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GEORGE MARTIN, LONDON, 1987


QUESTION: Why is Ringo performing the vocals on "A Little Help From My Friends"?

GEORGE MARTIN: Well, that song was especially written for him. That was the standard practice, we would always have one Ringo vehicle on every album. And Paul had the idea of writing this song which it fitted well with the Sgt. Pepper idea. With creating the Billy Shears character, Ringo became Billy Shears, in the same way that all the Beatles became Sgt. Pepper. It was a jolly good song and suited his voice very well and was supported nicely by backing vocals from the group. So it was custom-built.

QUESTION: Why do you feel so strongly that "Penny Lane" and Strawberry Fields" should have been on Sgt. Pepper?

MARTIN: It was actually designed that way. I mean, we went to the studios in December 1966 in order to start the new album. It wasn't a question of recording "Strawberry Fields" and "Penny Lane," it was a question of beginning work on a new album and those were the titles we started with. That was "When I'm 64." The only reason they didn't become a part of the album was that Brian Epstein came up to me and said we badly need a single because the Beatles were slipping a bit and he didn't want that to happen, quite rightly. So we rushed out a single which was the best coupling ever, I think. It was so good that it didn't make number one the first week for the first time. It kept me out of the English charts by Engelbert Humperdinick with "Release Me." So that's justice for you. And in those days we liked to give as much value for the money we could to the public, and wrongly, we decided to keep our singles separate from our albums. Nowadays, of course, you must have a single off the album. If we weren't so high-minded then, "Strawberry Fields" and "Penny Lane" would have been part of Sgt. Pepper.

QUESTION: Would you have liked to put them on the CD?

MARTIN: I was sorely tempted to. But it would have unbalanced everything. I mean, even on the CD there was a little explanation which says we were dickering around with the order and if you wanted to hear the original running order you could program your CD player. So it would have been wrong to put on "Strawberry Fields" and "Penny Lane." It would have destroyed history, wouldn't it?

QUESTION: I think people feel that things were done in the making of Sgt. Pepper that had a profound effect on the albums were produced and engineered from then on.

MARTIN: They may have affected other people, but it didn't affect me because I just went on making records the same way I had been doing for ages. As far as technology is concerned, there was no great revolution. Sgt. Pepper  was done on a four-track, as was Beatles For Sale. Abbey Road was only the beginning of eight-track, so there wasn't a great deal of techniques involved, the kind of musical collage, the use of orchestras and overdubbing was the beginning of something.

QUESTION: So by the time Sgt. Pepper  was made, using many overdubs even on as few as four tracks, was a technique with which you were well acquainted.

MARTIN: We overdubbed as much as we could with the techniques and the facilities available. We couldn't overdub too much on two-track, obviously, but we did. Sometimes we could just put down a backing on one side and add the vocals or replace them on the other. We generally did things live. It was quite interesting when I was listening to the tracks for "Yesterday" - it was a four-track, of course, and two tracks were used for the initial performance of Paul with his voice and guitar simultaneously. A third track was the string quartet overdubbed and the fourth track was a first attempt by me to get a better vocal performance. In fact, it wasn't used except for one little part where you hear a double track voice, so that was obviously an overdubbing technique in the fairly early days of four track. With Pepper, it was a question of going beyond one four track and on to another because we did run one out of tracks. Obviously, if we had had twenty-four tracks available, we would have used them, but we didn't. So I had to go on from one four-track machine to another mixing four tracks down to maybe two over a stereo machine and then filling up another two tracks.

QUESTION: So it was bouncing down rather than syncing two machines?

MARTIN: Absolutely. Syncing didn't exist, therefore we didn't have any sync unit which enabled two machines to run together. It was a hit or miss. Even when we overdubbed the orchestra in Number 1 Studio for "A Day In The Life," we just ran the machines in sync by hand. In other words, they weren't in sync and you can hear that. If you listen, you can hear the ragged ensemble of the orchestra because there were several orchestras coming in slightly at a distance from each other.

QUESTION: Did your role as producer on Pepper change from the way it had been before? When you started with the Beatles on the early albums, they were quite rightly totally subordinate to yourself as the experienced person. They were new the craft, certainly in a recording studio. By the time you got to Pepper, which is a great leap in inventiveness all around, how much greater were they taking in the building of the album musically?

MARTIN: Oh, very much so. Obviously, Paul and john were the prime movers of Sgt. Pepper, Paul probably more so than John. But their inspiration, their creation of the original ideas, was absolutely paramount, it was fundamental to the whole thing. I was merely serving them in trying to get those ideas down. So my role had become of that of an interpreter, particularly in John's case, who was not at all articulate. His ideas's were not very concise, so I had to try and realize what he wanted and how to effect it. I would do it either by means of orchestras, sound effects, or a combination of both. The songs in the early days were very simple and straightforward, you couldn't play around wit them very much. But here we are building sound pictures and my role was to interpret those and realize how to put them down on tape, which we eventually did.

QUESTION: It's been reported that since the band had stopped touring about six months before recording Sgt. Pepper, this was their most prolific period as recording artists and writers. In the case of John and Paul, did you notice any change in attitude or ability in regarding songwriting and performance.

MARTIN: Well, yes, because the last track was recorded on Revolver, in fact, pointed the way to the future, and that was "Tomorrow Never Knows." Which was an imaginative track, you can say almost psychedelic, because it was John's idea. The song was based on the Book of the Dead and it was very wordy material, pretty far-out stuff. John actually said he wanted his voice to sound as if he was the Dali Lama singing from a hilltop, but what could we do to give him that effect? What I did was I chose to put his voice through a Leslie speaker the first time, but then the rest of the track was also pretty far-out. There was a tamboura and ringo's very insistent drumming. The thing that made it, of course, were the little tape loops the Beatles themselves prepared at home on their Grundig recorders. They were into experimenting and they always wanted to try different things. It was Paul who hit upon the idea of removing the erase head on his tape recorder. Then playing some stuff, maybe just a guitar phrase into the microphone, and he made a loop of tape that would go around and around, the effect was of saturation so that the tape would absorb no more. He would then have a piece of concrete music. They would bring these tapes for me to listen to. In the case of "tomorrow Never Knows," they brought over thirty tapes and I played them at different speeds, backwards and forwards. I selected some, and they became the input of that particular track. That kind of work, this building up of sounds and collages, was exciting. I enjoyed it and thought it was great fun and part of discovering life for them. That really pointed the way to Pepper, which became an experiment in itself.

QUESTION: Is it true that there were three songs which were recorded but never included but indeed have never been released in any form? Harrison's "Pink Litmus paper Shirt," Lennon's "Colliding Circles," and "Piece of Mind" do any of those ring bells with you?

MARTIN: I haven't any recollection of them at all. Quite often they would do busking things and they would put down something, a little bit of nonsense. A lot of the songs didn't have titles when we recorded them, so it is quite possible that someone, at a later date, has found this and said, "Oh, that's Peace of Mind." But I have absolutely no recollection of anything like that. They couldn't have been very good.

QUESTION: Was the laughing at the end of "Within You, Without You" George Harrison's idea and if not, did he like it? Bearing in mind it was his only song on the album.

MARTIN: It was George's idea and I think he just wanted to relieve the tedium a bit. George was slightly embarrassed and defensive about his work. I was only conscious that, perhaps, I didn't devote as much attention to George as I had the other two. I actually think that "Within You, Without You" would have benefited a bit by being shorter, but it was a very interesting song. I find it more interesting now than I did then. I think it stands up extremely well.

QUESTION: Going on to orchestration and arrangement; this was entirely your responsibility and considering it was done on four-track, did that present a problem?

MARTIN: Well, no, because it was just a question of recording in stereo on whatever we did. So on "A Day in the Life," for example, I didn't use the whole four-tracks or even the four-track machine. Incidentally, when we had the orchestra in the Number 1 Studio, we would be playing to a guide track, which was an existing rhythm track of "A Day in the Life" on a four track machine, but we were not recording on it. We were recording on another machine, which was wild. At a later stage I just laced the thing together, so I used a four-track machine, but I wouldn't be recording the whole orchestra because I'd probably only be using two of them in a stereo effect.

QUESTION: So you were using a sort of matched pair of stereo microphones for the entire orchestra.

MARTIN: That was what I invariably did for most of the orchestras I recorded. Later on we started diving up the orchestra into more segments, but if you get the balance right, you have to come down to stereo in the end, so you might as well do it then.

QUESTION: Is Sgt. Pepper your favorite album of all the Beatles' albums?

MARTIN: It's not really my favorite, but I do like it very much. I'm very happy I was involved in it, but I have a sneaking regard for Abbey Road as being a better album. Don't ask me why, except I think it's such a nice contrast between one side and another. And there's some great writing in it too.

QUESTION: What are some of the particular tricks you played on tape? Two things that constantly come up are the famous run out groove, and the organ music "For the Benefit of Mr. Kite."

MARTIN: The run out groove was just a giggle, just a silly schoolboy prank. I think it was probably Paul who said, "When you have an automatic record player, the record lifts before you reach the run out groove on the end." But in the old days before you had an automatic, the needle would get stuck in that groove and go round and round forever. Paul said, "It's just a terrible hissing noise, why don't we put some music in that? So if people don't have the modern machines, they will hear something a lot less singsong." So we said, "all right, Let's do it." They just went down the studio and said, "Sing the first thing that comes into your head when I put the red light on." And they did that. They hadn't any prior warning, all four of them sang something quite ridiculous, and I lopped off about two seconds of it at random and then stuck it round in a circle and laid that in the groove. We also put in a fifteen-kilohertz note for dogs. Again, a stupid prank, but it was fun. Later on, I believe the vinyl disks had been removed, so that now, quite a few disks don't have it. I put it over to CDs. CDs don't have run-out grooves. What we thought what would be nice was to go back and have that again, so we just gave the sound as though it were a run out groove. We had several revolutions going on and it gradually fades at the end. Giving an idea to people what it was all about.

QUESTION: And the "Mr. Kite" thing was basicallt the same operation, but for a different reason.

MARTIN: Well yes, "Mr. Kite" was an attempt to create an atmosphere. John wanted a circus fairground atmosphere for this song. He said he wanted to hear the sawdust on the floor, so I had to provide that. And apart from providing this sort of organ sound, I wanted a backwash of sound, as tin on metal is a sound. You know when you go into a fairground and shut your eyes and listen, you hear everything,; you hear the rifle shots and hurgy-gurdy noises and people shouting, and so on. Well, that is what I wanted to convey, so I got a lot of old steam organ tapes, which played things like "Stars and Stripes Forever" and Sousa marches and chopped them up into one-foot sections. I then joined them together again, sometimes back to front. The whole thing was to create a sound that of a steam organ which had no particular tune at all. By putting that in very quietly in the backround it gave that sort of fairground, open-air effect.

QUESTION: Your studio equipment, very briefly, at the time of Pepper...

MARTIN: A Studer four-track, which used one-inch-wide tape. These were sort of standard machines made in Switzerland or Germany and mixed down on BTR twin-tracks. We had Fairchild compressors that we still use today, by the way. Which are the old valve-operated compressors, awfully good, Neumann microphones where it was possible, because they were just coming out then. And the old antiquated EMI disc cutter in Number 2, which was very primitive.

QUESTION: But obviously effective.

MARTIN: Oh yes, it was clean, that was the main thing.

QUESTION: Geoff Emerick worked with you as an engineer. Was anybody else directly involved on a notable level in that recording?

MARTIN: We had lots of second engineers. The main second engineer was Richard Lush, who I believe is now working in Austrailia. Phil McDonald was second engineer - he's now quite a well-known bigwig - and lots of other people. We even had maintenance engineers working on sessions as engineers. Quite often the Beatles would come in on a session without any warning and by this time they'd gotten pretty important. They would ring me up in the morning and say, "Want to come in tonight at eight o'clock?" And if the guy wasn't around, we just used whoever was. In fact, Dave Harris who was our technical director of the AIR group here, was maintenance engineer at Abbey Road in those days. And he reminded me that on the first recording of "Strawberry Fields," he did the engineering; Geoff Emerick and I weren't there because we were attending a Cliff Richard opening. And we arrived about eleven o'clock at night, after he had done the first track. So that was the kind of thing that happened.

QUESTION: Was Ken Townsend involved?

MARTIN: Yes, he was, because Ken, alongside Dave harris, was maintenance engineer, in fact, senior to Dave. Ken was always involved in creating toys for us to play with. I don't think he actually did any direct recordings, if I remember, but he was always around in case something went wrong.

QUESTION: And for the record, of course, you would say that ken is now general manager of Abbey Road and still there after all these many years.

MARTIN: Indeed he is.

QUESTION: Did the Beatles themselves ever become interested in studio techcalities?

MARTIN: Not in technical terms. They never wanted to know how a thing worked, they just wanted to know that it did work and what it did. George was the most technical one, he is the bloke who could mend a fuse. The others weren't, really. John, the least of all. John never bothered with the intricalities of things, he just wanted it down and was rather impatient.

QUESTION: On a slightly more delicate subject, EMI and maybe for the Beatles themselves: relationships at that time were possibly getting strained, certainly between the Beatles and EMI. Were you aware of any such tensions? Is tension part of the magic mix of Sgt. Pepper?

MARTIN: Well, they themselves, the Beatles, I don't think were very strained. I think the strain of fame and touring had taken its toll. I think they were going through a period when they secretly wanted  not to be famous and going back to being ordinary people again. Which is made a psychological explanation of why Sgt. Pepper existed in the first place, because it was a band they could refer to, like the Beatles. They often refer to the Beatles as being somebody quite separate. In the same way that Paul, I, and George look back on those days as though it were the other people doing it rather than ourselves. Between the Beatles and EMI, they were always antiestablishment. Even when I first met them in 1962, it was them against the world. And anybody who existed in any authority was someone they wanted to be contemptuous of. It was part of their makeup. Fortunately I didn't come into that category because I was already a maverick with EMI, so they kind of sided with me, in a way.

QUESTION: And after Sgt. Pepper, how many more albums were there?

MARTIN: After Sgt. Pepper, then the next one, of course, was the White Album, Magical Mystery Tour, Let It Be, and then Abbey Road. In between that were all the odd singles. The next immediate thing that I remember after Sgt. Pepper was "All You Need Is Love," which was the first live television broadcast to over two hundred million people.

QUESTION: You double-tracked a lot of vocals on the Beatle records, didn't you?

MARTIN: That all started in the early days with the Beatles when I was recording and not them, but Billy J. Kramer and Gerry and the Pacemakers, and so on. I started double-tracking voices back in 1962. I thought it was a useful technique for getting different sounds. John, in particular, was always wanting his voice changed, so we did quite a lot of double-tracking. But I used it quite a bit with Billy J. Kramer as his voice sounded very good double-tracked. When it came to the Beatles, they had gotten a little bit fed up with having to do double-track everything physically and they said to me, "Why can't we just tell you when we want our voice doubled?" It seemed so simple. I spoke to Ken Townsend about it, discussed the problem and said, "Couldn't we effect some kind of double image by playing about with tape speed or something?" And he went away and worked on it. He came back with a huge machine which was a valve-operated frequency controller. By taking the sound off a playback head, and putting it back again, delaying it, bringing it into line with the live recording, he was able to shift the image or create two images. If you think of it in photographic terms, and imagine two negatives, if you had them overlapping so they're completely identical, then it becomes one and you hear only one sound. If you move one away slightly, and we found that if we moved them away by as much as ten milliseconds, you get kind of an echoey, what I call a telephone-box effect. Then widen them a bit and you get to about twenty milliseconds, and you get what we think of as ADT or two voices. Widen them further to about eighty milliseconds or one hundred milliseconds and you get a kind of Elvis Presley echo. We found that out by experiment. The great thing about Ken's device was that his variation of the gap between the two images was done by speed control with this huge power-operated device, which got very hot and it was done manually. There was no automatic wiggling a little knob trying to keep it less in space. And the very fact that you physically controlled it, that it varied the pitch slightly and gave you a better artificial double-tracking that we have ever heard since. All the devices you have which are digitally controlled now are not as good as those early days.

QUESTION: In fact, you pointed to a difference in what it's called, because you thought of it as "artificial double-tracking." Somewhere along the line, presumably, when it became automatic.

MARTIN: There's another word like that which came into use called "flanging," because when John Lennon first heard about artificial double-tracking (and we used it a great deal) he thought it was a knockout. And he said, "How did you do it George?" Joking, I said, "It's very simple, John. Listen carefully. What we do is take the original ridge and split it through the double-wire vacators flushing plan. Then we bring it back into double-negative feedback." All he could remember about that was double-wire vacators flushing plan. He said, "You're pulling my leg, aren't you? well, let's flang it again." After that, whenever he wanted ADT, he would ask for his voice reflanged. So flanged is a word I've used a great deal. Many years later i was in America and a fellow said, "George, should we flange the vocals?" I said, "Where did you hear that word?" And he said it was a word that comes about from people putting their thumb on the flange of a tape machine. So that's it.

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