George Martin's contribution<BR>

George Martin's contribution


Tom Bednarek (sastxb@VMS.SAS.COM) writes:

>...At first, the Beatles could have moved more quickly
>w/o the presence of Martin; but later, none of the really
>glitzy Paul stuff, and even some of the more trumped-up
>John stuff ("Strawberry Fields") could have been done
>w/o him.

"Moved more quickly"? Where would you have had them move? Perhaps you're still holding a grudge because "Love Me Do" only made it to Number 17? :-) After that point---starting with the single "Please Please Me" in early 1963---the Beatles experienced an unprecedented string of Number 1 hits, gold/silver/platinum albums, wildly exciting concert dates, television appearances, awards...sounds like successful movement to me. And I don't think George Martin held them back. I think that Martin's contribution was vital to their growth, from the very beginning, and was the essential base for their later blossoming.

Or perhaps you hold to the notion that the Beatles were deflected from their true calling: the ultimate live band. In that case, Martin's presence would certainly be seen as an impediment to their success, since studio work would be termed a derailment of their energies into superfluous recording exercises. I know that at various points during the Boys' career even they themselves claimed that none of their recorded material ever approached the heights they'd known on stage. Paul and George may still believe this at times; John often expressed this thought during his life.

But is it credible? It's impossible to assess absolutely, because we have so little documentary evidence from their stage era: the "rehearsal" tapes from 1960 (well, it's a live performance, but obviously not what they wanted their fans to hear); the Bert Kaempfert/Tony Sheridan and Decca sessions (roughly representative of their live stage act at the time, though done in studio); the Star Club tapes (now we know the Boys resented having to do this gig at all, since in late 1962 they were on the verge of a major breakthrough on the record charts); various live radio performances through 1963; an occasional TV performance (the Granada clip of their "Some Other Guy" is undeniably striking).

I suspect that this was a self-perpetuating myth---a Beatles' version of the Golden Age Fallacy, which suggests that the lost past was always more "true" than the imperfect present. I think what the Beatles had was a raging nostalgia for the freedom of that Golden Age, when they could dress as they wanted, rave on till morning as drunk or as high as they pleased, and simply have a good time generating rock and roll. And while I sense the indelible excitement which *somehow* filters through "My Bonnie" and "Some Other Guy", and from that can reconstruct, archaeologystyle, a vague representation of what a live Beatles show *must* have been like...I can't say that the Beatles excelled on stage as nowhere else. Their stage work was exciting, invigorating...but not their best.

The Beatles may not have known it, early on, but they were made for the studio...and George Martin was made (more or less) for them.

And I believe, from the evidence we *do* have, that Martin was vital to their early as well as late achievement. It was Martin who suggested techniques to produce a "concise, commercial statement" ("All You Need Is Ears", p. 132)---making sure that the potential hit (which was what they'd *all* hoped it would be) "ran for approximately two and a half minutes, that it was in the right key for their voices, and that it was tidy, with the right proportion and form". The Beatles had a finely-developed sense for this already, it appears, but there were areas where help was needed: speeding up the tempo ("Please Please Me" and "I Saw Her Standing There", the latter having suffered from an overly-relaxed pace in an early form), switching a chorus to the opening of a song to fill it out ("Can't Buy Me Love"), finding an ear-catching opener (the first chord of "A Hard Day's Night"). Sometimes only a suggestion was needed; the Boys could go on from there, or might sometimes fight for their own vision (the major sixth at the end of "She Loves You").

The amazing element---almost impossible to trace in detail from the evidence we have---was the Beatles' ability to work in apparent harmony with Martin, and Martin's shifting role as master/servant of the production process. Martin talks about this as changing over several years, but early on it seems he was willing to listen to the group just as often as they were willing to listen to *his* ideas. For a pop/rock band of the time, this mutuality was quite unheard of. It underscores Martin's burgeoning respect for a band so new to recording. And he successfully resisted trying to reign them in to a particular pattern of popular music---praising them for their natural, untutored talent, and suggesting that formal training would have ruined their gift. (Perhaps this is behind Paul's "I can't read music" fetish! :-)

How the actual composition process went on is somewhat difficult to reconstruct. Excepting those several occasions when Lennon and McCartney really did write in tandem, they seemed to have separately brought nearly completed songs into the recording studio. Martin's procedure was to do what he called a "head arrangement"---listening to the acoustic version of the song, making suggestions for improvement, and then running through it again before committing it to tape. Now and again you can hear a bit of further development going on while the tape is rolling (John can be heard practicing a guitar run and muttering "Must remember that" during a break between takes). It's too bad that the rehearsal tapes at EMI, used at the beginning of 1965, were then reused for the successive takes and edits, thus wiping clean potential information on the genesis of a Beatles song.

Martin notes the real turning point (as he saw it) with "Yesterday", where he scored a quartet for McCartney's innovative song, and suggests that after this there were two different directions to his involvement: "On the one hand, the increasing sophistication of the records meant that I was having a greater and greater influence on the music. But the personal relationship moved in the other direction....All I could do was influence. I couldn't direct" ("...Ears", p. 133). But his contributions to the Beatles' music---even while following their own direction, as often as not, from 1966 onward---was significant enough that I sometimes wonder whether he rates partial composing credit. Martin has always been modest about this stage of his work with the Beatles, sometimes irritatingly so; his work on "Yesterday", "In My Life", "Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields", "...Mr. Kite", "Good Morning, Good Morning", and "A Day In The Life" seems to me to be no petty contribution.

Maybe it's time for some sensible analyst to sit down with Martin and review the Beatles' oeuvre, song, by song, and note whatever commentary Martin can recall---who did what bit on which record. We know some of this, yet Martin's memoirs and the separate Beatles' commentaries leave gaps in the history---most notably from "With the Beatles" (which Martin categorizes as the end of the "early era") through the end of "Help". I'd like to know, for instance, how Lennon's introduction of a "ska" or "bluebeat" middle-eight in "I Call Your Name" was received; did Martin approve or was he baffled? Who suggested the flute ending to "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away"? Lewisohn interviewed the session flautist who says "They told me roughly what they wanted...." but is he speaking of Lennon and Martin, or the Beatles as a unit? Who suggested changes from one sort of instrumentation to another (Ringo shifting from drums to bongos in "And I Love Her")? Is Martin's on-tape comment during the "Baby's In Black" session (asking George, who was experimenting with guitar tremelo, "You want it more like that, don't you?") suggestive of an early changing role for their producer? It may be that Martin's role was even more extensive than realized. Are we ready to give him more credit, if it's due? Or less, if we find we've attributed too much to him?

>...Martin would help Paul twiddle every lever in the studio to
>create "the" effect; so extensive was their work that John got
>jealous (see "The Compleat beatles" for source). Martin
>claims John said, "You never helped me!", but never
>wanted help.

You mean the video of "The Compleat Beatles", right? I watched it carefully last night and couldn't find this quote at all, or anything resembling the assertion that John was "jealous". What George Martin says in that filmed interview actually corroborates existing evidence: that John was lazy in the studio, not interested in the details of production at all, and just as happy to let someone else do the fixing, flanging, and fussing. Leave Paul to his twiddling; there's no doubt that Paul picked up the most from his in-studio experience. But how could John have blamed anyone---much less George Martin---for not helping him? Eventually he needed far more help than Paul, and he must have known it. Even on early covers, like "You've Really Got A Hold On Me" and "Rock and Roll Music", John's already-superb voice is augmented by Martin's surprisingly-deft piano touches; but John was equally helped by Martin's reading of John's early style---the recognition that John required less double-tracking, fewer arrangement gimmicks. As Martin states in "The Compleat Beatles", John preferred a straight-ahead rock and roll sound, with occasional Lennonesque tricks like the feedback of "I Feel Fine." Martin seems to have respected that preference, and allowed John to set his pace.

When John *did* need help, he got it. Martin's brilliant middleeight contribution to "In My Life"; the patient mixing of Lennon's complex tape loops and "Leslie'd" vocals for "Tomorrow Never Knows"; the backwards vocals in "Rain"; the famous "Strawberry Fields"; "Good Morning, Good Morning"; "...Mr. Kite".... This doesn't sound as though John had been terribly neglected. :-)

There were other prominent rock and roll producers of the era. Andrew Oldham, the Stones' manager, was not a trained recording technician, classical musician, or anything resembling George Martin's level; and while he managed to capture the raw, often unpolished and essentially live sound of the Stones, he equally wrought havoc with fuzzy sound, improper balances, "hot" mikes resulting in overloads, and other atrocities that have made the Stones' recordings more tediously in need of later "correction". Shel Talmy did sterling work for The Who, The Kinks, and The Creation, but his talent was in emphasizing a heavy guitar-based sound, and not deviating much from the norm; there are no production surprises on their records, no flashes of genius.

Comparing George Martin to his contemporaries, I'm always astonished--- even if it's occurred to me before---at how lucky the Fabs were to have found him from the beginning of their recording career. And I'm even more amazed that they managed to stay together till the very end, despite the occasional rifts and misunderstandings; that they continued to evolve as a unit, despite occasional flaws and missteps; and that their joint work stands up so brilliantly today. --

"`I write them in my spare time,' it says here."
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