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Old Jul 01, 2007, 12:21 PM   #1
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Default The Real Fifth Beatle

The Real Fifth Beatle
Sir George Martin On 'Sgt. Pepper,' Why 'Abbey Road' is Better and More

By Alan Light, Special to MSN Music

http://music.msn.com/music/interviews/georgemartin?



There were many who vied for the title, but in the recording studio, there was really only one Fifth Beatle.

On June 6, 1962, the lads from Liverpool entered Abbey Road studios for the first time and met an EMI Records staffer named George Martin. Over the next eight years, as the producer of virtually every song the Beatles recorded, Martin helped shape the most diverse and most consistent body of work in pop music history. Like the brand-name superproducers of today (though, of course, working with talent that remains unparalleled), he determined the direction, assuaged the egos, and sculpted the sound for everything from "I Want to Hold Your Hand" to "Strawberry Fields Forever," from "Yesterday" to "Revolution." "George Martin is the be-all/end-all record producer," says Rick Rubin, today's dominant studio master. "The albums he made with the Beatles some 40 years ago are the measuring stick for all that has come since, and none of us measure up."

It is simply impossible to imagine the Beatles without George Martin. The World War II veteran signed them to EMI"s Parlophone label after every other record company in England had rejected them. He listened to one of the songs with which they auditioned -- a "Roy Orbison-style dirge," as he describes it -- and told them to speed it up and rearrange it. They returned with a new version, following his instructions; when he heard it, he told them, "Gentlemen, I think you've got your first Number One."

"Please Please Me" did go to Number One -- the first of eleven consecutive Beatles songs to hit the top spot on the charts. But such unprecedented, still unmatched success wasn't sufficient for John, Paul, George, and Ringo. They began to experiment with previously inconceivable new styles, forms, and sonic possibilities -- the vision, of course, was the band's, but the execution and guidance always came from George Martin. Their impact peaked forty years ago this June with the release of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," recently named the greatest album of all time by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame -- though not Martin's own favorite.

After the Beatles broke up in 1970, Martin produced such artists as America, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Webb. But the legacy of the Fab Four refuses to recede, and seemingly every year, there's a new project that keeps them alive and maintains the world's infatuation with their music. In 2001, the "1" album collected a bunch of hit singles that presumably everyone already owned -- and went on to sell 30 million copies worldwide.

Last year, Martin and his son, Giles, oversaw the soundtrack for the Cirque du Soleil show, "Love" -- marking the first time the Beatles have licensed their music to a theatrical production. The Las Vegas show is a massive hit, and the album received critical raves and was one of only four albums to sell a million copies last holiday season. Next up, presumably, is the long-awaited release of the Beatles catalogue in digital form; the announcement seems imminent, but at press time, still had not come.

Stretched out on a sofa in his home -- a relatively simple structure first built in the 15th century, in a tiny village about 90 miles southwest of London -- 81-year-old Sir George Martin (he was knighted in 1997) smiles when he looks back at his immortal work of the '60s. "When the four of them came together they became immense," he says of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr. "Where individually they were just good, or great, they became fantastic." And after spending years refusing to talk about the Beatles, he seems able to enjoy his accomplishments, and his relationships with "the boys" and their various families and estates. "I guess we're all sailing into the sunset now as good friends." The world's greatest record producer leans over to heat up the fire. "The older you get, the more likely you are to be asked to speak about things," he says with a sly grin, "and they give you awards just for being alive."

MSN MUSIC: How would you define the job of a record producer?

GEORGE MARTIN: It changes over time. When I started, way back in 1950, there was no such thing as a record producer. There were A&R men, or rather artist and recording managers. Their job was to pick the artists, pick the material, and then record it. If you were recording Frank Sinatra, you didn't expect him to write a song -- you had to find a good song for him and work out how to present it, and then nurse the guy through the studio.

With the Beatles, it became something different. For the first time, I was working with people who had actually created the songs and therefore had a much more important input. They also had their own ideas about what they wanted to do, which I then had to negotiate. When they first came to the studio in 1962, they were very raw. But I taught them a few tricks and they were very quick to learn -- like hothouse plants, they just sprung up.

To begin with, their songwriting was crap. The first songs I heard from them, I thought "Oh, God, where am I going to get a good song for them?" The first record we issued was "Love Me Do" and "PS I Love You" -- which are not exactly Cole Porter, are they?

Seems like you weren't alone in that opinion -- when the Beatles came to you, they'd been turned down by every other record company in the country. So what did you see in them?

It wasn't a big deal. First of all, I was looking for something -- for an artist who could be as good, or as best-selling, as Cliff Richard. So Brian Epstein came along and played me some acetates of what the boys had already done at Decca, where they'd been turned down. And they were awful. I listened patiently and I said, "Brian, I'm sorry, but I can't see anything here that would induce me to spend money on them." He looked so forlorn and dejected -- I didn't know he'd been turned down by everybody else! So I said, "if you bring them down from Liverpool, I'll spend an hour with them in the studio and see if there's anything that's not on the records."

He brought them down to Abbey Road studios, and they played me things like "Over the Rainbow" and "Besame Mucho" and Fats Waller's "Your Feet's Too Big," as well as "One After 909" and all those little things they'd been making themselves. The music didn't impress me, but they had this cheeky charm and tremendous charisma, and I could see what Brian was on about. He obviously was in love with them -- particularly John, I guess. Well, I'm not a homosexual, but I was in love with them, too. And I thought, if they do this to me, and we have the right songs, they'll probably do it to an audience. That's worth a small gamble, so I gave them a small gamble and signed them up.

When did it become evident the kind of talent you were dealing with?

After the first year, John and Paul began to write great songs, and the combination of their voices, rather than being solo acts, was very appealing. Gradually their personalities, which were always evident, started becoming stronger and more emergent. John and Paul became openly competitive, and they spurred each other to heights that I don't think they would have achieved otherwise. It was a kind of brotherly rivalry, in which George lost out. The great thing about them was that they never gave me "Star Wars 2." They refused to do the same thing twice. That was really their creed, throughout their career. Which became a strain for me, because they would always say, "come on, let's do something different, give us something we don't know."

What was your relationship like with George and Ringo?

Early on, George was struggling with his songs, but he didn't have a Paul or a John to help him. I tolerated him rather than encouraging him -- he hadn't shown me anything that was any good. And that rankled, he wasn't too happy about that for a while and that's a legacy which I'm afraid I have to bear. When he did break through and start making good songs, then I tried very hard to help him out, but it was a bit late by then. But I had the two greatest songwriters in the world to cope with, so I'm not blaming myself at all.

Ringo is always underrated, but he contributed so much to the boys over the whole period of time. I told him this when we were making "Love," because it became obvious to us when we were making it, threading his drumming all the way through and driving the show, really. I said, "Ringo, you've done some great stuff, your drumming holds together beautifully," and he looked at me and said, "I know." No "nice of you to say that," just "I know."
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Old Jul 01, 2007, 12:21 PM   #2
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So as they started to experiment more, how did that increase the pressure on you?

To begin with, the pressure wasn't that great because it was up to them to find it, not me. The period from 1962 to 1966 was really just grabbing the boys whenever I could. They were so successful and in such demand, I had to book time with them for recording. Brian would give me a day here, an evening there, it was always rushed like mad. It was remarkable the records we did make, because "Revolver" and "Rubber Soul" were good albums, but they were done with this pressure on the time.

Eventually (in 1966) they told Brian that they'd decided, unanimously, that they were not going to appear in public again. Now, this was a sledgehammer blow to Brian -- these were his babies who were making him famous, he was Diaghilev and they were the Royal Ballet. But he had to accept it. And thus we began what was to become "Sgt. Pepper," but which started with "Strawberry Fields Forever." That was actually the first track that we were able to re-record -- an event impossible before that time.

June 1 was the 40th anniversary of "Sgt. Pepper." Why do you think that album still has such an aura around it -- "The greatest album of all time" and all that?

"Pepper" was great, but I think "Abbey Road" was better. I think "Revolver" might have been better. But the significant thing about "Pepper" was that it was the first of its kind, a new car rolling off the block that was an inspiration, instead of being another Ford. And in the same way that a great Rolls-Royce of 1935 is still a beautiful thing, "Sgt Pepper" is still a beautiful thing. And of course, I think part of our success was in the timing, which proved to be a serendipitous happening.

Why do you think that "Abbey Road" was better?

It's got some fantastically good songs, and it's got the long section [the side two medley], which I'd always been wanting. I wanted to get John and Paul to think more seriously about their music. I tried to instruct them in the art of classical music, and explain to them what sonata form was. Paul was all for experimenting like that, but John said, "I'm a rock and roller, George, I can't do this stuff." A song like "Come Together" really shows how the boys worked if I had to pick one song that showed the four disparate talents and the ways they combined to make a great sound, I would choose that one. And the bittersweet irony of "Abbey Road," of course, was that we all knew it was the last album, we really did.

The common perception is that John was the emotional, spontaneous rebel and Paul was the craftsman. How true are those versions?

John and Paul were opposite sides of the same coin. They had a tremendous amount of similarities -- people have always noted the difference, they've always said that John was the rebel, the Teddy Boy, the guy who would break away and do outrageous things. And Paul was the sweetie who wrote the somewhat sickly melodies that everybody liked. But that wasn't true, it was a generalization which was hurtful to both of them.

You couldn't write anything more sentimental than "Julia" or more whimsical than "Across the Universe." And Paul wrote "Helter Skelter," for God's sake. And when they came together and helped each other, like on "A Day in the Life," the result was fantastic.

How different were they to work with?

If Paul wanted something like "Yesterday" or "Eleanor Rigby," we would sit at the piano and work out together what we were going to do before I started writing the score. Whereas John would rely upon other people to make things work. When John did "I Am the Walrus," he said "I want you to score this for me." And I said, "What do you want to use, what kind of instruments?" And he said, "You know, you do it all the time -- some cellos, a bit of brass, your usual stuff." I was left to orchestrate "I Am the Walrus" completely without his input, so I just made it as freaky as I could. I booked a choir of very legitimate singers, and in the score it had "ha ha ha," "hee hee hee," "ooooo," all that stuff was written down. When John heard it, he just fell down laughing.

Is it true that John never liked the sound of his voice? That's so hard to believe, because he really had one of the greatest rock voices ever.

Yes, absolutely. John always had an imagination that was better than reality. You don't know what your voice sounds like -- it's not what you think it is. John would hear himself in his headphones and say "Give me more tape echo." If it sounded like "Heartbreak Hotel," that was kind of bearable for him. I'd say "John, your voice is so good, you should treat it respectfully." And he would say "You're talking crap, it's not true, my voice isn't that good and I don't like it."

We spent an evening together in the Dakota long after all this, and he said, "If I had my way, I would record everything again." And I said, "John, we made some great records -- I can't think you'd mean that. Everything?" He said "yeah." I said "what about 'Strawberry Fields?'" And he said "especially 'Strawberry Fields.'"

Is there anything you feel that way about?

Yeah, sure, but I can't remember what they are. You don't look back too much. Obviously I'm not satisfied with completely everything, but we didn't do badly -- I think the score out of 10 wasn't bad.

How do you think Apple has handled the digital issues around the Beatles catalogue?

I was astonished when we started doing "Love" that all of the Beatles catalogue was still in its original form, on tape. The first thing we had to do was put absolutely everything the Beatles ever recorded onto a firm, secure, and high-quality hard disc, so it's there for all time. But that should have been done ages ago -- I shouldn't have to do that, EMI should. I don't own it.

I can understand their reluctance to (release it digitally) because it's a bit like the differing technologies of Beta and VHS. There's no one way of doing it, is there? You've got to go with somebody and hope that it works out. I don't agree with Steve Jobs talking about making everything have the same technology -- well, why doesn't he work that out with Bill Gates? I think he's making hay while the sun shines, and needless to say, he wants everybody to use iPod.

Why do you think the Beatles' records are still so powerful and so popular after all this time?

Well, some people get irritated by that. We have a television program here called "Room 101," where a celebrity comes on and elects to take his favorite hates and consign them to hell. And the other day the Beatles was one of those, so it's not all beer and skittles.

Why are they so iconic? First of all, it's the material -- the songs are impeccable and there are so many of them, so many great songs. And, dare I say, well produced. The great songs of the past, the question of being well produced didn't arise, there was no such thing as a great record in those days. If you listen to Jerome Kern or Cole Porter or George Gershwin, you wouldn't say what a great production that record was, you would just say, what a great song. I think the Beatles are up there in that heaven of great writers, but if they'd been coming to their success in the 1930s, they wouldn't have had technology to deal with.

Do you think that people really understand and appreciate your contributions to the music?

I don't think they did at the time. But in the years that have gone by, I think people know. I had a lot of fan mail as a result of "Love," and it's been very touching. Because mostly fan mail is "I think you're fantastic, can I please have an autograph?" But with this show, I've had long letters just saying "I was so moved and I must tell you that the music you've created has changed my life," and that's it. No "please may I have an autograph?" just "thank you for what you've done."
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Old Jul 01, 2007, 01:14 PM   #3
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The Fifth Beatle

...I'm just sayin'...
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Old Jul 02, 2007, 02:03 AM   #4
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I thought the fifth Beatle was Bill Murray The K

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Old Jul 02, 2007, 02:14 AM   #5
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I thought the fifth Beatle was Bill Murray The K



Now that is funny.
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Old Jul 02, 2007, 02:16 AM   #6
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The Fifth Beatle

...I'm just sayin'...
Oh no, not again, please God no.
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Old Jul 02, 2007, 02:56 AM   #7
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"in the studio" as the article says, Sir George was most defo the 5th Beatle.
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Old Jul 02, 2007, 07:25 AM   #8
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I thought I was the 5th Beatle.
;)
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Old Jul 02, 2007, 10:33 AM   #9
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I thought the fifth Beatle was Bill Murray The K
Hee hee.
MORE 5th Beatles

I love Bill Murray the K!

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Old Jul 02, 2007, 10:38 AM   #10
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Oh no, not again, please God no.
Hahaaa ~~ Don't worry, honey.
People can keep thinkin' what they think.
We'll show 'em next year with The Fifth Beatle Movie!

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Old Jul 02, 2007, 10:52 AM   #11
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I thought I was the 5th Beatle.
;)
WE ALL ARE!
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Old Jul 02, 2007, 11:01 AM   #12
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"in the studio" as the article says, Sir George was most defo the 5th Beatle.
The article is absolutely right, and I thoroughly agree!
In the studio (but only in the studio).
Sir George Martin yay!

...and now I think I'd better shut up and go on to other things.
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Old Jul 02, 2007, 12:36 PM   #13
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The way I look at it, anyone who was close with working with The Beatles in their inner circle deserves the honourary title of being called a "fifth Beatle". It doesn't fall upon just one person. George Martin, Brian Epstein, Mal Evans, Derek Taylor, Tony Barrow, Alf Bicknell, Victor Spinetti, Larry Kane, and Sam Leach are good examples of people who fall in that catagory. I'd even go to lengths on saying that about Stu Sutcliffe and Pete Best, too. It's like in basketball when the fans are referred to as a "sixth man/woman".
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Old Jul 03, 2007, 12:07 AM   #14
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The way I look at it, anyone who was close with working with The Beatles in their inner circle deserves the honourary title of being called a "fifth Beatle". It doesn't fall upon just one person. George Martin, Brian Epstein, Mal Evans, Derek Taylor, Tony Barrow, Alf Bicknell, Victor Spinetti, Larry Kane, and Sam Leach are good examples of people who fall in that catagory. I'd even go to lengths on saying that about Stu Sutcliffe and Pete Best, too. It's like in basketball when the fans are referred to as a "sixth man/woman".
That is a rational explanation but anyway George Martin will take the lion's share out of the fifth Beatle total.

I'm not sure about Alf Bicknell, I expected to read something about him in Cynthia's book but she only told about a chauffeur who was living in the car he was driving and they sacked him. I'm not sure if that was Bicknell, however, because Cyn didn't mention names.
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Old Jul 03, 2007, 09:33 AM   #15
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Why does there have to be a fifth Beatle?
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Old Jul 03, 2007, 10:02 AM   #16
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Why does there have to be a fifth Beatle?
There has to be Paul Is Dead Myth too.
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Old Jul 03, 2007, 11:01 AM   #17
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Why does there have to be a fifth Beatle?
Historically, the "Fifth Beatle" thing started out with the British music publications in the 60's, and spread from there. In the days before Brian died, the term ALWAYS referred to Brian; nobody else was even considered close.

That may derive from the fact that the actual music was not the most important thing about them back then ~
~ the Beatles PHENOMENON overshadowed everything else.

In recent years it has become apparent to me that people who have not lived through the phenomenon can only see the music as being the main draw of the boys ~ so, if judged by those terms only, George Martin would indeed be the 5th (if you must have a 5th).

However, in the day (and in my heart), he wasn't. And, most importantly to me, the Beatles themselves back me up on that.
............

But think whatever you want. :)
Damn! I thought I was through with this!
Hopefully this is my last time on this.
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