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Martin Made The Beatles Much More Interesting, Connolly Says


We are remembering Sir George Martin, who died yesterday at the age of 90. In 1962, while working for a British record label, he signed an unknown band called The Beatles. We're going to talk now with author and filmmaker Ray Connolly, who interviewed The Beatles many times and also made a documentary series with George Martin about music called "The Rhythm Of Life." Welcome to the program, sir.

RAY CONNOLLY: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Producer can be so many things for a musical group. What was Martin's job, really, with The Beatles?

CONNOLLY: He was the arranger. When they'd bring a song in, he's listen to it and say, well, you know, this is - this is OK. But have you thought about doing it in four-four time or maybe doing three-four time? That sort of thing - and then he would add all these instruments. He would sort of say, well, you know, that's great. But what else can you do? And then The Beatles would sort of throw out ideas themselves. So they would work in very, very close collaboration. The great thing about it was that George Martin knew everything there was to know about classical music. The Beatles knew whatever there was to know about rock ’n’ roll but nothing about classical music. So you put the two together - fantastic symbiosis. And so George took The Beatles from just rock ’n’ roll to "Penny Lane," "Strawberry Fields Forever," "Sgt. Pepper."

INSKEEP: And added sophistication to the music, I would imagine.

CONNOLLY: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: What you're describing is the role of an editor, really, which can be psychologically challenging for the artist because Martin is the guy telling you your song is not right or your song is not complete. They must have really trusted him.

CONNOLLY: Well, yeah, at first, you know, they would do whatever he said because, you know, he was the boss. He was like a schoolteacher. And that's the way he came across all the time. He was like a schoolteacher. And he helped them. And then later on, of course, they wanted to have more say. In the end, when they finished - when they finished recording together, John Lennon - and actually John was being a bit mean about this. He kind of said, well, you know, we want to do it ourselves now. They weren't as good without George Martin.

INSKEEP: Did they resent it a little bit when there were stories suggesting that Martin was the guy who was...

CONNOLLY: Yeah, I think they did. I think John did. But then later on, he and George got together. And I remember George telling me how he'd been talking to John. And John had said, I wish I could record the songs again. George said, well, which songs, John? He said, all of them. But with George Martin doing it, you know.

INSKEEP: Oh, my goodness.

CONNOLLY: He was that important, you know.

INSKEEP: And when you listen to Beatles music, is there something - or anybody's music, really - is there something that causes you to say, that's George Martin? That's George Martin in there.

CONNOLLY: I can certainly do it on Beatle records because I know exactly what he did. On "Penny Lane," played piano - he introduced the piccolo and the trumpet (ph), things like that. You know, if The Beatles hadn't met George Martin, they'd have been a fantastic rock 'n' roll band. Because they met George Martin, who would take them, you know, in other directions, they were much more interesting.

INSKEEP: Can I just mention there's something about Beatles music that feels timeless? There's so much music from the '60s that might be great music. But it's music from the '60s. The Beatles' music feels a little different to me. Was that George Martin's influence, particularly that classical music influence you mentioned?

CONNOLLY: I think it was partly that. I think, you know, rock 'n' roll is - it's American music. The Beatles took it further. And they made it English music - very, very English music. So you know, I mean, songs like "Penny Lane," they are very English. And that's partly George too. I mean, when Paul sang "When I'm 64," that was like an old-time English musical song. Well, George know how to do it, you know? Paul would say, well, what about this? And George would say, well, hang on. I've got an idea. At Abbey Road where they recorded, there was this sort of band room and these old instruments there. And the boys would bring things out and say, what does this sound like? And George would say, well, you can do this and do that with it, you know? Add a harpsichord here. Add this. Add that - you know? - fantastic.

INSKEEP: You said another interesting thing I hadn't thought about. We think of this British group that grabbed an American music style and even played, you know, old American tunes on some of their early records.


INSKEEP: But you're saying that Martin was the one who made them what they really were.

CONNOLLY: I think he was. I think he was. And I mean, The Beatles may say, no, we could do it without him. But I doubt it. I think George brought a hell of a lot to them.

INSKEEP: Author and filmmaker Ray Connolly, who knew George Martin for many years. Thanks very much.

CONNOLLY: You're welcome.


THE BEATLES: Penny Lane... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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