Interview for Record Mirror • Saturday, May 27, 1967

Beatles recording manager George Martin talks about their most ambitious LP

Press interview • Interview of George Martin
Published by:
Record Mirror
Interview by:
Peter Jones
Timeline More from year 1967

Album This interview has been made to promote the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (UK Mono) LP.

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“It’s like painting the Forth bridge: after spending 700 hours in the studios since November working on “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, I’ve been starting all over again to record more material for future Beatles’ releases. We’ve already completed three new tracks.

“Sergeant Pepper” was certainly the most ambitious Beatles album yet. It took a long time because they’re perfectionists and wanted to get the LP exactly the way they had it in their minds. They’ve always wanted to be one step ahead – a policy that is courageous, dangerous but inevitable too if they wanted to survive. Relying on a well-trusted, “can’t fail” formula would be ineffective as well as contrary to the Beatles’ temperaments.

Obviously, the pressure is there. When you have succeeded so tremendously you wonder if you will continue to be successful. It was almost a relief when “Penny Lane” did not hit Number One. They’d had such a long string of consecutive Number Ones and they knew that sooner or later the chain would be broken. Ironically, “Penny Lane” has sold more copies than the previous “Yellow Submarine” / “Eleanor Rigby” single which did get to the top place.

The aim of “Sergeant Pepper” is to sound like a complete programme, ostensibly by the club band. The title song gives you the feeling of being in a hall. There are sounds of applause and laughter from the audience. Then comes a solo from Billy Shears (Ringo). Each number follows hard on the heels of the previous one and though you lose the audience sound effects during the LP we return to it at the end of side 2 which concludes with animal sounds, including a hunt in full cry. A chicken clucking blends into a guitar note for the ending.

Fortunately for me, I’d had experience of building up sound pictures (which is what The Beatles were after) through recording Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, Michael Bentine, Peter Ustinov and “Beyond The Fringe” team. In fact, it was those old Peter Sellers’ comedy LPs that first enabled me to hit it off with the Beatles. When the boys realised I’d recorded Sellers (whom they much admired) a little of the glory rubbed off on me! But in many ways, the Beatles and I have different ways of life. They’re night people and they don’t like working in the mornings. Usually we start recording at seven in the evening and work through till three Working on “Sergeant Pepper” I several times had to carry on until seven a.m. That was the most arduous part of the LP for me.

I certainly think the result has justified the effort we put into it. On George’s track “Within You Without You” we used Indian musicians and on John’s “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite” we had an organ effect like a fairground noise. I played Hammond organ, the Beatles’ Road managers Mal Evans and Neil Aspinall played mouth organs and I added a variety of electronic effects. On other tracks, we also used string players – as many as 41 musicians for one track.

Whenever The Beatles put out a bunch of new compositions there are always plenty of artists waiting to hear them and record their own versions. I discussed this with John and Paul and they liked the idea of singers we record in the AIR London stable doing covers. So I’ve recorded David and Jonathan on “She’s Leaving Home” and Bernard Cribbins on “When I’m Sixty-Four”. They’ll be released on the first of June.


Track-by-track in-depth review

POP round to Brian Epstein’s Belgravia home, have a chat with the Beatles, listen to the LP… ask any questions you want. That was the urgent invitation. It was accepted with urgency. And the first sensation that broke was the banning of “A Day In The Life”, sung on the album by John, with some background noises of planes and guns and general thunderings.

Says John, adamantly: “The banners have got it all wrong. We got the idea from a newspaper headline. It’s nothing to do with drugs.” But it IS the first Beatle song ever to run into banning trouble…

But back to the LP, track by track. “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” comes over as a sort of way-out concert. Tuning-up sounds, deliberately corny old vaudevillian phrases in the lyrics (sung by Paul) and we’re introduced to the singer…  Billy Shears, alias Mr. R. Starr.

Which features “A Little Help From My Friends”. Pretty strong melody here, with answering bits in the lyrics, and a strong back-beat. If the authorities are REALLY going to inspect the lyrics here, well… there’s one line they can latch on to. And be wrong again over it!

“Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”, sung by John, is absolutely tremendous, lyrically. A fantasy treatment and a fantasy song… about rocking horse people eating marshmallow pies… and plasticine railway porters with looking glass ties. Rather an electronic triumph, this one. Enhanced by fade-ins and fade-outs, to put it simply.

“Getting Better”, taken all round, is one of my favourites. Maybe it’s because it’s less “progressive”…  it’s a reminder of what the Beatles used to do. Simpler, well handled mainly by Paul, and a pleasant antidote to the advanced productions of some of the others.

On to “Fixing A Hole”… the hole is where the rain gets in and is either in Paul’s head or in the ceiling… not too sure. But it relaxes the tempo a little, is rather less fierce, and the good George weighs in with a memorable guitar solo mid-way. Thus far, one is perhaps more impressed with the lyrics than with some of the instrumental sounds. But then the lyrics are reported in full on the sleeve – in some cases, that’s a downright blessing for first-time hearing.

“She’s Leaving Home” is all poignant and plaintive, especially the way John handles it. A girl leaves home… five o’clock in the morning, note on the mantelpiece, must find her freedom. And there are the stock, cliche-ridden parental replies to this domestic disaster. Darned clever, especially the arrangement which features dramatic-yet-wistful strings – I believe Mike Leander arranged this one.

“Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite”: Some people were knocked out by this, but I found the whole idea just a trifle dreary. It’s John singing about a charity performance by circus folk for one of their kind. It’s carousel-roundabout material somehow. Maybe if I was keener on the smell of the sawdust etc…

Side two starts with a lengthy sitar-Indian-whining item “Within You Without You”, written and sung by George. He’s the only Beatle featured on it and it reflects completely his fascination with Eastern music. I found it hard picking out his lyrics because tonally voice and Indian instruments merged too closely. Again, some people hearing the LP for the first time, have regarded this as a bit of a “take-on”, a sort of non-Beatle item. But it’s only one track, after all.

“When I’m 64” next. Paul sings, it’s all about old-age, retirement and so on. First time of hearing you figure it’s all very charming. Second time you feel it’s a mickey-take. Third time you can see Paul’s tongue fixed firmly in cheek. Very good indeed.

“Lovely Rita”, mostly Paul again, is also amusing, a bit cheeky and dead catchy. Good piano break. All about a romance with a parking-meter warden!

A cockerel crowing heralds “Good Morning, Good Morning”. In parts, it is a sort of pet’s corner, with dogs and cats joining in. Big backing arrangement, John singing about “one of those days” where nothing much happens. Fast-moving and complex, lyrically. Use your song-sheet to follow this one in full.

Then it’s back to “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” again – Paul explains how he hopes we enjoyed the show, but it’s time to go and there’s only one number to come.

Which happens to be the controversial “A Day In The Life”. One way or another, it’s obviously a form of dream sequence. About how there are four thousand holes in Blackburn, were counted – so now, he knows how many it’ll take to fill the Albert Hall.

End of an LP which has many brilliant highlights, seems well worth the wait and it is the sort of popular music which will exercise the brain cells as well as the entertainment tissues. Packaged in a good full-colour sleeve, with lyrics and with a cardboard cut-out slip including a picture of Sgt. Pepper himself, and his three stripes!

Tongue-in-cheek and clever. Not TOO clever, you understand – but once or twice right on the borderline.


Last updated on September 1, 2023


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