Interview for Melody Maker • Saturday, August 21, 1971

Produced by George Martin

Press interview • Interview of George Martin
Published by:
Melody Maker
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Interview

GEORGE MARTIN is probably the most shadowy character in rock and roll history. His influence has been immense, yet few people outside the immediate circle of the Beatles truly understand how much of a part he played in the early years of the greatest group the world has ever known.

John Lennon was recently quoted as saying “Show me a piece of music that George Martin ever wrote,” yet it’s undeniable that such classics as “Yesterday,” “Eleanor Rigby” and “A Day In The Life” could not have appeared in the form they did without his presence in the background.

It’s impossible to assess his true contribution, particularly as he’s a modest man and his relations with the group are now virtually non-existent (although he did some of the scoring for Paul’s “Ram” album recently — and wasn’t credited on the sleeve).

He went to work at the BBC Music Department, and from that he moved almost by accident – to EMI, where he went straight into production, knowing nothing about it. Eventually, he took over as head of Parlophone, the youngest label chief EMI had ever appointed. On the label at that time were Jimmy Shand, Johnny Dankworth, and Humphrey Lyttelton, and Martin proceeded to make his name with such luminaries as Jim Dale and the Temperance Seven.

He also became known as the Comedy King, through his hits with Bernard Cribbins, Peter Sellers, and Charlie Drake, and by the end of 1962 he was looking something different, something that would give Parlophone a rather hipper image.

MM: Do you remember how the Beatles came to you and EMI?

MARTIN: Oh yes, very easily. Brian Epstein brought them to me, not to EMI…Well, he had already taken them to EMI, and they’d been turned down. I didn’t know that until afterwards.

Who turned them down?

The story is that first of all he took them to a guy who was the marketing manager — I don’t think I’d better mention his name – and he played the tapes to two producers. Now, there were four producers at EMI at the time: Norrie Paramor, Norman Newell, Walter Riffey, and myself. Two of those four heard the tapes, and I didn’t, so one of the other three is also innocent! They said they weren’t any good, so Epstein went away and played them to Decca, who showed an interest in them and brought them down for a test. It was fairly favourable to begin with, then later on Brian found that he’d got to bring them down for a second test while Decca made up their minds, and he got rather shirty about it. He’d tried them with other companies as well, I think… Pye and Philips. In desperation, he took the tapes to HMV in Oxford Street to get some lacquers cut, because he wanted to place the songs with a publisher, and the engineer there, Ted Huntley, thought the tapes were great. He took them upstairs to Sid Coleman, who ran EMI Publishing, and Sid liked them too and said, ” Have you played them to EMI?” Brian said yes, but nobody wants to know, and Sid told him to play them to me, because I was looking for something. Brian brought them round to me, and that was it.

Can you remember the songs on that tape?

No… I can remember “Your Feet’s Too Big” was one of them. There was a motley collection — I think possibly “Love Me Do” was on it, but I’m not sure. Certainly the songs didn’t knock me out – in fact I wasn’t knocked out at all, in defence of all those people who turned it down it was a pretty lousy tape, recorded in a back room, very badly balanced, not very good songs, and a rather raw group. But wanted something, and I thought they were interesting enough to bring down for a test.

and 20 seconds I’d say, “Right, it’s not long enough – go back to the middle eight” or else we’d have a little guitar solo or a bit of piano. It was all dead simple, and gradually the collaboration grew. It was just the four of them and if there was any keyboard stuff I’d put it in. It wasn’t until “Yesterday” that we started using other instruments.

When did you start noticing their use of unusual construction, like odd bars of 2/4 and so on?

I can’t really remember. They never noticed it at all.

You never tried to make them iron it out and write 32-bar songs ?

Not a bit, I recognised that those aberrations, so to speak, were part of them. It would have been silly to change them, because that would have destroyed their spirit. I don’t think I ever quarrelled with them musically at all. The only time I ever really came to blows with them was over something quite different, which was a record sleeve. It was one that was never issued here. They were dressed up as butchers, and it came out in America. It was their idea of a joke.

Last updated on August 24, 2022

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