for Mike Smith, the man who produced Christie's Yellow
River single and the first album.
Mike Smith: Record producer who had a
string of No 1 hits but turned down the Beatles
By Spencer Leigh
1963 and 1970, Mike Smith produced six No 1 records for
Brian Poole, the Tremeloes, Georgie Fame, Marmalade, Love
Affair and Christie. He produced many other hit records
too but he missed out on the Beatles, turning them
down at their audition for Decca Records on New Year's Day,
Mike Smith was born in Barking in 1935
and attended Barking Abbey Grammar School. He studied music
theory, and his father, a brass band enthusiast, encouraged
him and his brother to learn trombone, although he had little
interest in the instrument. After national service he worked
as a costing clerk and then joined the BBC as a recording
A couple of Smith's workmates moved
to the classical division of Decca Records and told him
how this entailed trips to Vienna, Paris and Milan. Smith
followed them but "to my irritation, I never got further
than their studios in West Hampstead". Smith had been
hired by Frank Lee and he assisted him on sessions for Mantovani,
Edmundo Ros, Vera Lynn and Winfred Atwell. Lee would often
fall asleep, allowing Smith to take over. When Smith made
a spoof radio tribute about him for an office party, Lee
was so impressed by his technical ability that he upgraded
him to a producer, raising his salary from £9 to £11
"I really enjoyed being with Billy
Fury in the studio," Smith once told me, " and
Halfway To Paradise sounded
right from the moment it started. Dick Rowe had picked the
song; Ivor Raymonde had written the arrangement; and my
contribution was keeping everyone sober. Billy was managed
by Larry Parnes and I remember Larry telling the bass guitarist
to 'tighten his strings'. That became a running joke at
When Brian Epstein became the Beatles'
manager in late 1961, he invited Decca to audition the band.
"Somebody had to show some interest in the Beatles,"
said Smith, "because Brian Epstein's shop, NEMS, was
an important account for our sales people. I went to the
Cavern and I should have trusted my instincts as I thought
they were wonderful on stage. We arranged for them to come
to London on New Year's Day, 1962, and in the studio they
weren't very good. I think that we got to them too early
but it was probably just as well as I couldn't have worked
with them the way that George Martin did at EMI. I would
have got too involved in their bad parts and not enough
in their good."
As it happens, Dick Rowe had asked
Smith to choose between the Beatles and another band he
had recorded the same day, Brian Poole and the Tremeloes.
Smith had been told about this band from Barking by his
optician, who was managing them. Smith chose Brian Poole
and the Tremeloes and, on other day of the week and at any
other time, that would have been a fine decision. The group
had many hit records, but it meant that Smith had turned
down the Beatles.
Brian Poole and the Tremeloes had several hits for
Decca and Smith also produced hits for the Applejacks and
Dave Berry. When Poole split with the Tremeloes, Smith moved
with them to CBS and a long succession of mostly happy-go-lucky
hit singles followed, including Here
Comes My Baby and Even The
Bad Times Are Good. The Tremeloes topped the charts
by covering a Four Seasons' B-side, Silence
Is Golden, in 1967. When the Tremeloes were unenthusiastic
about releasing Yellow River
as a single, he recorded it with the song's writer, Jeff
Christie, and, as Christie, the single made No 1 in 1970.
In 1967 Smith produced Georgie Fame's
No 1, The Ballad Of Bonnie And Clyde.
When Love Affair was signed to CBS they made Everlasting
Love with the producer Muff Winwood but their playing
was not thought strong enough and the lead vocalist, Steve
Ellis, was asked to remake the song with Mike Smith. The
fact that Love Affair's hit single featured session men
was a media scandal in 1968. Smith also recorded Marmalade
with a song from the Beatles' White Album, Ob-La-Di,
Ob-La-Da, which went to No 1.
Mike Smith is featured in this documentary talking about
Michael Robert Smith, record producer:
born Barking, Essex, April 30, 1935; died Camberley, Surrey,
December 3, 2011.