Tag Archives: George Martin

TMBP Extra: RIP George Martin

It’s so obvious a statement, it sounds dumb to write: Without George Martin, who died Tuesday at 90, the Beatles would have been a completely different entity from the one he signed, nurtured and produced.

martin

January 1969

The Beatles existed before Martin agreed to sign them to Parlophone in 1962, and had he not, the group would have continued to do so.  If George Martin didn’t manage and help develop the Beatles sound, someone else ultimately would have. But we can only imagine what the output would have been, and if we would still be talking about it more than 50 years later. Because of Martin, there’s no question: Here we are still talking about it.

George Martin produced, arranged, mixed, composed and was otherwise involved with hundreds of records over half a century. The Beatles’ output adds up to a fraction of it (and he notably wasn’t involved in one record). But his creativity and willingness to interpret the sounds inside the heads of Lennon/McCartney/Harrison/Starr and pull together the resources to apply it tangibly to wax earned Martin all the praise he has received as a forefather, godfather, innovator and icon. If he didn’t make the Beatles into The Beatles, maybe we’d be writing here about how innovative his work with another band was — if he crossed over from jazz and comedy records to pop music at all.

McCartney & Martin in the ’80s

This blog deals with January 1969, the precise moment when George Martin mattered least to the Beatles. He ended up something of an adviser at the Get Back sessions, and it was ultimately left to Phil Spector to, as Martin would describe it, “overproduce” Let It Be for release. As someone who brought the most out of the Beatles (I was going to list song titles as examples, then the list got too long), Martin’s view of the Spector production reveals what Martin himself thought he did best for the Beatles.  From Anthology:

[Spector’s Let It Be] was bringing The Beatles’ records down a peg — that’s what I thought. Making them sound like other people’s records.

The Beatles may have pinched ideas from other bands, but when George Martin produced, they never, ever sounded like another band.

Paul McCartney — the only Beatle to work again with Martin after the breakup — asked him to produce Abbey Road as a swan song, and that record is damn near perfect –like so many other wildly varied Beatles efforts Martin was tasked with producing. Here’s George Martin himself, from Compleat Beatles:

George Martin put up with a lot of nonsense working with the Beatles, often enabling implausible sonic ideas while increasingly dealing with, to use sports parlance, an out-of-control clubhouse. The Beatles may have wanted to make an “honest” album with Abbey Road, but that didn’t mean they got along much better than they did while working on Let It Be (or the White Album, for that matter).  But recording that final album gave Martin closure, too.  Again, from Anthology:

Nobody knew for sure that it was going to be the last album — but everybody felt it was. The Beatles had gone through so much and for such a long time. They’d been incarcerated with each other for nearly a decade, and I was surprised that they had lasted as long as they did. I wasn’t at all surprised that they split up because they all wanted to lead their own lives — and I did, too. It was a release for me as well.

It’s 2016, and the world has been without two of the Beatles for a long time now. There have been a lot of contenders for “fifth Beatle” — George Martin, Mal Evans, Billy Preston — and we’ve lost them all, too. (A silly case could be made that Ringo is the fifth Beatle, since Pete Best is arguably part of the first four, but that’s for another rainy day). But whether it’s vinyl, cassette, CDs or MP3s, thank God we’ll always have the music.

Rest in peace, George Martin.

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Jan. 6: Adore your ballroom dancing (If there’s a rock show, Pt. 3)

Back-garden Beatles (Tittenhurst, 1969)

After a proposed overseas concert in a Roman amphitheater in Libya is scuttled by Paul, citing Ringo’s insistence on staying in England, a suggestion is made to perhaps go small and shoot a Beatles concert in a back garden, presumably somewhere in London.

Director Michael Lindsay-Hogg quickly dismisses the idea, suggesting it would end up like a “little promo film … instead of a Beatles television show.”

Sitting in on the discussion, George Martin cuts to the chase and thinks even smaller, proposing “we just do it in the other studio.”

Paul shifts the focus off the venue and back to the composition of the crowd.

Paul: We’re all prepared to do it with an audience. But what Yoko said is right — we can’t just have the same old scene. If it was the same old audience and we were … all naked when they came in, then that’d be a different scene, you know?

MLH: I think she’s totally right about that, that’s one of my big points.

As the discussion goes in circles, someone in the group asks the simple — but very difficult — question: “What can you do that’s new with them?”

Paul: We shouldn’t really try to do anything with the audience because the audience is the audience, and it’s them, and they’ve come in. It’s us that’s doing the show.

Yoko: Because If I were in New York and I watched the “Hey Jude” [promo on TV] … my interpretation would be that those people around them who are sort of climbing up and starting to sing with were just hired people. If I think that, then it’s OK. But if I thought it was a true audience, then I think, ‘Oh, so now people don’t think of The Beatles as too much’ because all the image that everybody in the world has about The Beatles is that once there’s an audience, they’re going to be frantic and pulling their clothes and tearing it away and all that.

“Hey Jude” promo video

OK, then.  Not so sure I’m on board with Yoko’s assessment of the state of The Beatles’ popularity at this point, but hey, she’s soon to be married to a member of the band and was actually there in the ’60s, whereas this blogger was yet to be born.

But still. It seems a bit out of reach to me to suggest that just because a Beatles audience wouldn’t be in full-tilt 1964-era Beatlemania, pulling out their hair and screaming over the songs, means the band isn’t as “big” anymore.  It’s 1969, not 1964 anymore. The music scene has changed.

But to avoid what Yoko thinks would be an issue, George Harrison says the solution is something The Beatles had done before.

The good thing is that we could completely create another image, reserve the image of your choice. If we could just think of an image we’d like to be and then we make it that one, which could be anything. We could just be a nightclub act, or anything, just the smoochy, low lights and 10 people.

Wheels turning, Lindsay-Hogg says, “Then you’re a little cabaret act,” before he and George Martin agree again that there should be a large audience that’s not necessarily any kind of focal point, just to be used as a sounding board.

But then Paul picks up on George’s idea and gives it a twist.

I thought, like, a ballroom. If we did go right back … and did it purely like a dance. “Come to the Tower Ballroom, there’s a dance on. Oh, incidentally, we’ll be the band there.” And we’d go on, play all the numbers and we’d play it like we’d play a dance, without trying to sort of announce anything. There’s a fast one, there’s a slow one, and everyone, like, dances. And there might be a fight or there might be the kinds of things that happened at dances. Or it might be a very sedate, quiet dance.

The Beatles, performing at the Tower Ballroom, ca. 1961-62

Presumably, Paul’s referring to the Tower Ballroom of New Brighton — just a ferry ride ‘cross the Mersey from Liverpool — a venue they played numerous times in 1961 and 1962.

I actually sort of love this idea, with the full understanding that it may just take hired hands to get an audience to ignore the fact they’re at a Beatles concert and just go ahead and actually dance.

And to do that, as my wife said to me, they’re really just making a long music video. What’s the point?

Lindsay-Hogg is on board — in essence, he says —  because he likes its simplicity. But that’s where his agreement ends. “What you’re asking for is a really, really simple approach, which I think is right,” the director says. “But I’m not sure just to have an audience dance around you is good that way. I don’t think you are just a local band.”

Paul, and the rest of the group in the conversation, agree. But after digging deeper into the idea, Lindsay-Hogg ultimately thinks it’s a non-starter.

MLH: The only time on TV it didn’t work for you was when you went on … Top of the Pops, and they did dance, do you remember that? And they didn’t really do very much. And that would look so crazy. It looked crazy for four minutes, but it would look lunatic for longer. It would have been in the bad way, it was so sedate, and you all were so sedate back then.

The essence of this idea is the simplest approach possible. The essence is correct —  totally, totally what I believe — but you’re just not the local dance band. Would that you were, but you’re not. So that’s going to be very hard to achieve.

Paul sticks with his newest idea, saying that if they’re going to be artificial and build a set at Twickenham to mirror the Tower Ballroom anyway, why not just go to the Tower itself?

We learn a little bit more about the Let it Be film’s early timeline in Lindsay-Hogg’s response.

MLH: That was one of the reasons we started veering off on these ideas was when we were looking at locations that Friday afternoon after Christmas, and all the locations looked like four steps up from a boutique, you know what I mean? Four years ago everyone was shooting in a boutique, and now it’s a disused sawmill or whatever it is. It just looked like plastic locations.

Everyone agreed it was a phony look, certainly something the group was seeking to avoid.

“Candy” co-stars Ringo Starr with Richard Burton — and Liz Taylor in 1968.

Also notable here is that the director was scouting locations on Dec. 27, 1968 — a mere 10 days earlier. Good on Lindsay-Hogg, too, for working hard; he directed “Rock & Roll Circus” just 16 days prior.

Yoko won’t give up on the band staging a show before anything remotely like a conventional audience, comparing the scenario to actor Richard Burton, and saying that people don’t want to see him performing on stage before a “fixed” audience.

No matter what kind of audience, it s going to look crummy. What he is is a legend.  Seeing him on his own private boat or just seeing him shaving is just more dignified than seeing him perform before a fixed audience. Do you see that point? That’s why it’s better to show you in your private home, or George’s home or something. “Oh, this is much better than a fixed audience.”

George and Pattie at home at Kinfauns, their home from 1964-1970

Someone, perhaps Mal or Neil, out-Yokos Yoko by suggesting a performance at The Royal Academy or Tate Gallery — “with nobody there but the pictures.” Naturally, she agrees.

Lindsay-Hogg still wants none of that, saying, “Once you get up to perform as The Beatles, you have to perform to someone, even if it’s going to be this different kind of audience.”

The debate churns on.

MLH: Certainly yes, you play straight at home. But I have a feeling that’s not big enough.

Yoko: But that’s big. See the private home of Paul McCartney or George Harrison.

MLH: We could fit that into the documentary.

George Harrison reflects on a “Bridget” documentary (presumably Bardot),  describing her taking the audience to St. Tropez as she “sings a tune over her front gate and walking around the pool.”

Insisting that kind of minutia can be incorporated in the documentary, Lindsay-Hogg then offers what turns out to be his concluding argument for the day.

If you just get up to perform, you either have to be performing directly to the people at home or to an audience. It’s only two ways. Maybe it would work for the people at home, I just don’t think there’s quite enough scope. And I think the idea’s good, because we have to think about the audience — because you are so riddled with audience. The audience is so much part of the first half of you musically — [under his breath as an aside] says the critic from the Guardian — the audience is so much part of the mystique.

After a mention of mystique, we’re left with a mystery — the tape cuts off abruptly, and the next track is merely a nondescript improvised instrumental, and there’s no return to the discussion this day again.

And what of the Tower Ballroom? Had The Beatles performed there, it would have been the last hurrah for the venue. It was destroyed by fire just three months after this discussion.

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Jan. 6: Such a lovely audience? (If there’s a rock show, Pt. 2)

Having established earlier in the conversation that there will be two live shows to cap the documentary of which filming is already in progress, the band — primarily Paul — plus Yoko Ono, George Martin, Michael Lindsay Hogg and a few other insiders (probably the likes of Mal Evans, Neil Aspinall and Derek Taylor? I don’t know them as well by voice) — continue their lengthy discussion about the show, potential venues and the composition of an audience.

For a show plan first hatched more than a month earlier, things remain in total flux.

Paul latches onto Yoko’s idea of playing to an empty house, at least for one of the two proposed shows, with the second night’s performance before a conventional audience.

Hey, maybe there will be some traction here! Paul’s on board with Yoko’s ideas up front and early on (and John doesn’t seem to care, not chiming in at all during this chat), so a huge part of the battle here is over, George’s independent streak — which is about to erupt — notwithstanding. And it’s not much of a surprise, really, given Paul’s avant garde leanings.

Alas, Lindsay-Hogg punctures that idea, saying there’s no need to eschew a crowd “partly [because] the documentary is playing in silence. I know it’s not for an audience, but it’s the same thing.”

Paul replies to say that the band has ignored the camera from the moment they started filming at Twickenham a few days earlier, repeating the  “performance might be — should be — two cameras or two audiences …  two something.”

But Yoko pressed on — with Paul again agreeing —  saying the audience isn’t the draw for people watching the film at home, unless it’s something different, like “kings or queens coming to see it.”

The director keeps pressing back.

MLH: What I think is if you got in front of an empty house and played, it makes you look too … rich, in the bad sense. In other words, whats the point? This is the negative aspect of that. What’s the point in you getting up and playing for an empty house when you could be giving people happiness with whatever kind of full house we decided?

Yoko: Nobody’s going to think that. They’re going to think it’s a very poetic situation. And they know the Beatles are rich …

Voice of reason George Martin, as he did earlier in the conversation, again sides with Lindsay-Hogg on just what a waste a live performance to an empty room would be, putting it succinctly:

There’s no point in doing a live performance, it’s like going into a recording studio and doing one take.

He then repeats the point that an audience would give an extra something to the band they wouldn’t get otherwise.

Someone chimes to suggest one of the more exotic venues that had been in the mix, presumably since December,as the band hatched the live-show idea.

You’re going right back to Sabratha, [then].

Sabrathra was alluded to on the first day of filming by the director, promising a scene replete with “snake charmers, holy men … torchlit, 2,000 Arabs and friends around.”

And a beautiful, unique venue the former Roman amphitheater outside Tripoli, Libya, would have been and with such an unusual audience. It’s certainly something that would one-up recent rock films like Cream at the Albert Hall and the recently completed Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus.

Paul agrees with a remark that a bit of a focus on the audience (wherever it may be)  isn’t a bad thing — seeing the reaction of people who have seen the band before in the Beatlemania era and how they’d react to the band now, post-1966 and the end of their live era.

Yoko: Then it should be a real scene. You have to announce in the newspaper say that it’s going to be a real alive show. It’ll be a crazy scene, like everybody queuing for it and everything.

Neil? Mal? Derek? Then it should be an Albert Hall scene.

Lindsay-Hogg,  who joked earlier in the day about a Beatles show at “the Albert Hall with those quick cuts,” said a few hours later that he’s not opposed to a show at the nearly 100-year-old stage. But…

MLH: I just think it slightly smells of a few years ago. The Shea Stadiums, wherever it has been.

Yoko: Say anything, and it will slightly smell of a few years ago or slightly less than a few years ago because they topped it.

MLH: I’m not particularly supporting this idea, but it is an idea we can then say no to and go away from if we can top it. But [Sabratha] is a location which is marvelous in itself, by the sea.

The Beatles faced winter elements before

Perhaps this is just calling Ringo’s bluff.  As Paul said on Jan. 2, “I think you’ll find we’re not going abroad, because Ringo just said he doesn’t want to go abroad. And he put his foot down.”

And calling the drummer’s bluff is something the Get Back book and Let it Be Naked’s “Fly on a Wall” disc proves was done repeatedly. But for the second time this day, Paul shoots down an overseas trip, saying, “Look, it has to be in England. An outdoor scene has to be in England, because we’ve decided we’re not going  abroad.”

To someone responding that a performance under the skies couldn’t be done in wintertime England, which is “too bloody cold,” Paul doubles down, after agreeing to the sentiment.

We have decided, it’s a definite decision, that we’re not going abroad, so we should sort of rule that out. It’s not even to the two-way, should we go abroad, we like, we definitely said no to that.

So as usual these days, they’re back to Square One, crossing the seas and back in just a few minutes, only to end up again home in England — and potential venues therein as the discussion continues.

An odd postscript to the Sabratha flirtation: More than 40 after the Beatles toyed with the idea of playing at Sabratha just eight months before Khadafi led a coup to take over Libya, former Apple exec and Beatles assistant Peter Brown had his PR firm hired to improve the dictator’s image.

Tune in next post, where we resume this Jan. 6, 1969, conversation about the forthcoming show.

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Jan. 6: Hear me

It’s the definition of insane: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. God bless George Harrison, but at times during his tenure with the Beatles I think he was insane. (It’s likely I’m an insane blogger, who feels like he’s writing the same post about George over and over again).

To wit:  Every album session, George throws a  number of songs at the wall (the wall also goes by the names of “John” and “Paul”), sees a couple stick for whatever the current record is and reintroduces a couple of the losers along with some new songs again some other time. Repeat until going solo.

Jan. 6 saw a pair of fresh George tunes,  “For You Blue” (which stuck) and “Hear Me Lord” (which did not). Neither was given any significant time. And “Hear Me Lord” wasn’t to be heard again in these sessions or even in  a Beatles context, far as I can tell. Perhaps he finally figured out he was going insane.

Or maybe there was divine intervention.

“Well, I wrote a gospel song over the weekend, lads,” George says in a lull.

“According to St. Who?,” Ringo blithely asks.

“According to the Lord,” George replies. “Hear me Lord, how I corner you,” to laughter.  (At least that last bit sounded like that, it’s almost indecipherable).

A second of silence was followed with Michael Lindsay-Hogg going right into business, suggesting the band discuss the live show soon. George first touches on “High School Confidential,” then  he plays and sings along to “I’ve Got a Feeling” before pivoting right into his new song.

You could hear it in the clip — George is playing background music.  As he played, Paul, Ringo and Michael Lindsay-Hogg discussed “the new Bonzo’s record,” — presumably The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse, which had come out in November, a few weeks earlier.

Soon, the strumming ended and conversation returned to the Cream discussion.

While Paul and Michael continue to chat about some equipment issues, George resumes on his guitar, now debuting “For You Blue,” an eventual survivor on the Let it Be LP. Again, it’s background music.

George cuts himself off to raise a question about Magic Alex‘s latest studio work and attempts at soundproofing the studio after Ringo asks, “Has Alex created his waves yet?” And after a bit of crosstalk about Alex and his “waves,” Paul sings along to George’s early take of “For Your Blue.”

“Those soundproof walls of silence, are ringing in my ears…”

Soon enough, the band — fully ready to play, finally, as John takes to the organ — cuts away, weaving into oldies, improvisations and rehearsing newer songs (topics ripe for subsequent posts).

Nearly an hour and a half  after he first strummed it (on the tapes), George returns to “Hear Me Lord.” Again, it’s primarily a quiet soundtrack to other discussions, among them one in which we finally hear  another George  — Martin —  a figure so absent from the Let it Be tale, here showing up for the first significant time on tape.

Ringo plays a bit of a beat, and John makes a terrible attempt at following along on guitar.

It’s more of the same after extensive rehearsals of “Two of Us” and “Don’t Let Me Down,” among others. Again, it’s just a quick taste before they moved on.

Indifference isn’t strong enough a term for how the song is met. I suppose George could have pressed it a little further as an option.

And that was it for the song. No more rehearsals during the Get Back sessions. If it was brought up during the “Abbey Road” recordings, there’s no record of  it I’ve seen. And we wouldn’t hear it again until we get to the last song on Side 4 of the All Things Must Pass LP, released nearly a year after George first brought it to the Beatles.

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