The following originally appeared in “The Beatles’ Hard Day’s Night was a Revolution in Black and White” which was posted on Something Else! on July 9, 2014. That article by Mike Tiano centered on how the Beatles broke the rules when they finally burst into popular culture. This included how George Martin (who died on March 8, 2016 at age 90) came to recognize the Beatles’ immense talents and unique personalities, and would eschew making them toe the company line, which given his position he could have done. Instead, he became their musical and production collaborator, and his contributions to their recorded output cannot be denied:
In 1962, Decca allowed the Liverpool, UK group to record a demo tape, and based on what was recorded the label rejected signing the group. After the Beatles exploded onto the scene Decca was ridiculed for being the label that turned down what at that time was simply a huge sales phenomenon. In Decca’s defense, the songs the band chose to record weren’t good indicators of their capabilities. Overall, the Beatles were probably a bit too gritty and raw at the time when rock was more pop; instead of being slick and safe they appeared out of place in an era where “pretty boys” were groomed to make the girls swoon and purchase the bland, homogenized singles being produced.
Unimpressed, the Decca executives told the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein that “groups with guitars are on the way out.” This might have been more of an insincere explanation for not seeing a way that the group could be successful — and that was Decca’s actual folly. When Epstein came to producer George Martin at EMI, Martin was also unimpressed by the Decca demo. In one way, this is where the Beatles’ legend and legacy truly began. George Martin was already a big producer at EMI, and he could have easily dismissed the Beatles out of hand based on the demo alone, as Decca had done. But Martin, who had become successful at EMI by producing comedy and novelty records, recognized that the band had some potential and asked Epstein to bring the group to EMI to put them “through the paces” (as Martin has put it in his autobiography All You Need is Ears).
At that session, George Martin flexed his producer’s muscle, deciding that Pete Best wasn’t going to cut it due to inconsistencies in the drummer’s timing and approach. Epstein was informed by Martin that a session drummer would be performing on the recordings and that the listener wouldn’t know who was actually playing on it anyway. While one might conclude that Martin’s authority alone was the reason behind Best’s untimely dismissal it’s unlikely that the other three members would have replaced Best just to appease Martin. Various sources (including George Martin’s autobiography and Hunter Davies’ authorized biography of the Beatles) indicate that at this critical crossroads in their career John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison were ready to replace Pete Best with someone they thought would be more suitable to both the group and the music — at the very least Martin’s considerable opinion justified their own. Unfortunately this was a one-two punch to Best, his “mates” later rationalizing that adequate (let alone “good”) drummers were hard to come by — that keeping Best around had more to do with the complacency of keeping the status quo, for the time being at least.
Although the Beatles told George Martin that Ringo Starr would replace Pete Best, it was too late as Martin had already followed through on hiring session player Andy White for the Fabs’ first single, “Love Me Do.” As Ringo was an unknown to the producer, he wasn’t going to risk that the new drummer was no better than Best [no pun intended]. But in an attempt to be fair, Martin compromised by having Ringo perform on one take and would play tambourine on the take with White on drums. (Ringo’s take was the one ultimately released.) This would be the last time a session player would record an instrument that was the within the capability of a Beatle, something that wasn’t (surprisingly) true of many of their contemporaries, including the Byrds and the Beach Boys.
George Martin revealed in his book that initially he was also guilty of falling into the mindset of deciding who was going to be the main singer in the band. It’s unlikely that the Beatles would have gone along with that plan but ultimately the point was moot: In working with the group and finding that he liked them as people, Martin decided that it would have been a disservice to who they were — that if retaining the core fabric of the band flew into the face of convention it wouldn’t have been the first time in his career he made unpopular decisions. (Martin’s book lists earlier examples of breaking conventions including battling EMI on his efforts with Peter Sellers.) So, Martin wisely abandoned the idea of one frontline singer. The Beatles were not mere ciphers who cared nothing about musicianship or what material they were given, and in all likelihood would have resisted the idea to the point of risking losing the much desired contract.
However, when it came to songwriting George Martin wasn’t yet impressed. In his book, he admits that from the Beatles’ first attempts at songwriting he felt that their songwriting would have “no saleable future!” (That explanation point is his, indicating that in retrospect he humorously acknowledged how his prediction failed miserably, but happily.) Martin’s original estimation was probably in part due to the fact that the first Lennon-McCartney penned single “Love Me Do” didn’t even crack the Top 10 on the British charts, peaking at No. 17. With that disappointment — and the added ridicule from EMI colleagues, who laughed just at the mention of the name of the group — George Martin felt he needed to take the reins and demanded that the band record “How Do You Do It,” an unremarkable, cloying pop tune written by up-and-coming songwriter Mitch Murray that flew against the Beatles’ more roots-based sensibilities.
The result was a slick piece of work, but uninspired in execution: Instead of a delivering a powerhouse Lennon-esque vocal, John’s singing is understated and practically dripping with boredom (and with a hint of venom). After it was produced, the Beatles — still feeling it went against their grain — resisted its release. But rather than tell them “tough,” George Martin instead challenged them to come up with something better, and they did: “Please Please Me.” They had already presented that tune to Martin with a slower tempo, but speeding it up did the trick. In stark contrast to the lackluster Murray tune, the Beatles’ second single was infused with energy, inventiveness, and some soaring vocal harmonies. After the session, Martin congratulated the band on what he predicted was their first No. 1 single — and when it shot to the top of the British charts the Beatles were off and running.
©2014 Mike Tiano. Reposted with permission. All Rights Reserved.
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