Interview with George Martin

QUESTION: George, tell us about that first audition when the Beatles came down 
from Liverpool and you met with them...was that in '61 or '62?

GEORGE MARTIN: '62. In about January. I met Brian Epstein and he was tryin' to 
get the Beatles off the ground and get some record label together. I didn't know 
then that he'd actually been to every record label in the country, including 
EMI--my own company--but he hadn't seen the little company, Parlaphone, which I 
ran. He'd been turned down by everybody and was a desperate man, so he tried to 
joke on the fact he'd been told about me 'cause I made comedy records. When the 
Beatles heard about it, they kind of groaned, but then they perked their ears up 
a bit when they had learned I'd made records of Peter Sellers. They were great 
fan of his. Anyways, to cut a long story short, when I heard what Brian had to 
offer on tape, it wasn't very good. In fact, it was awful. But I said, I really 
wanted to find out more about them...there was something about them that I 
wanted to investigate. I said, "The only way I can really check 'em is to see 
them. Bring them down to the studio. Bring them to London and I'll spend some 
time with them." So, they came down later, a couple of months later, and I spent 
an evening, afternoon, and evening with them in Abbey Roads Studios. I fell in 
love with them. I thought they were wonderful people. I mean, they showed no 
signs of being great song writers. The best they could offer me were pretty 
ordinary songs. I thought. "Love Me Do" was the best. "P.S., I Love You" was 
another one. "One After 909." They weren't great songs, but they had tremendous 
charisma. They had great sense of fun and you could tell they had star quality, 
you know, whether they were rock 'n' roll artists, or actors, or politicians, 
they would've made it. They just had that special something.

QUESTION: It was an interesting mix. Here were these rough, hewn guys from 
Liverpool and you running a for EMI. What was it like in the beginning? Did you 
get out from the very start, or was it a rather tenuous period, or were they 
nervous around you?

GEORGE MARTIN: Oh, we hit it off, right away. I guess to them I was a fairly 
important person, that and the fact that I'd actually made hit records that they 
loved. They were prepared to like me. They were cheeky devils. The only one who 
wasn't at that time, of course, was the guy who left, which was Pete Best. He 
was very quiet, sat in the back and didn't say much, and was replaced later on 
by Ringo, but he was part of the group when I originally saw them.

QUESTION: I've read that Brian didn't feel Pete fit in well and that you were 
the final straw that really ended it for Pete...that you thought Ringo was a 
better drummer, or that Pete wasn't good enough. What is the real story about 
how that all happened?

GEORGE MARTIN: Well, after that first test, I decided that the drums, which are 
really the backbone of a good rock group, didn't give the boys enough support. 
They needed a good solid beat and I said to Brian, "Look, it doesn't matter what 
you do with the boys, but on record, nobody need know. I'm gonna use a hot 
drummer," and I used the guy who was the best session drummer of the period. 
Brian said, "Okay, fine." Now it was pretty tough for him and I felt guilty 
because I felt maybe, I was the catalyst that had changed his life, so I'm sorry 
about that, Pete.

QUESTION: Is there anything you did to help spur their great song writing? We 
saw this massive evolution in a very few years?

GEORGE MARTIN: They were geniuses. There's no doubt about that. But, the curious 
thing is they weren't to begin with. I mean, they just blossomed like an orchid 
in a hot house. They suddenly, once they had their first success, they realized 
they had a way of writing songs that would appeal to the public, and I would 
say, "That's marvelous, that's great. Go and do another one like that, or 
better, or different, give me something more." And they did.

QUESTION: Tell us a little bit about "Sergeant Pepper." It stands today as 
probably, in many peoples' minds, the apex of the Beatles work. How did it 
happen that this concept album, the first of its kind, come together?

GEORGE MARTIN: Pepper wasn't really a concept album because if you look at all 
the songs, they don't really have a great deal of connection with each other. We 
made it appear whole by editing it closely and by tying it up with the idea that 
the band, themselves, were another band. Another alter ego if you like, that 
they were Pepper and that Billy Sheers was Ringo, whatever, and we were giving a 
performance. To heighten that effect, I used sound effects of audiences and 
laughter and so on, which gave the impression it was a show but in truth, the 
songs didn't have a great deal to do with each other. But they did have this 
element in common, that it was the first record that we were able to really 
spend time over. For the first time, we didn't have the Beatles coming into the 
studio, "You've got two days with them, at the most. Make the best of it, 'cause 
they're on tour," in Hamburg or San Francisco, or wherever. It wasn't a rush, 
rush, rush. It always had been up to that time and the Beatles had got very fed 
up with the pace of their lives. So this was the first time they were able to 
relax and say, "Hey, we can do what we want to do," and although life was very 
hard on them, suddenly, they were able to spend the time in the studios that 
they really wanted to spend.

QUESTION: Brian Wilson told us how proud he was that "Pet Sounds" was Paul's 
favorite album. What impact did a song, let's say, like "Good Vibrations," or 
"Pet Sounds" have?

GEORGE MARTIN: I think "Pet Sounds" was one of the most influential albums we'd 
heard. It was a wonderful album, and we admired everything about it. Everything 
that the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson did seemed to be thoughtless. You know, 
"Good Vibrations" was one from the combination of voices. A song like "God Only 
Knows" was, I think, marvelous stuff, and I know that Paul and the others 
admired it too. They wanted to be able to write music as good as that or better 
than that. It was their yardstick. It was a competitive thing. And I learned 
later that Brian felt that what we were doing was a competitive thing, too. So, 
it was jolly good.

QUESTION: Talking about other influences, was Bob Dylan an influence on the 
Beatles, and if so, in what way?

GEORGE MARTIN: I think Bob Dylan was an influence more on John, than anybody. 
I've just been working with Bob Dylan and I said, "You know, John admired what 
you did enormously and you were a tremendous influence on him." He said, "Oh, so 
people tell me." But, I think that similarly, Dylan Thomas, the Welsh author, 
was a great influence on Bob Dylan, and I think that the kind of words that 
Dylan Thomas would construct came down through Bob Dylan into John Lennon. But 
I'm sure John Lennon, in turn, has influenced other people.

QUESTION: Were the Beatles influenced at all by the American contemporary 
artists who preceded them, for example, the artists of Motown, Smokey Robinson, 
The Miracles, The Temptations, the Phil Specter Sound, or some of the other 
things that were coming out of America in the early 60s? 

GEORGE MARTIN: I think one of the things that motivated the boys in the very 
early days was the American rock 'n' roll of the '50s that they'd heard. 
Liverpool was a kind of place where, I guess they heard things before we did in 
London. Not just because it was a sea port, but because there was an American 
Air Force base there, and Liverpool people would meet up with American serving 
men who would bring in all the latest records. The Beatles became quite experts 
on obscure records we'd heard of, and they were mostly Motown or black rock 'n' 
roll, the early Coffin and King numbers. Those kind of things. The real building 
stuff and of course, it was very, very good stuff. You only had to listen to the 
first album we made together to realize how influential that was.

QUESTION: What about the turning point in 1966? The whole furor in America, the 
Maureen Cleve article and the Christ comment John made. What impact did that 
have on the group? How did it affect their lives individually, or the group as a 
whole?

GEORGE MARTIN: Pressure was coming from all sources. There were death threats. 
They were man handled in the Philippines by an unruly crowd, they were virtually 
booed out of the Philippines because they didn't turn up at a reception for the 
President's wife. But nobody else knew that George Harrison was in fear of his 
life 'cause he actually had some poison pen letters saying, "You'll die in the 
next five days," and the assassination of Kennedy wasn't so far away. It was 
pretty hair raising stuff. That together with the mass adulation wherever they 
went. They couldn't escape. That made them want to retreat and of course, they 
didn't have any lives of their own either. It's all very well to have this great 
deal of fame, but when you can't escape it and you're always with three other 
guys, you want to say, "Hey, wait a minute. Where's the girlfriend? Where's my 
children? What kind of family life is this?" It doesn't exist.

QUESTION: Do you think the Christ comment was a factor in the balance between 
John and Paul at all? Yoko had thought it was.

GEORGE MARTIN: I think John's remark about Jesus Christ, obviously, was a stupid 
thing to do. I don't think he meant it the way it was interpreted. He didn't 
mean to say, "Hey, we're bigger than Jesus." What he meant to say was, "Jesus, 
or rather Christianity, didn't seem to be as popular as the Beatles," and that 
was true. I mean, it's still true today. Unfortunately, not enough people go to 
church in this country. Christianity is at a pretty low ebb. In Ireland, where I 
used to have a studio, about 95 percent of the people go to church. They're 
very, very religious people and I think it's a good thing. I think religion, if 
it's approached properly, has a humanizing effect on people.

QUESTION: How do you view that last year or two, '69 and '70? Even though there 
was great music coming out, there was this turn in terms of the individuals.

GEORGE MARTIN: Once Brian Epstein died, things changed quite a bit and the 
Beatles tended to go off in their own directions. "The White Album" is a result 
of that. They brought me a whole host of songs, all of which they wanted to 
record, and that was really, what happened with "The White Album." It was a 
marvelous album, but it was up and down. There were some great ones, and there 
were some not so great ones. "Let It Be" was probably the most miserable time 
anybody ever had between us and the Beatles. Between the Beatles themselves. 
They didn't like each other very much and it was an unsatisfactory album from 
the point of view of collaboration. Everyone was pulling apart and no one was 
really organized. Some great songs, but not the best of albums and I thought it 
was the end. I was quite surprised when Paul rang up and said, "We'd like to 
come back and really produce an album," which was eventually called "Abbey 
Road."

That was my favorite album to be honest. I think it's a great album and we knew 
it was the end. It was a coming together for the last time.