don’t think the “Think For Yourself” rehearsal segment can be considered typical. I’m pretty sure they knew their convos were being recorded for possible inclusion on their Christmas record and were hamming it up.

      But on top of that, a different band dynamic had taken shape after their last album. You both are right to point out that McCartney had always served as an informal music director. But on the “Help!” album he took it a step further and actually played George’s leads. No matter how that’s papered over, it had to cause resentment from George (which would, of course, grow as time went on).

      Then there’s John. It’s my assertion that the split between John and Paul had its origins in the mega-success of “Yesterday.” When your songwriting partner writes the “White Christmas” of your generation, there has to be some professional jealousy there somewhere. And since the word “jealous” appears in more than one Lennon tune, it’s safe to say it’s a good description of his personality. I always felt Lennon’s later criticism of McCartney’s ballads was actually jealousy rearing its head.

      Also, it was around this time that Paul started getting the A-Sides of singles. I recall Mark Lewisohn writing that John and Paul argued over whether “We Can Work It Out” or “Day Tripper” should be an A-Side. He also mentions in his “Sessions” book that there had been some sort of disagreement over “Ticket To Ride” being a single. Maybe these were the arguments Norman was recalling.

      If you factor in these elements, plus Paul pulling an “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”,”Maxwell’s” by making them run through “I’m Looking Through You” many, many times, I think some arguing would be the norm. Pun intended.

      I probably put way too much thought into this, but I’ve had decades to think this through, so why not post it here? Glad people are discussing it. I look forward to reading more of your fab blog.


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