Saturday, December 30, 2006

"And in the End..."

Dec.25, 2006:
When George Martin first auditioned the Beatles in 1962, he thought "they were pretty awful." He signed them anyway. Now, more than four decades later, Sir George, 80, has ended his run as the Fab Four's legendary producer with a just-released CD of mash-ups and "reworked" tracks. ("Love"). He emailed with Andrew Romano.

(full text below)

When you returned to the master tapes for "Love," did you discover anything that surprised you?
I had forgotten some of the stuff we did, but it was all familiar of course. I just realised what a great band they were. They were just kids when we did it in the Sixties. I guess I fell in love with them all over again.

You recombined, remixed and rearranged familiar Beatles tracks for this project. Did you ever think "Perhaps we're going too far?"
I thought more about going too far when I worked on 'Sgt. Pepper' than on 'Love.' One of the advantages of growing really old is you don't give a damn any more.

What was going through your head when you wrote the new string arrangement for "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" that's featured on "Love"?
George. He was such a good guy, loyal to the end and a very thoughtful person to his intimate friends. So love for him was there, along with apprehension that I might not fulfil the high expectations that were apparent. Olivia came to the session, which added to my fears, but when I saw a beaming smile from her I knew we were okay.

People like me would've killed to be in Studio Two while you and the Beatles were recording. Was it thrilling at the time?
Thrilling to be in Studio Two at Abbey Road? You're kidding! It was our workshop, and like most workshops, a bit grubby and dowdy and lacking in atmosphere, but it worked. The people at Abbey Road were my friends, great folk and good at their jobs, but the management had no idea what we did. So when the Beatles complained that it was like a factory floor they generously installed their idea of psychedelia--a gantry with three fluorescent tubes, one white, one red and one blue.

If the Beatles had the technology you and your son Giles used to make "Love" back in, say, 1967, how would it have affected the process--and the final product?
Probably Sgt. Pepper would not have been as good. Having few tracks to play with, pretty primitive sound effects and very little outboard gear made us work harder to get what we wanted. Ingenuity was a necessity and we were pushing our technology to its limits. And it was fun, too!

Which Beatles tracks do you have a particularly strong reaction to--positive or negative?
Strawberry Fields Forever: it is such a wonderful piece of magic that could only have come from John, and I told him so when I first heard it, with a personal performance from him on acoustic guitar and voice. Hey Jude: Paul could write great anthems, and this is one of the best, and the final chant is an inspiration. Here There And Everywhere: a simple melody and gentle lyric that is pure McCartney. I wish I had written it. Negative: I have wiped them from my memory!

Are there any songs that you've always wanted to do over?
John one told me he would like to record everything all over again. When I remonstrated with him I said "You can't mean it, what about Strawberry Fields?" He looked at me over his steel specs and said "Oh, especially Strawberry Fields!" No. I would leave everything just as it was, except... I do prefer [the "Love" version of] 'Within You, Without You' with Ringo's drums from "Tomorrow Never Knows."

Was John just that cool?
John was certainly a very cool person. But there are plenty of cool people around now. Ravi Shankar for one, and Roger Federer for another. But not George Bush.

What would John have thought of the "Love" project were he still alive?
At first he would have hated the idea. But as we got on with it he would have dived in as well, I am sure.

You did so much to shape the Beatles' music. All modesty aside, is it fair to call you the fifth Beatle?
No. I hate that epithet. There never was a Fifth Beatle. I was just a guy who was lucky enough to sign them and enjoy working with them on some great music.

One last question, George: are guitar groups on the way out?
Of course not.