Saturday, February 18, 2017

George Martin's Fictitious Memos to The Beatles on 28 April 67 and 7 November 67

Date: 28 April 1967
From: George Martin
To: John, Paul, George and Ringo
cc: Brian
Re: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Before anything else, I would like to thank all of you for the past few months in the studio.  Past few months?  The past few years.  All our lives have changed irreversibly for the better.  But since you decided last year as a band to stop touring and dedicate your artistic energy solely to producing albums, the growth you’ve undergone as recording artists has been extraordinary.  I recognize this is a “once in a lifetime” experience that we will all look back on as the start of a new age: of recording, of listening to pop music, of what is possible to achieve through the humble act of making music.

That said, this memorandum is meant not so much as a request but as a plea.  I beseech you, please, do not release this album.  I know we’ve just finished recording, the cover artwork is already in the making, the machinery behind all this is already rolling.  Just as last year saw the release of only Revolver, I would ask that we put out only one album this year.  And that it not be Sgt. Pepper’s in its current form.

While I recognize I may no longer be employed as your producer after today, I find it much more important that I state my case against this collection of songs.  Don’t get me wrong.  I can see what will happen if we put out this album now.  You will be heralded as the most innovative, talented rock band that ever existed.  The album will sell millions of copies.  It will surely cement your legend for decades, if not centuries to come.  What started to grow with Revolver will reach full fruition with Sgt. Pepper’s.

But it’s just not good enough.  What I propose is that we keep the following tracks:  Sgt. Pepper’s, With a Little Help My Friends, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Mr. Kite and A Day in the Life.  The rest of the album, we should relegate to potential solo projects, b-sides and/or future album filler.  I will first offer my logic to keeping these tracks.

Simply stated, these tracks represent a new paradigm.  I should also add that we need to include Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane on this album.  Minus A Day in the Life, these tracks would make an excellent Side One in whatever order we would choose.  Gentlemen, we are on to something new here.  We’re taking that untraveled high road first referenced in Tomorrow Never Knows and expanding on it greatly.  I’m not quite sure what has gotten into you, particularly you, John.  The lyrics for your songs are astonishing.  The arrangements you and Paul have hummed to me for orchestration, horns and background vocals are wildly inventive, as are the backwards recordings, sound effects, varied tape speeds and creatively miked instruments.  We’ve explored the boundaries of the recording studio as no one has done before, and we’ve brought back results that are not just innovative but are also inspired.

This means we need to lose Getting Better, Fixing a Hole, She’s Leaving Home, Within You/Without You, When I’m Sixty Four, Lovely Rita, Good Morning, Good Morning and Sgt. Pepper’s Reprise.

Paul, I recognize the enormous risk I’m taking here as most of these are “your” songs.  While we’ve all worked on them and added our individual touches, you brought these songs to the studio and have the clearest vision of how they should sound.  I will give my reasons for each track not reaching the higher level we have been working on routinely the past few months.

Getting Better, Fixing a Hole and Lovely Rita are all good pop songs.  Just that.  Good.  Not incredible.  They hearken back to the sound you were creating on Rubber Soul and refining on Revolver.  Don’t take this the wrong way, but the line in Getting Better about spousal abuse is awkward.  It serves no purpose other than to embarrass you, whether it’s true or just a line you’ve placed in a song.  Fixing a Hole is passable and reasonably “trippy” in that higher context, but it’s just not exceptional.  Sgt. Pepper’s Reprise is superfluous and only serves as filler.  Lovely Rita, I would encourage you to save for a solo project.

She’s Leaving Home is Eleanor Rigby light.  Paul, I love this direction you’re taking.  I loved arranging the orchestra for this track.  But we’re repeating ourselves, to lesser effect.  I would encourage you to undertake a side project of solely orchestral tracks, which I would gladly produce and arrange.

When I’m Sixty-Four is interesting, but not a direction we should be taking.  Paul, I could easily see you doing two solo albums in the coming years, one the orchestral album I’ve already noted, and the other an album of music-hall tracks much like this.  I would encourage you to not perform this kind of music within the context of "The Beatles. " I can see the discomfort with the other band members when playing on these tracks, although they would be loath to admit it.  I apologize if I’m over-stepping my boundaries.

George, that brings me to Within You, Without You.  I admire and respect the path you’re taking with eastern mysticism.  Love You To was nice, but as with Sixty-Four, we’re repeating ourselves.  I encourage you to explore this direction more fully.  But not on a Beatles album.  I would suggest a joint album recorded with Ravi Shankar where you both trade songs back and forth, sharing and exchanging aspects of both your musical cultures.  I suspect this would be a massive success in its own rite, open your music to new cultures and possibly new parts of the world.  I will also forward you the number for Joe Boyd, an American producer in London I know who’s starting to work with British folk artists.  We had been discussing your use of sitar on Norwegian Wood and Love You to, and he sensed a connection between this instrument and centuries old Irish folk songs.  This would be an avenue well worth both of you exploring.

John, Good, Good Morning is simply an average song, despite those wonderful barnyard animal effects we created in the studio.  Again, gentlemen, all these tracks are good.  We can use them in the future to pad out albums if necessary or as b-sides.  A year ago, I would have thrown my arms around these songs and been over-joyed with your creative development.  But you set the bar much higher on Revolver, and we’re presented with the opportunity to place it even higher with this album.  In my professional opinion, and as an almost fatherly figure in your musical growth, we’re just over halfway there on an album that would stand as the greatest recording of all time.

Paul, a word on Brian Wilson and Pet Sounds.  I'm just not hearing it.  Yes, I am hearing it on Wouldn't It Be Nice, Sloop John B and God Only Knows.  To a lesser effect on Caroline No and I'm Waiting for the Day.  The rest of the album is average, at best.  The production sounds flat, in that way all current American pop sounds just a little off.  (Wilson has recorded what has to be the single worst harmonica sound in the history of recorded music; John, it makes your foray into this instrument on Love Me Do sound like Little Walter.)  Funny, they have better recording equipment than we do, yet we're blowing their doors off.  Hail, Brittania! 

But seriously, you're not competing with Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys; they're inhaling our fumes.  Never mind that it takes a Spectorian assembly of studio musicians to achieve what we do with four men.  The Beach Boys were brilliant, and I'd suggest that Mike Love, callous as he may be, was right about "not f*cking with the formula."  They captured something pure and vital about America for a good four years, and they've moved on, but nowhere near as well as we have.  "Good Vibrations" was brilliant, too, and that song did have me worried.  But an insider at Capitol has forwarded an acetate of their sessions on a new album called Smile.  Mr. Wilson has either lost his mind or has done too many illicit substances, possibly both.  Sure, some are going to think it's a work of art, but it's a brilliant mess that probably won't even be released, or if they're smart, the best tracks will come out piece-meal over the next few years as the rest of the band, and the world, makes sense of what he's trying to do. 

So, I’m hoping my heartfelt criticisms are not too daunting.  Otherwise, the next production memorandum you receive may be from Shel Talmy or Kit Lambert.  You all know as well as I do these men are hustlers and hacks who simply inserted themselves in a thriving music scene with little to no understanding of properly producing, arranging or recording music.  You can hear the difference in their albums and ours.  I know what I’m doing, as do you, and we are light years ahead of the competition.  I would encourage you to maintain that pace.  Let’s take a few weeks off, maybe put out a single when we get back to stay in the public eye, release maybe one or two more as the year progresses, but all the while explore that higher ground we’ve moved towards.  Gentlemen, these are the days, and I thank you for letting me be part of this musical revolution.

Date: 7 November 1967
From: George Martin
To: John, Paul, George and Ringo
Re: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Gentlemen, we have arrived.  This has been quite a year.  I believe we’re all still suffering from the passing of Brian and the void left in our personal and professional lives.  But we’ve also paid him a wonderful tribute by forging ahead with the remainder of the best album ever recorded.

Surely you remember my previous memorandum from April where I encouraged you to reach higher.  Well, you most certainly have, as have I.  The past year has been the most wonderful journey from the familiar to the unknown, and finding the unknown a warm and welcoming place.  We are here.  The time is now to release Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. 

Here are my recommendations from what we’ve recorded (and released as singles) over the past six months.  We should keep Blue Jay Way, I Am the Walrus, Hello Goodbye, Baby You’re a Rich Man and All You Need Is Love.  We should put aside Magical Mystery Tour, Flying, Fool on the Hill and Your Mother Should Know.

Unlike the previous memo, I should state the “leftover” tracks here are just as good as the tracks I’m suggesting to keep, save Your Mother Should Know.  (Paul, please see me early next week regarding an American recording artist named Harry Nilsson who has been asking about meeting the band.  I believe both you and he could take tracks like this and When I’m Sixty-Four and come up with an interesting collaboration.)

Magical Mystery Tour is an excellent song, and I gather it will serve as the title track for the film you worked on this past September.  It will make a number-one single when we release it on Boxing Day to coincide with the television special.  As it is, Sgt. Pepper’s is a perfect lead-off track for an album, which is the only reason I can see for not having Magical Mystery Tour on the album.  Frankly, releasing it as a double-A side single with Fool on the Hill would be a good idea.  I would suggest remaindering the above-noted tracks for the next album, rather than pursuing the concept we discussed of one record side of orchestral arrangements.  (While I love doing this, it’s tremendously inappropriate for a Beatles album.)

George, you’re getting better.  Blue Jay Way captures a floating, surreal feeling that I would imagine perfectly suits the Hollywood Hills on a foggy night.  It’s in perfect sync with our higher path.  It was a hard choice between this and Flying, which I also love, but there’s only so much time on two sides of an album.

What more is there to say about I Am the Walrus.  John, this is your finest moment.  You brought out things in me I didn’t know I had a producer and arranger; never before, and I wager never again, will I create a rock-band arrangement suitable for electric piano, cello, bass and drums.  This song defines where England is now, in this crazy, brilliant time and place, that is both fearful and hopeful.  Never mind that it was the first thing we recorded after Brian departed.  This was such a cathartic, healing experience to create something so wondrous in the wake of such a traumatic event.

Of course, Hello, Goodbye was the a-side of that single, and entirely worthy.  Paul, I think you’re “getting the hang of it” in terms of crafting your more melodic inclinations to this more “psychedelic” style.  And I’m proud, as I also sensed you did not want to move too far in this direction.  I suspect you will lead us into the next phase, and that you will somehow lead the band going forward, however much friction that may cause.  Friction is a worthwhile side effect of any rock-and-roll band, so long as it doesn’t become destructive.

Baby You’re a Rich Man: John, you’ve done it again.  This track may not immediately reveal itself to listeners, but it will resonate over the years, they will “get it” on levels not obvious upon first listen.  I can’t put my finger on it, but all your tracks over the past year have this odd yearning quality that is perfectly suited to this more atmospheric production style we’ve embraced.

All You Need Is Love has already changed the world.  I can’t tell you how honored I’ve been to play such an important role in these songs with the orchestra and horn arrangements.  I feel as though you’re letting me provide the texture to your songs, the under-current that flows through all these tracks.

However we want to arrange these tracks, let me know.  We begin with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which obviously leads into With a Little Help My Friends.  Ringo, I’m sorry not to have mentioned you yet.  But I believe this song is so far ahead of your previous contributions, John and Paul grasped your true nature and captured it in a song.  You are Liverpool personified.  In the studio, you’re everyone’s friend, the connection between all of us, which will be crucial with Brian gone.  Never mind the world-class drumming.  The Beatles would be a vastly different band without you, as I’m sure the other three are well aware.

The only other thing I’m certain of is we end the album with A Day in the Life.  John, I might have erred calling I Am the Walrus your finest moment: this could be, too.  Again, we’ve created something here, a sound, a feeling, a way of listening to the world, that hasn’t previously existed.  I suspect it will define so much of what comes to pass in music in the coming years.  I believe this is your year.  I recall how you fretted upon hearing Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade of Pale and wondering how anyone could possibly top that.  You already had.

A word on The Rolling Stones and Satanic Majesties, which the Stones were kind enough to forward us and advance copy last week.  It's a travesty and a major step backwards for them.  Never mind that they lifted our cover concept from the Sgt. Pepper artwork leaked back in June when we nearly released the album then.  They look like imbeciles.  As they know, our album is coming out before the end of November, weeks before their album, as agreed upon.  They've been doing this every step of the way since 1964, copying everything we do with diminishing returns, save for flashes of brilliance like Satisfaction and Paint It Black.  I should warn you: sooner or later, they're going to find their voice, most likely after this public embarrassment.  Of all the British bands we compete with, I can see the birth of a new kind of rock incorporating a more acoustic blues feel and a darker, harder edge, and I'll give it to Mick Jagger, he's becoming a better lyric writer by leaps and bounds.  We'll catch a breather with Satanic Majesties, but I suspect within a year they will do something lasting and important that places them on our level.  To which I say, it's about time, we could use some real competition.  Ditto, Townshend and The Who.  I've heard an acetate of their new album, Sell Out: it's slight, but interesting.  They won't be slight forever.

Now that we’ve climbed Everest, we must find another mountain.  Not necessarily higher, but a different climb, different terrain, different requirements.  We have done it, and the world will regard what we’ve done this year as some of the greatest music ever made.  There will be more to come.  I suspect without Brian, the going will be harder, we will have more disagreements, and we may even implode somewhere down the road.  That’s because we’ve raised ourselves to the highest level possible, and the only way to move is forward, not up.  We’ve thrown away all maps and are finding our way by talent, intuition and luck.  Life will no longer be as easy as it was just two years ago, much less five, when you played me Love Me Do at Abbey Road, and my only concern was tucking into a plate of bangers and mash at the local pub.  That world no longer exists.