LET IT DIE
an interview with
NORMAN "HURRICANE" SMITH
by Robert Silverstein
Remembered by pop fans in the know for his classic early 70s
smashes Oh Babe What Would You Say and Dont
Let It Die, Norman Hurricane Smith rose to
prominence in the early 60s as one of the first studio engineers
responsible for helping The Beatles achieve their incredible studio
sound. One of the historic figures at the Abbey Road studios in London,
Smith is also renowned for his brilliant production work on the early
Pink Floyd albums (up till Obscured By Clouds), yet as a solo
artist in his own right, Smith never quite earned the accolades he
so clearly deserved. That injustice is on the way to being righted
on a 2007 twenty track compilation on the U.K. based Arena Music Company.
Smith, pictured two ways on the cover art, with his jubilant Beatles
in what looks like early 1963 and also his circa 70 solo "Oh
Babe" lookhence the From That-To This sleeve
With a solid 50 years in the biz, Smith remains a legend of the U.K.
pop worldhaving influenced everybody from the Fab Four to Pink
Floyd to tin pan alley songwriter Gilbert OSullivan and more.
Word has it he even paid for, and is credited as the executive producer
of Atom Heart Mother. He also co-wrote one of the greatest
instrumentals ever made by The Shadows, their exceptional May '64
rocker and noted rare b-side Its A Mans World.
In addition to some of Smiths greatest songs and singing, the
20 track From Me To You also features several spoken word excerpts
with Smith quoting from his recent book John Lennon Called Me
Normalwhile also sporting liner notes by famous Smith
disciple Paul McCartney and a period piece reprint of a telegram
from John & Yoko. The studio legend who was right there,
right then and now is back with a new CD and book, the legendary Norman
Hurricane Smith had a chat with Robert Silverstein for
MWE3 on July 2nd, 2007.
In the beginning there was Abbey Road. With A&R headed
up by music producer / composer Norrie Paramorand with studio
engineer Norman Smith on board by 1959EMI (also called U.K.
Columbia then) and upstart label Parlophone were home base for the
two most influential bands in early '60s U.K. history, Cliff Richard
& The Shadows and by 1962 The Beatles. In its first ever appearance,
this interview with Beatles studio sound engineer Norman smith was
recorded by phone on July 2, 2007. In light of Norman's passing away
on March 5, 2008 fans of his work with the Beatles, Shadows and Pink
Floydas well as the great music he recorded as singer Hurricane
Smithwill appreciate Norman's keen insights and remembrances
during this interview. Apologies to Norman for our taking so long
to finish and publish this interview.
Don't Let It Die! (editor - April 5, 2008)
RS: Hey Norman. Its Robert Silverstein in New York.
NS: Oh yes, yes. I cant hear you too well...
RS: Im talking through a speaker phone so I can record the conversation.
Is it okay now?
NHS: Say some more...
RS: I just wanted to thank you for all the great years youve
had in the music world and Ive been playing the new archival
CD, The Definitive Hurricane Smith From That To This on Arena
NHS: Oh yes...
RS: Theres so many great songs on there. I was wondering how
it all came about and did you decide to tie it into your book?
NHS: Well, no really the idea was that my son is an engineer / producer
at Hatch Farm and he and his boss thought it would be nice for me
to do just one more release, one more CD. A kind of farewell CD, if
you wish, you know? That kind of thing. And we put it together. Just
chose some of the old songs and redid them and just enjoyed doing
RS: Are any of the songs recently redone? For instance From
Me To You... Because I know, from the CD, Who Was It
and Dont Let It Die are the originals from the 70s,
NHS: Yes, thats right. From Me To You...as you probably
know, I was the sound engineer for The Beatles for three and half
years. You knew that didnt you?
RS: Yeah, Im a huge fan of yours, believe it or not. I want
to get to all the great stuff you did with The Beatles...
NHS: Oh yeah.
RS: And The Shadows. I may have been born in New York, but my heart
has always been in England.
NHS: Oh, really?
RS: I grew up in New York City...Im sort of an Englishman on
NHS: (laughter) Thats nice. What my son suggested was that,
would I like to do one of the Beatles songs with my own version. Thats
how that From Me To You came about. As you probably know,
that was one of their songs. And what I wanted to do is to choose
a song whereby I could give a jazzy version, because I was full jazz
musician anyway. Thats my kind of music. So From Me To
You was the one I selected because I felt well I could at least
give it a sort of semi jazz version on that one. Thats the reason
why I chose that one. That was the reason for From Me To You.
And then of course, I thought it would make a good title for the CD
anyway. Thats why we put it on the first track.
RS: I love your version of it. Its really cool. I know Paul
McCartney actually wrote some new liner notes which was nice touch
and it was nice that he recognized you as one of the people that really
helped get that sound at Abbey Road.
NHS: Thats right.
RS: And also John Lennon...that was a cool touch adding that telegram.
You have a new biography coming out right?
NHS: Yes I do. Well, I did a first edition for the Beatle festival
in New York when I came over in March. And that was a first edition,
purely for the Beatle fans. And now Ive got a second edition
coming out pretty soon now. It should be out the first week of August.
That will be the second edition, which is on general release.
RS: You must have a lot of memories.
NHS: Oh yes. Of course, the book is my life story. Its not just
about The Beatles of course, which I think youll find interesting...my
life story. Well it started really and truly as a sound engineer at
Abbey Road, but then I became a producer, from then on of course.
But Ive always been a songwriterin any case, all my life
actually, in actual fact. Not with a great deal of success. Not until...
I was actually producing a Pink Floyd session, at the time. Itd
been a pretty hard day with them and normally, in the evening, when
we had a break in the session, I would take them to dinner. But on
this particular occasion, I said to them, if you dont
mind, you go to dinner and Ill pay for it, put it on my account.
What I did then was I went down into studio after they had left. And
I was doodling on the piano, chord sequences, etc. But then a melody
came to me, la-la-ing it of course, except for one line. And that
line was dont let it die. I couldnt believe
why that particular line came to me but when I tried to write the
lyric in any case afterwards...the lyrics...I couldnt get them.
And I kept coming back to this dont let it die.
And then, after watching a TV program at home, after Id got
home from the studio. And it was about what we were doing, really,
to our planet. Scarring it and the slaughter of animals, etc, etc.
And I thought wow, that would make a pretty darn good lyric.
So then I wrote the lyric to the tune Id written already, called
Dont Let It Die, and thats how that came about.
Thats it really. Of course, I wrote it and did the demo for
it, the demonstration record for that with John Lennon in mind. I
thought I could hear John singing it. So I made this demo with myself
singing it. And, theres a fellow producer who you may not know
or heard of called Mickie Most. I played it to him. Hes a very
successful producer, or was then. Unfortunately hes no longer
with us. But I played it to Mickie to ask his opinion of what he thought
about it. He said, thats very good, who is it? So
I said, well, Im not going to tell you who it is singing
until you tell me what you think. He said, play it again!
So I played it again and I was watching his facial reactions and I
guess he was pretty interested in it. And at the end of it he said,
well Ill tell you. That is a top 3 record. So I
said, youre joking me. He said, No, it really
is a top 3 record. Whos it singing? I said, well
youre going to change your mind now. Its me. So
he said, No, oh well... I said, Well Ive written
it for John... John Lennon. So he said, Forget John Lennon.
Put that out. Thats a top 3 record. And of course I did
and it was. It was number 2 over here. And thats a little story
about Dont Let It Die.
RS: I know your song, Babe, What Would You Say, and I
always loved that song. Dont Let It Die never came
out here, I think. So, its kind of a shame that John didnt
record Dont Let It Die because its got that
great piano stride sound that he loved so much.
NHS: Thats right. Well when I met John, I was over in 1973 to
appear on the Johnny Carson Show in California. And I met John out
there and that subject came up about Dont Let It Die.
And I said, Well, I really wrote that for you John. And
I said, Would you have done it? So he said, Yeah,
I certainly would have done it. Its a great song. So I
was very pleased to hear that. Well, I mean...I wish he hadnt
done it as well, obviously, because it probably would have been a
bigger hit than mine was! (laughter) But he did like the song, very
much indeed. Incidentally, youre a Beatles fan. Did you come
to the New York (Beatles) festival?
RS: I guess I was too busy with the magazine. I was thinking about
your music a lot, for some reason, about two months ago. Im
also a huge Shadows fan. I always love that song that you wrote for
The Shadows called Its A Mans World.
NHS: Thats right.
RS: Thats one of my favorite songs ever written and I always
wanted to thank you for that great song. When you came to work at
Abbey Road studios I know you worked with George Martin. But did you
also work with Shadows producer Norrie Paramor too? You must have
NHS: Norrie Paramor very well. Yes I knew Norrie very well indeed.
Yes I did. Funnily enough, before he joined EMI, he played in a group
called Harry Golds Pieces Of Eight. He was a piano player in
Pieces Of Eight. And I actually gigged a couple of times with Harry
Gold myself. Thats where I first met Norrie but then again,
it was some years later that we met up again, of course at Abbey Road.
And I struck up a very good friendship with Norrie, yeah.
RS: It must have been amazing to be at Abbey Road, even before The
Beatles. Because Norrie wrote some amazing songs and string arrangements
for The Shadows.
NHS: Yes thats right. The were very enjoyable sessions, of course
they were. With Cliff Richards as well. I always liked and very much
working with Norrie Paramor, cause as I say he was a good friend
of mine anyway. We played golf quite a bit together, etc. And of course,
both being jazz musicians, as Norrie was and I was of course as well,
we had a lot in common anyway. It was always very enjoyable to work
RS: You co-wrote Its A Mans World with Malcolm
Addey. Was he an engineer at Abbey Road too?
NHS: Malcolm was an engineer. Yes he was. A very good one, a very
RS: One of the most interesting things about the Beatles for me was
that they always made mono and stereo mixes of their songs. Was that
something you were involved with too when they were recording, or
was everything done afterwards?
NHS: No, we did them separately. In 1962 we didnt have the technology
that theyve got now. But, one could only record mono. Thats
all. And then later, when we then began to get four track recording
machines, we could then fill up the tracks and of course to remix
stereo and put whatever track you wanted on the left or the right
or the center or halfway. That kind of thing. So the stereo didnt
really come about until we started to get the four track machines.
RS: I always wanted to compliment the sound that you guys got at Abbey
Road. The songs you worked on with The Beatles have the cleanest,
best recorded sound Ive ever heard since...
NHS: Oh, thats very nice. Of course I was always interested
in developing sound. So were The Beatles so we worked very closely
together on that. And above all, I wanted to make them comfortable
in the studio. As I said, I had my own jazz quintet and I knew how
important it was to be sitting as close together as one could. When
you come to record in a studio and putting the mikes out...theres
a thing called for sound engineers separation. And what that meant
was you wanted a clean sound between each microphone that you put
out. For instance, if you put, ideally...if you put a microphone well
say on the bass amp. When working that mic in the control room, all
you wanted to hear was that bass sound. And that goes for all the
other sounds. If youre recording vocals at the same time you
didnt want a spill over from other instruments that were being
picked up by the vocal mic. Thats called separation. You wanted
a clean separation. To me, it was important as I said for the boys
to be comfortable playing at the levels they wanted to play in the
studio and for me to devise a sound, where I placed the mic etc...to
get the kind of sound that youre talking about, that pleased
me as well. Thats how that came about. It wasnt just a
question of putting out microphones willy nilly or wherever. You had
to experiment to get the kind of sound that one had in ones
RS: George Harrison said the best way to listen to Sgt. Pepper
is in mono. It must have dawned on you that when you recorded
I Want To Hold Your Hand you were recording a life changing
NHS: Well, the fact of the matter is that (laughter) I felt that about
nearly every one of the songs that they recorded. Ive often
been asked what is my favorite Beatles song? And the answer always
had to be... all of them! I couldnt really pick out one where
I could say , 'now that was my favorite song cause they were
all so enjoyable to record. The sessions were so enjoyable and we
were just like a happy family anyway. The six of us. I know that George
Martin very often called himself the fifth Beatle and
me the sixth when he was doing interviews. But when I was doing interviews
I became the 5th and he became the 6th. (laughter)
We were a happy family anyway.
RS: I always wanted to compliment you on your discovery of Pink Floyd
and especially your influential studio production on their first single
See Emily Play. Thanks a lot for making that song.
NHS: Well that was fun. I was waiting for really and truly a song
like that, that I could release as a single. Because, as you know,
really and truly the Pink Floyd were a long playing album group. But
I was looking for one I could release as a single, because, to obviously
broaden the audience reaction. If one got a hit single it could and
should boost the sale of LP's. So when that song came along, I felt
well this is a song that I can do something and dress up as a single,
which is as you know, I did and it did become a big hit. Hey, I guess
that obviously boosted the sales of Pink Floyd generally.
RS: One album that I know you worked on later with Pink Floyd, called
Atom Heart Mother never got its fair amount of accolades.
I know you were also the executive producer of that album. Its
an orchestral masterpiece.
NHS: Yes, thats right. Thats the last one I did with them
RS: Singer-songwriter Gilbert OSullivan is another singer who
you championed around 1970 with your version of Who Was It?
NHS: After Oh Babe became a hit I was then working on
my next single etc. And I was half way through working on the follow
up, which I thought was going to be the follow up to Oh Babe.
And Gilbert, well his real name is Ray of course.... He called me
on the telephone and he said, Listen, Hurricane...have you considered
your next release after Oh Babe? I said, Im
working on it right now. Why do you ask? He said, Well,
Ive just written a song, this song. And he said, Ive
written it virtually for you.' He said, 'I think itd really
suit you. Your voice, you know? I said, Okay! Well bring
it over to me. So he did. He brought it over and when I played
it, well I had to admit. I said to him, That song is a bit of
the one Im working on right now. He said, Really?
I said, Yes. So he said, But will you do it?
I said, I certainly will. So I released that. That was
the follow up and thats how I met Ray. Of course we became very
good friends. We did a lot of television together in Europe. Thats
how I met him anyway. He just called me out of the blue that hed
just finished writing this song Who Was It? I thought
it was great.
RS: Is there a story behind your original Dont Hide Your
NHS: Oh! That one. Yes. Wally Allen, who was a member of Pretty Things.
He and I, cause I had a studio, a little recording studio at
home, near Surrey, at that time. And Wally used to visit me and we
would record several of the backing tracks that were on my album which
we did at home. Before I took it into Abbey Road to finish it off.
So Wally and I actually, we were...I dont know what we were
doing... We started doodling around in my little studio and that melody
came out and we thought, Yeah...thats quite good actually.
We wrote the lyric together actually. And when we finished it we thought,
This works interesting, cause I was a producer
at that time as well. So I released it. It didnt do terribly
well but I thought it was good enough to put on the album.
RSS: The only album I saw was the one that came out here with Oh
Babe on Capitol in 1971. So you had other albums too?
NHS: Oh yes, yes I did. The first album came out in 1971 and then
I did, perhaps another four or five after that.
RS: Theres a great CD of your original recordings called Dont
Let It Die from Japan that Im glad came out. The CD release
this year from England on Store For Music Records doesnt have
the original version of Oh Babe What Would You Say on
NHS: Of course the version of this latest CD that youve got,
we rerecorded, you see? So thats why its slightly different
to the original one that I released. But the Japanese, theyve
released something like 24 tracks, 24 songs of mine on the Japanese
CD. They released it about a year ago or something like that.
RS: Theres also some cool sound track sounding instrumentals
on the Japanese pressing of Dont Let It Die. Speaking
of great instrumentals, is there a story on how you came to write
Its A Mans World for The Shadows? It was the
b-side to their single The Rise And Fall Of Flingel Bunt.
NHS: Yes. Malcolm actually started that song. He got a few bars that
he liked very much. Cause he was a pianist too, Malcolm Addey.
And he came to me and said, Look, Im stuck with this song
or this melody that Im trying to write. I wonder if you can
help me with it? And thats how it started. He had the
first couple of lines of the melody. And he said, Could you
sort of change it, embellish it and make it more attractive?
Which is what I did. So I finished off the song, writing the song
with him. Of course, Its A Mans World... the
reason why we called it a Mans World - M.A. for
Malcolm Addey. N.S. for Norman Smith! (laughter) So Its
A MANS World. Thats the story on that one. And of course
we were both familiar with The Shadows. We made a little demo of it
and played it to them. And they said they liked it theyd put
it on a b-side for us, which was very nice.
RS: Thanks again for another classic song. Just to change the subject,
were you surprised that The Shadows didnt become big in America?
NHS: I was very surprised. Very surprised also that Cliff Richard
and The Shadows didnt... But particularly with The Shadows.
Yes, very, very surprised that they didnt make it. I think it
was mainly due to the fact that they had very poor promotion. Capitol
were... Well, I mean, Capital to start with... they didnt even
want to record The Beatles. Release The Beatles. Capitol were well
behind times you know? They didnt want my record, Oh Babe.
I wont bore you with the story but it started to break out on
the East Coast somewhere and get played and thats when Capitol
picked it up. But yes, I was extremely surprised that The Shadows
didnt make it big in America. I guess...mainly because they
didnt have enough promotion behind them out there and also of
course I guess that you had your own similar groups out there anyway.
Similar to The Shadows. I can only put it down to that. But in answer
to your question, yes, I was surprised that they didnt make
RS: Im hoping you might do some more, write some more stuff.
NHS: Not any more. Cause Im 84 years old now. And I have
a pretty calm life. Im coming to the Beatles fest in Chicago
in early August. The second of August I think it is. So Im coming
over there then. And they want me to perform Oh Babe.
Well I did that in New York as well. Apart from that, Im not
writing anymore now. I sit down at the piano once in a while and amuse
myself. But no more song writing Im afraid. Those days have
RS: Your music is always ripe for rediscovery for anyone looking to
find out about classic pop song writing.
NHS: Yes, very kind of you to say that. Very kind. Im very proud
of course of the songs that Ive written. Ive written many,
many songs. And when I do think back now, and sometimes listening
to them, I think to myself, Wow, thats a pretty damn good
lyric! Pretty good. I think back at what inspired the lyrics
and the melodies, etc. But I always had, in my head since well, I
was a young man, melodies. Im a melody man. And these melodies
just trot out of my head, some of which I wrote down. But Ive
always had that in my life. Melody. Some of the lyrics have been hard
to come by but certainly melodies... But Im very proud of the
songs that Ive written over the years. Its a very large
RS: Theres also a number of instrumental songs youve written.
Journey Through Dawn is a highlight instrumental on the
Japanese Dont Let It Die CD.
NHS: Im playing piano on that one. As I say, again, that I was
sitting at the piano at one time. This melody just simply came out.
I thought it was good enough to write an orchestral score for. Im
pleased you like that one. Also Ive written a musical story
on Journey Through Dawn in actual fact, which Im
hoping one day will come out. That's very kind of you. Its been
a great pleasure for me to talk to you. Thank you for all the compliments.
Its very nice of you indeed and I do appreciate it. Thank you
very much indeed. Hope I might see you in Chicago. Take care. Bye-bye
Thanks to Norman Hurricane Smith and everyone @ www.thestoreformusic.com