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Peter Asher: A true musical jack of all trades

By Paul Collins - For The Telegraph | Dec 17, 2022

Peter Asher participates in the "Soundbreaking" panel during the PBS Television Critics Association summer press tour on Thursday, July 28, 2016, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

In the new biography, Peter Asher – A Life in Music, veteran writer David Jacks provides readers with an in-depth look back across the landscape of Asher’s amazing journey through the music industry. That trek has spanned over more than 50 years, and has spawned a very fruitful career that still sees no end in sight.

Peter Asher, a music luminary, has had the kind of artistic diversity and success that most people can’t even begin to imagine. At 78 years young, he has been a pop star, as half of the successful 60’s British duo Peter and Gordon, a Grammy award winning record producer, manager and creative a guiding light to mega artists James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt. As if that wasn’t enough to fill up the cup of life, Asher is, and has been since the early 1960’s, been both a personal friend and a professional colleague of the Beatles.

Long ago, during the frenzied days of Beatlemania, Asher and Paul McCartney began a long-term personal friendship and working relationship with each other. In the 60’s McCartney was dating Asher’s sister, Jane, and during the years of their courtship he actually lived in the Asher family home in London sharing the top floor of the house with Peter.

So strong were the bonds of that friendship that when Peter and Gordon were signed to a record deal by EMI in 1963, McCartney actually gave Asher the song ‘World without Love’ a tune that he had originally written for the Beatles to record.

Having the opportunity to engage Peter Asher in conversation one quickly realizes that the often gargantuan ego and arrogance that sometimes seems like required part of being a music celebrity is indeed conspicuous by its absence in this man. One is struck by his candor. He’s quick to laugh, even at his own expense, and despite having lived in America for decades he still retains a posh-sounding upper crust British accent that sounds like its straight out an episode of Masterpiece Theater. As he shares his thoughts on the new biography and his experiences in the music industry, what comes across is a very honest person who is often, as I say, quite self-deprecating in characterizing himself and in downplaying his accomplishments. The bottom line is that Peter Asher is a nice guy who takes his work seriously, but not himself.

With respect to how the song “World without Love” became the launching pad for Peter and Gordon’s success as international pop stars, Asher explained that after Peter and Gordon had been signed by record giant EMI, producer Norman Newell was going through the planning process with them regarding what songs the duo would do in their first recording session. Asher says, that after having performed several songs in that session, “Norman Newell asked me, ‘Do you have any other cool songs?’ and my answer was….maybe I do.”

That session with Newell was the catalyst for Asher to go to Paul McCartney for a favor. He shared that memory with me. “So I went to Paul and asked him, has anything happened with that ‘World without Love song?’ Are the Beatles going to do it? He said no, definitely not, and I haven’t finished it.” Additionally, he shares anther related remembrance of that long ago conversation with Paul. “John didn’t like it very much and thought the opening lyric ‘Please lock me away’ was ridiculous. So I said to Paul well, can we do it? I just got a record deal now, and he said ‘yes you can.'” With a slight chuckle in his voice he also remembers the process of actually acquiring the fully completed song from McCartney. “I did have to nag him slightly to finish the song in time for the session because all he’d written was the verse and not the bridge. Eventually he sort of took his guitar, went into his room, and came out about 7 or 8 minutes later saying ‘yes, you can do it.'” For Peter Asher and the late Gordon Waller, this was the song that was responsible for embarking on a career path that would make them international pop stars.

Just a short time later the Beatles conquered the world and were still on their way to musical immortality when they tapped Asher to become the executive head of A&R for the Apple Records in London. It was another key stepping stone in his career. Today, decades down the road from those heady days, his storied life unfolds in detail in David Jack’s extensive biography. The publisher’s listing notes that over 12 years of research has gone into the telling of Asher’s story. A who’s who list of over 100 music artists, friends and colleagues, some since deceased, agree to be interviewed.

In this time and this place, Asher has definitely not reached the downhill slope of a career that is still expanding out into various facets of the music industry. One of the things that sets him apart from so many other former pop stars is that his career actually soared to greater heights in his post pop star life when he became a producer and artist manager. When asked what provided him the transitional path from pop star to producer he says, “I certainly got involved in production lead from the very beginning and made suggestions, adjustments, and comments, but was I officially a producer? No, but I knew right away that I wanted to be a record producer the first time I was ever in a studio. I thought it was a very cool job. I mean…you could hire musicians who were a lot better than yourself and tell them what to play, and think of arrangements and try stuff out. I learned to produce from being produced, and occasionally got to watch George Martin (the Beatles producer) at work.” He adds, “Being a record producer was an ambition, and I set out to do it.” Asked if producing is still a labor of love for him he say, “Yes, that’s for sure or I wouldn’t do it.”

The vibrancy that comes through in his voice is palpable. Today, so many years after having been one of the prominent players in the Beatles-led British Invasion, Peter Asher has not been content to rest on his laurels. Still active today, he has been busy producing a yet untitled album for Susanna Hoffs, lead singer of the Bangels.

The bookend to the unbridled enthusiasm that he has for his work is found in his humility and down to Earth personality. When asked about the biography he says, again with laughter in his voice, “I remember talking to the writer and saying to him, I don’t think you’ll find a publisher because it’s not that interesting, but he did find one, and I congratulate him on that. Other than that, it’s up to the readers and the critics.”

Well, I will tell you that this reader found it to be a biography that offers a fascinating look at a musical legend whose career has successfully straddled multiple disciplines of the recording industry. A guy who is still on the road to that next challenge, and who still has worlds left to conquer.

Paul Collins is a freelance writer from Southborough, Massachusetts.


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