Not many musicians only enter the fray and take the musical world by storm within sight of their 50th birthday, but that’s what Hurricane Smith did in 1972. Or appeared to. Of course, Norman Smith, who was born this day back in 1923, had been a veteran of decades of music by then and had been associated with some massive hits long before he had one of his own.
Smith was born near London and was of age to serve in WWII, being trained as an Air Force pilot. He loved music, and after the war, took to the trumpet, being an aspiring jazz musician. But that never took off, so in 1959, he applied to EMI Records (lying about his age because he figured he’d be seen as too old) and got hired on as an intern, soon becoming a well-respected studio engineer of theirs…at Abbey Road studios. Thus, he knew the Beatles back before the masses did.
Norman, described as “smartly dressed and politely-spoken” remembers seeing the Beatles for the first time. He said “I couldn’t believe what louts they looked, with their funny haircuts!”. Nonetheless, he and the Fab Four hit it off, particularly him and John, who nicknamed him “Normal Norman.” So too did he and the younger producer the Beatles got, George Martin. Martin relied on Smith to get the sounds he wanted out of the boys’ instruments and onto tape. Smith would go on to be in on recording of over a hundred Beatles songs, through Rubber Soul, and was tasked with remixing most of the early mono recordings into stereo.
He was perhaps a wee bit too good; his time working with what was by then the world’s biggest group (as well as Gerry and the Pacemakers) was cut short by EMI who decided that he should be promoted, and become a record producer himself. That worked out quite well too though. Soon after that he saw a new band in a show and was blown away. That band was Pink Floyd. “What I saw absolutely amazed me,” he told interviewers. “I was still creating and developing new electronic sounds in the control room and I could see Pink Floyd was exactly into the same thing. It was a perfect marriage.” And it was, with Smith convincing EMI to sign them. Then he produced their first four studio albums, including early hits like “See Emily Play”, as well as “Remember A Day”, which he drummed on when they got frustrated with Nick Mason not getting the sound they wanted. Smith was apparently quite good on drums and piano as well!
His own career happened almost accidentally. He (and his wife Eileen) wrote songs, and he’d written a few he thought John Lennon might like and could record. So he made demos of “Don’t Let It Die”, and “Oh Babe What Would You Say?” However, another famous British producer, Mickie Most, heard them and convinced him that he sounded good enough on his own, so Smith put out an album in 1971, under the moniker Hurricane Smith, taking the name of a 1952 pirate movie. “Don’t Let It Die” hit #2 in the UK, but the next single, “Oh Babe…” was a worldwide smash, making it to #3 in the U.S. and Canada, and the top ten in his homeland, Australia and New Zealand. The very retro-sounding song, written with his wife, cheered with its “simple and happy melody” which, combined with the lyrics of the shy boy wishing for the girl of his dreams were “designed…to re-capture the era I grew up in.” Perhaps surprisingly, the rememberances of pre-war Britain appealed to the post-Hippie crowds of the ’70s.
Smith issued another album soon after, but it went nowhere, and he largely retired from music by that decade’s end, although he did play trumpets and other instruements on a record or two by The Teardrop Explodes in the ’80s. He put out a new album in 2004, with liner notes written by Paul McCartney and Pink Floyd. Around that time he also wrote a memoir, John Lennon Called Me Normal, which Ear Candy say is “one of the best of the lot” of Beatles-focused memoirs, full of “studio lore and history of the halycon days at Abbey Road.”
Smith died in 2008 at age 85, survived by Eileen and two grown children.
4 thoughts on “February 22 – Hurricane Stormed Onto Charts Just In Time For 50th Birthday”
He was really good at what he did. His voice was so different…almost a light scream. The Beatles were short a song on Rubber Soul I believe…he had one handy and they almost did it. They said they would do it on the next album but then he had gone on producing.
This was very interesting Dave.
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I can hear Lennon singing ‘Hey’ in the same vein and at the same time as he did his ‘Rock’n’Roll’ album. It would fit in, it has that nostalgic atmosphere.
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Yes! You know, I had no idea until I started researching that post who “Hurricane” was, and when I first read that he’d written that song expecting Lennon might like it, I thought “wot?”…having not heard “Oh Babe…” for many years. But when I gave it a listen again, first , it was a good little song, and second, yes, at that point in his career it wouldn’t take too much of a stretch to think of Lennon singing it.
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