Friday, March 7, 2008

Two Figures in Music Pass On

Two figures in music have recently passed. One was Leonard Rosenman, the film composer who scored many classic films and TV shows. The other was Norman Smith, the engineer on every single Beatles song from their first single into 1965.

Leonard Rosenman died Tuesday at the age of 83 from a heart attack. He was born in Brooklyn on September 7, 1924. He served in the Army Air Corps in the Pacific during World War II. Afterwards he received a bachelor's degree in music from the University of California, Berkeley. He eventually moved to New York with the intent of becoming a concert composer. He made his living teaching piano, numbering among his students the actor James Dean, then acting in the film East of Eden. It was through Dean that Rosenman met the film's director, Elia Kazan. Kazan was so impressed with Rosenman that he hired him to score East of Eden.

Beyond East of Eden, Rosenman would score several films over the years, including Rebel without a Cause, The Fantastic Voyage, A Man Called Horse, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. He also worked extensively in television. He composed music for the series Law of the Plainsman, The Defenders, and Combat, as well as several TV movies.

Although best known as a film composer, Rosenman continued to write concert music throughout his life.

Rosenman was among the most versatile film composers of his generation. He could write traditional film scores, such as the one he wrote for East of Eden. At the same time, however, he could write starkly original material, such as the atonal score for Fantastic Voyage. It is little surprise that Rosenman did win two Oscars one for Bound for Glory and Barry Lyndon.

Norman Smith, also known as "Hurricane Smith" and nicknamed "Norman Normal" by John Lennon, died Tuesday at the age of 85 from cancer. He was the engineer on The Beatles' early recordings and worked with other big names in rock as well.

Smith was born February 22, 1923 and grew up in Edmonton in London. Smith served in the Royal Air Force in World War II. After the war he worked as dance hall musician, even forming the band the Bobby Arnold Quintet. He did not enter the world of recording until 1959, when he took a job as a tape operator at EMI in 1959. Smith worked his way up the ladder at EMI until he was a full fledged engineer. In 1962 he was the engineer on duty when The Beatles came to EMI for their sound test. At that time EMI was very formal and engineers were required to wear suits and ties. It was because this that John Lennon nicknamed him normal. Despite being ribbed by The Beatles over the way he dressed, Smith chose to stay with the group. He was the engineer on every Beatles record until he last worked with them on the album Rubber Soul in 1965.

Following his work with The Beatles, Smith struck out on his own as a producer. He not only scouted a young band called Pink Floyd, but signed them as well. Smith would go onto produce their first two albums, Piper at the Gates of Dawn and Saucerful of Secrets. Smith also produced The Pretty Things' albums S. F. Sorrow (one of the earliest concept albums), Parachute, and Silk Torpedo.

Smith would have a bit of a recording career of his own. Adopting the nom de plume "Hurricane Smith," he had a modest it in the United Kingdom with "Don't Let It Die" in 1971. He followed this with a song that would be a hit on both sides of the Pond in 1972, "Oh Babe What Would You Say." He had some minor success with the follow up singles "My Mother Was Her Name," "Beautiful Day, Beautiful Night," and "To Make You My Baby."

There can be little doubt that Norman Smith played a major role in rock history. As the engineer on The Beatles' early recordings, it was Smith's job to pick out the instruments and the recording techniques, and then to combine everything together into a finished product. Smith went against the current tide in pop music and chose for The Beatles a sound that was more raw than what was usually heard on the radio at that time. And while Pink Floyd may have considered Smith too old fashioned, it seems likely they were wrong. Smith not only did a fine job producing the band's first two albums, but explored psychedelic sound even further with The Pretty Things. If S. F. Sorrow is considered a classic today, it is largely because of Smith's production. Whether as The Beatles' engineer or the producer for Pink Floyd and The Pretty Things, Norman Smith left his mark on rock history.

1 comment:

Bobby D. said...

I am always learning new stuff here--I think about all of the very important "behind the scenes" people.