Thursday, July 19, 2012

Book Review: Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust, by Ken Scott and Bobby Owsinski

Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust is a fascinating rock 'n roll first person account by a guy who not only engineered The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour and The Beatles (The White Album), but as if that isn't enough crowning achievement, went on to produce some of the most highly acclaimed music from rock 'n roll's most exciting era, including David Bowie's The Rise And Fall of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, and George Harrison's All Things Must Pass.

Ken Scott's contribution to engineering and producing some of the finest music of the 20th Century is staggering. Add these titles to his resume: Bowie's The Man Who Sold The World, Hunky Dory, Aladdin Sane and Pinups; Elton John's Madman Across The Water, Honky Chateau, and Don't Shoot Me I'm Only Piano Player; Jeff Beck's Truth; Lou Reed's Transformer; Supertramp's Crime Of The Century; The Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers; the list goes on.

It's an inside "hands-on" book which offers casual and candid impressions of John, Paul, George, and Ringo bustling about Abbey Road Studios as if it's just another day at the office. The rock 'n roll dignitaries breezing through the pages of Scott's volume is like a stroll through the history of modern rock music. Any given page may find Elton John ringing up the author asking him to meet him in France to produce his next album. Frank Zappa knocks on the door to offer access to his home-built recording studio while he's away on tour. George Harrison calls just to chat and to persuade Scott to re-master All Things Must Pass.

Ken Scott grew up in a working class London family with a fascination for recording devices and a healthy lust for the girl singers on British TV. After a university stint, he secured an assistant sound engineer position at recording giant EMI, which led to his long association with The Beatles. Beginning with "pushing buttons" as assistant engineer on the soundtrack for A Hard Day's Night, Scott's relationship with The Beatles continues long after their breakup and is climaxed by his stay in George Harrison's castle during the final days of Harrison's life.

His wonderful fan-based story, which first finds him as an impressionable young lad encountering The Beatles in the hallways of EMI studios, where he is tempted to "scream like one of the girls" at the sight of them, is merged with his knowledge of sound technology which is as telling as his personal narrative, if you care to know, for instance, how they got that garage rock hollow sound in The Beatles' "Yer Blues". For true sound buffs, a more specified "tech talk" is included on separate highlighted pages of the book.

His anecdotes on the legion of rock 'n roll royalty offer a brand new history which finds Yoko Ono and Linda McCartney's presence in the Beatles' recording studio welcome and passive. He can't recall a single incident of agitation regarding the Beatles' wives. It is no surprise that John Lennon is depicted as a wonderful guy who could be a bit of an "arsehole".

My enthusiasm for the book is curbed a bit by the second half which isn't nearly as thrilling as the first, as Scott takes his career into the 1980s and '90s. Peculiar anecdotes still abound as Devo is described as "standoffish", Duran Duran are seen as foolishly extravagant with money, and medical emergency personal are summoned to Scott's posh Los Angeles pool party when a guest gets his "thingy" stuck in the Jacuzzi suction cup.

Far too many chapters (three!) are devoted to L.A. new wave band Missing Persons, a band that Scott managed, who scored a hit record with "Words" and quickly faded into obscurity. There is a significant number of testimonial letters from record label executives, musicians, and fellow producers and engineers, pasted throughout the book, attesting to Scott's value as a producer, that is gratuitous and leaves an air of insecurity.

But the importance of this documentation of the creation of such monumental music is not to be underestimated. It helps that Scott was strictly anti-drug while working, and his vital recollections are vivid and studious. His song for song account of The Beatles' White Album is historical.

this review was first published at blogcritics.