the charisma of the beatles – 3/25/22
Today's selection -- from The Last Days of John Lennon by James Patterson. The Beatles go to the studio to audition for producer George Martin at EMI:
“'The red recording light goes on.'
"The man operating the tape machine is Chris Neal. He listens to the Beatles play a couple of songs, then looks to Norman Smith, the balance engineer, and says, ‘I'm not all that impressed.’
"Smith replies, ‘Oi, go down and pick up George from the canteen and see what he thinks of this.’
"George is George Martin, the head of Parlophone.
"The label's publishing arm, Ardmore and Beechwood, is eager to obtain potentially lucrative song copyrights, so George makes the practical determination that he can turn this band into a profitable version of EMI superstars Cliff Richard and the Shadows. 'That was how my mind was working at the beginning,’ he explains, ‘looking for the possibilities of one of them being the lead singer. When I met them, I soon realized that would never work.’
|Martin working with the Beatles in a studio during Beatles for Sale sessions, 1964|
"George enters the control room and listens to the group play ‘Love Me Do.’
"Smith’s concern is their rubbish equipment. ‘I got nothing out of the Beatles' equipment except for a load of noise, hum, and goodness-knows-what.’
"George is only nominally interested in pop, but as a classically trained musician himself, he quickly pinpoints the main issue with ‘Love Me Do’: the arrangement.
"The four young men from Liverpool stop playing and nearly stand at attention when they see a tall and dapper man in his thirties, wearing a black tie with a red horse motif, approach them. He introduces himself as George Martin, the head of Parlophone. George’s crisp accent alone is enough to prove intimidating -- as intended -- though in truth he isn’t upper class at all.
"After they exchange hellos, Mr. Martin tells them he’s got a few issues with ‘Love Me Do.’ For example, John can't both sing the title line and play the harmonica.
"‘Someone else has got to sing “love me do” because you're going to have a song called Love Me Waahhh. So, Paul, will you sing “love me do”?’
“George Harrison puts aside his electric guitar and picks up an acoustic.
“The producer returns to the control room.
"The Beatles start ‘Love Me Do’ from the beginning.
"Paul’s big moment arrives. Everything stopped, no backing. The spotlight is going to be on me, he thinks, leaning toward the microphone.
"George Martin watches. Listens.
"Paul McCartney's voice won't stop shaking.
"Take after take after take.
"‘Well that was twenty minutes of torture,’ says Norman Smith with a sigh.
"But the real problem is the subpar drumming.
"‘He’s useless,’ producer Ron Richards says of Pete. ‘We've got to change this drummer.’
"George nods in agreement. 'Tell them to come up to the control room.’
"The Beatles shuffle inside the small room and find places to stand. The space is tight, the air thick with a haze of cigarette smoke. The boys from Liverpool openly gawk at all the unfamiliar pieces of equipment.
"George has them listen to the playback of the recordings. When it ends, the room is silent. Then Pete pipes up: ‘I think they’re good.’
"George Martin shakes his head and delves into all the issues he’s seeing and hearing.
"‘He was giving them a good talking to,’ engineer Ken Townsend remembers of George’s lecture, but Smith recalls, ‘They didn’t say a word back, not a word.’
"‘Look,’ George finally says. ‘I’ve laid into you for quite a time, and you haven’t responded. Is there anything you don’t like?’
"After an uncomfortably long pause, George Harrison drawls, ‘Well, for a start, I don't like your tie.’
"George Martin stiffens at the insult. The tension seems to draw on for hours ...
"And then the Beatles laugh.
"George Martin does, too.
"He hadn't been expecting comedy from the band, but next to classical music, comedy is what George Martin knows best. It's the icebreaker that saves what could have been a disaster.
"The boys from Liverpool spend the next twenty minutes keeping the studio in absolute stitches. At least John, Paul, and George do -- Pete, as usual, stays silent in the corner. By the time the Beatles leave, Norman Smith has to dry his tears of laughter. He turns to George Martin and says, ‘Phew! What do you think of that lot then?’
"As George Martin would say later, ‘I did think they had enormous talent, but it wasn't their music, it was their charisma. When I was with them they gave me a sense of well-being, of being happy. The music was almost incidental.'
"If they have this effect on me, he thinks, they are going to have that effect on their audiences.”