Sunday 25 February 2024

Sound Man - Glyn Johns (2014)


Rating: Excellent

When Peter Jackson’s long-awaited re-fashioning of The Beatles Let It Be footage emerged in 2021, retitled Get Back, it was a revelation. The three-part documentary totally recontextualized the original film, featuring hours of unseen footage. Glyn Johns had worked on the sound recording part of the project and he remarks in Sound Man that when Allen Klein become The Beatles manager, he wanted only The Beatles to feature in the film, which Johns reflects was a pity, as it meant that he wouldn't feature. One of the highlights of Let It Be was seeing Johns working with the Beatles and parading around in sartorial splendour, out doing even The Beatles themselves for elegant cool. Sound Man details working with The Beatles during this era, and it is fascinating stuff, but it was only a small part of Johns career, which saw him working with some of the most significant artists of the 60s and 70s, such as The Rolling Stones, The Small Faces, The Faces, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles and The Who. Sound Man is both Johns story, beginning from his early years and how he managed to get into the cloistered world of English sound production in the early 60s, and a cultural history of one of the most amazing periods in musical history. It's worth reading for this fact alone. 

Johns at work, circa late 60s
Johns writing style is economical and to the point, but with a light touch that is highly readable. He is also honest about the lows of his career and certainly does not come across as an egotist. The book is chronological, yet also moves back and forth in time when needed, as Johns worked with many of the artists over a span of decades. There’s plenty of great stories among the making of many significant albums. One that comes to mind was when Johns suggests to Keith Moon that he gives up drinking so he can manage demanding drum parts and he fires back to Johns that he was just as bad, smoking cigarettes constantly. So Johns suggest that they both give up their vices, which Johns duly did, but, of course Moon did not and went on the cause more chaos with his drink fuelled capers, many of which Johns details in Sound Man. Engineers and producers like Johns don’t really exist in today’s world of digital and fragmented recording techniques. Johns recorded many of the bands playing together in a room, with overdubs later to correct or flesh out the songs. Johns does lament the passing of his type of recording and producing (as does the likes of Tony Visconti, who when asked what modern producers he admired a few years ago replied, “None”), however he does still work occasionally and as evidenced by this book, he will be remembered as part of musical history due to the sheer number of amazing albums he worked on. I recommend Sound Man to any reader interested in the great music of the 60s and 70s and musical history in general. Sound Man is a classy book, well written and is absolutely fascinating. Makes for good holiday reading, or for when you are recovering from Covid, as I was when I read the bulk of it. The book also made me want to listen to the albums in question again, many of which have been done to death, which can only be a good thing, as I really think that the 1970s was the greatest decade in modern musical history.

No comments:

Post a Comment