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.