Eliot Stein Interviews George Martin
© Eliot Stein
George Martin signed the Beatles in 1962 to a recording contract at the Parlophone division of EMI in England. He produced all of their albums with the exception of "Let It Be." He introduced them to orchestration and other recording techniques in the studio that were available to them. He was the “5th” Beatle that did their orchestral arrangements, some piano work and numerous other creative elements in their music.
ELIOT: How do you explain the never-ending fascination for EVERY new generation with The BEATLES and their music?
GM: I don't know the answer. My children were into The Beatles. My grandchildren are into The Beatles. I remember when my daughter was into The Bay City Rollers as a young girl. One day she came home and said, "Daddy is it true you had something to do with The Beatles?"--- I told her "Yes!!!"... There are Beatle fans all over the world...wherever you go.
ELIOT: Did you feel you would be taking a risk with the Sgt. Pepper album in 1967? After all, the theme was so unusual and unique!
GM: There were moments when I had misgivings. It was the first time we were able to devote ourselves completely to a studio album....the boys were tired of touring... so we had plenty of time to experiment in the studio. We wanted to do something different...we knew the music would be more complicated. The first track we did for the album was "Strawberry Fields Forever"...although IT NEVER got on the album! I loved "A Day in the Life". I played it to the president of Capitol Records...he was speechless...he couldn't believe what he heard...we knew we were on the right track.
ELIOT: Is "Day in the Life" actually two songs put together?
GM: It started out as a song by John, he said he didn't have a middle. Paul had another song and the two songs became one! ELIOT: Who dreamed up the idea for the costumes, the name of the band, etc? GM: The idea for "Sgt. Pepper" came with the song. As we recorded the song, Paul said, "We could pretend we are the Sgt. Pepper band!"..."we could be their alter-egos!" This meant to me that we could create the idea of a live performance by this band...it was a great idea...and Neil Aspinall suggested that we do a reprise of the title track. The boys were rebelling against actal touring. The idea was the album would be on tour! The idea for the costumes just came about as part of the whole idea. The boys are holding unusual instruments on the cover of the album!
ELIOT: Were any of the beatles skeptical of any of your suggestions for the album?
GM: No not really! We were a team. Every voice was heard equally! Ringo made as many decisions as anybody else regarding concepts for the album. "Strawberry Fields" was the first song we did as we got into the album. All the songs seem to have worked very well based on everybody's suggestions!
ELIOT: George, why did Capitol Records add tons of echo and reverb onto certain songs on the American LP releases only, like "She's a Woman" and "I Feel Fine?"
GM: I didn't know they did it!I was VERY ANGRY about it! I still don't know why they did it! They shouldn't have done it.
ELIOT: How much time did the Beatles spend rehearsing tracks before recording?
GEORGE: It varied. When we started on two track tape, most of the recordings were done live then. When we got into four tracks, I started using three tracks for a live studio performance and the remaining track for overdubs. By 1964-65, I would rehearse them and try and get ONE track perfect with all of the song. Then, that would leave the other three tracks for overdubbing more voice work, piano, guitar.
ELIOT: Sgt. Pepper was the first album Capitol didn't dissect. Did the "Butcher Cover" have any impact -- or were you finally able to prevail artistically? [NOTE: Capitol would take the English albums and pull tracks off, mix them around, and create albums that didn't exist in any other part of the world. For the "Yesterday and Today" album, the group submitted a cover with them posing in butcher smocks with parts of meat and baby dolls all over them. After parents freaked, Capitol issued and then quickly recalled the covers--pasting a new one over it]
GEORGE: The butcher cover (a sick joke from the boys)...I laughed too..and I told them they couldn't use it...it was too sick. So it got scrapped. I was surprised when it came out in America. Capitol did all kinds of things without our approval. We finally got our way!
ELIOT: How does having worked with the group affect you now?
GEORGE: I find the BEATLES' revival a bit strange and wonderful!!!. That the audience wants to hear work I did over 40 years ago. When I do orchestra concerts worldwide, the audience LOVES ME because they LOVE the BEATLES!!!
ELIOT: Are there any Beatles titles that you wish you could re-record? If, so what are the titles, and why?
GM: I would like to leave the music alone. If you rerecorded the music with the new technology, they just wouldn't be the same. When I listen to the old outtakes, it's amazing how good the boys were working in four tracks. I would never wish to re-record the songs again.
ELIOT: How did the group change over the years?
GEORGE: The change was subtle over a long period of time. They were great "students" and soaked up the laws of the recording studio. In the first years, they were touring, etc. and really didn't know about using the studio--until "Sgt. Pepper." Things changed after Brian died. They were a little bit lost, they became more demanding on me. They were all fighting each other during "Let It Be" and then they came back and did "Abbey Road" with me. We all ended very happily!
ELIOT: Geroge, could you comment on where the idea for the song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" came from.
GEORGE: Very simple. Nothing to do with LSD. Julian Lennon, John's son came home from school. A drawing he did. Julian --aged 5 ---had a little girl, stars around her, like a Chagal painting, Julian said "It's Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds." Lucy was a schoolmate of Julian and the boy drew her, and John went "That's a great idea for a song." TRUE STORY!!! [Note from Eliot--since this interview took place, Paul McCartney has admitted that the “Lucy” story was a cover and it actually was LSD inspired.”]
ELIOT: How does Paul feel about the babyboomers (now adults) who still love the work he has done and feel very close to him still?
GEORGE: He thinks it is still marvelous. Sometimes he feels like when performs, that although he knows that he is just an ordinary person, to everybody else...he is extraordinary. He feels that sometimes it's like completely different people up there on the stage performing.
ELIOT: How do you record acoustic guitar to get a good live sound?
GEORGE: The answer is "your ear." You try different things and tell the engineer "I like this, I don't like that." It is all trial and error. Nothing really technical. I love acoustic guitars!