Today, September 18, is the final day for two Beatles related events at “the Henry Ford” in Dearborn, Michigan: “Magical History Tour” and “A Hard Day’s Night” on the IMAX screen. I wanted to put that up front in case you weren’t aware of it. I went to see the history exhibit last Sunday (September 11), and I’ll write about that in a different post. But I was not aware of “A Hard Day’s Night” on that giant screen! So, I came back yesterday to check it out.
The whole day turned into a giant adventure. I forgot the starting time of the movie and arrived two and a half hours early for it. That was OK because I bought my ticket then. So, I left for a couple of hours, but about 10 minutes later, my car broke down in Allen Park behind Marshall Music. Damn! Now I had to wait for a tow…in the rain…with The Beatles on the hook.
The driver arrived extremely fast and got me hooked up quickly. After a tow to where I wanted to go, I got picked up from there, grabbed another car, and took off for the movie.
I got there just a little bit after it started. To my surprise, the theater was about half full—pretty good for a 50+ year old movie in black and white. I’ve written about my early experiences with “A Hard Day’s Night when it was the 50th anniversary of its release in a prior post. (Look for it on this website.) I had also just watched it within the past month because Turner Classic Movies had just run it recently, so it was still fresh in my mind again.
The first thing that strikes you when you see them on that big screen is how great they look! John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and particularly Ringo Starr never looked better! George Harrison, in my opinion, looked a little “scruffier” in this format. Now that’s not a bad thing. His hair just seemed a little less groomed than the other Beatles.
I wish I could say that it was like seeing it for the first time, but that wasn’t the case. When someone has watched the film as many times as I have, the odds were pretty much stacked against that. But after adjusting to the size of the screen, the one thing that you do see for the first time throughout the movie is the detail in it. I never noticed that John had a band aid on the pinky finger of his left hand during the movie’s final live performance. Or the pocket watch on the studio console as well as the Wrigley’s Spearmint gum wrapper stuffed into the console ashtray.
Now this may not be exciting enough for someone to see this movie again, but that band aid on Lennon’s hand was the equivalent to me of hearing finger popping snaps the first time I listened to “Here, There, and Everywhere” from “Revolver” on headphones!
It’s like looking at the movie while holding a giant magnifying glass!
And the best thing about seeing the movie again, was hearing the songs on that IMAX speaker system. That was the best I have ever heard any Beatles music! The supporting cast also comes off even better because you can’t help but notice them.
There were some negatives to seeing the film in a format that super sized. In particular, the lip synching and strumming pantomime to “And I Love Her” is slightly off. That one was really obvious to me, so I had to mentally look towards something else to take my mind off it.
Some viewers applauded when it was over. I always like that because the movie deserves
it. Seated behind me were two young mothers in their twenties who had taken their daughters to watch the film. They had behaved themselves throughout because I wasn’t even aware they were there. As we were walking out, I heard one of the girls—who was probably four years old, say, “Thank you, mommy! I liked that!” The mother clarified with the girl that that was what she was talking about and the girl again said that she really liked it. And that is how a musical dynasty keeps on rolling!
Well, I really liked it, too!
And I’ll see it again today!
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After a tumultuous and crazy summer, The Beatles wrapped up what would be their third and final tour of the U.S. on August 29, 1966. So many events happened in the summer of 1966, some major ones that were unrelated to music, that the final tour stop at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park seemed anticlimactic.
No one knew that this would be the last time that The Beatles would perform in front of a paying audience. The band wasn’t even selling out their venues. I would think this would be a minor point of discussion because tens of thousands were still seeing them every show. It’s just that instead of selling out 50,000 seats, they would sell 44,000. Still very impressive and the only band around capable of doing that at the time. The Rolling Stones stadium days wouldn’t happen until a few years in the future.
But the years of constantly being in the spotlight and the media circus that occurred at every show began to take both a physical and mental toll. And that would be under normal conditions. The Beatle bubble was anything but normal.
So a Beatlemania that was a furious wave of attention and wanderlust, ended up finishing as a sort of disinterested whimper. If you’ve seen any clips from that era, such as at Budukan, you saw a band that seemed preoccupied, bored, and slow. They were anything but ‘tight’ as a band—which is what their reputation had been based on.
Some of it wasn’t their fault. Stadium sound was still terrible even though they had been playing them for a couple of years. They also had evolved individually so that all of them did not have the same goals.
I never had a chance to see The Beatles play live. I was still young and couldn’t swing that deal. But I sure would have been ecstatic to fill up one of those empty seats, no matter what the mood of the band was at that time.
As I stayed up and waited for the final results of the Michigan State Primary, I received word from someone on Facebook that George Martin had passed. I have learned over time that one has to verify whether someone has really passed, but I knew in my heart that it was all too true. And even though he hadn’t been able to do anything work related for a number of years because of deteriorating hearing, it still seemed very sad.
When someone artistic passes on, the accomplishments of that person are often exaggerated to such extremes of hyperbole that if that person were alive, they may not have even recognized the impact of their works. The memories recalled are just so vivid and important. A little time has pass to fully assess the artist and put their work into some kind of perspective. With George Martin, his hyperbole may be understated.
George Martin had been moving through life as a successful producer when he intersected paths with The Beatles. They had been brought in to audition for Parlophone Records, pretty much a label that hadn’t made too much of a mark in the world of music, mainly concentrating on comedy albums and classical music. This background may have indirectly led to his best traits as a producer–being patient enough to let the work develop. The music industry at the time was more interested in novelty songs and one hit wonders versus thinking in terms of longevity. The Beatles themselves were still trying to figure out where they fit into the scene—if at all. In the end it turns out that they each needed each other but didn’t know it yet.
Once The Beatles were signed to the label, there was evidence that they hadn’t really sold their talents to Martin. He brought along a song for them to record that he felt would be a hit. And he was correct. It just wouldn’t be for them. I’m referring to “How Do You Do It” which became a monster hit for Gerry and The Pacemakers. They didn’t know what to do because they wanted to record songs they had written, but they also didn’t want to hurt their new producer’s feelings. The Beatles halfheartedly attempted to do a version of the song. The only thing that the song had of value was a soulful solo vocal by John Lennon.
Another example that showed that George Martin wasn’t sure how to handle the group was when he had studio drummer Andy White sit in for Ringo Starr on drums on “Love Me Do.” Now they had a chance to do one of their own songs, but it still didn’t feel right because the band still wasn’t complete. This must have been very frustrating for The Beatles because they had gone through such personal turmoil to replace longtime drummer Pete Best with Ringo Starr, and now Martin didn’t think he was good enough to play in the studio!
George Martin also had to rearrange the vocals on “Love Me Do.” It was John’s song, but he couldn’t sing and play harmonica at the same time, so Martin gave the “Love me do” line to Paul McCartney to sing. Paul has said in interviews that he wasn’t sure how John would take it giving up his line. McCartney says that when he hears the song that he can still hear the nervousness in his voice.
But that’s what a producer does—especially with a novice recording band. From those humble beginnings, they eventually developed into a world wide recording team at warp speed. The next break that Martin was “instrumental” in creating a masterpiece was when “Please Please Me” was brought to him. Lennon wrote it as a Roy Orbison type of ballad. It was Martin who suggested recording it at a faster tempo. When the band scored their first Number One hit with the recommendation, they truly never looked back as Beatlemania broke in England over the brand new sound!
The Beatles drew on Martin’s vast knowledge of music and had him play on several songs—most notably the Bachian piano solo that Martin sped up to sound like a harpsichord on “In My Life.” If there ever was an argument as to who was “the fifth Beatle” that alone has to settle the argument. Brian Epstein and Murray the K never provided a musical track for any Beatles song.
As the band achieved more success, George Martin did, too working with other artists. Gerry and The Pacemakers, Cilla Black, Jeff Beck, Elton John, and Billy J. Kramer and The Dakotas.
To me, one of the greatest musical achievements he ever did was melding two different takes of “Strawberry Fields Forever” in different keys and tempos. A flippant John Lennon threw it to Martin when he couldn’t figure it out for himself. It was and still may be my favorite Beatles song. George Martin said that he could always detect where the two tracks were spliced at approximately the 1:00 mark. He felt that it sticks out like a “sore thumb.” I have listened to the song for decades and even knowing that it’s there, I never feel that it’s ever different than what it’s supposed to sound like.
Over time, the individual Beatles grew less fond of George Martin’s influence and techniques. Lennon felt that he wasn’t getting his voice quite right. George Harrison was pretty much ignored as a writing talent. Paul McCartney felt so motivated that he conducted the orchestra for the string track on “She’s Leaving Home” one day when Martin couldn’t do it, but McCartney wanted it done. Ringo Starr felt so unappreciated by “The White Album” that he quit the band for a while. It was not so easy being a producer for a band that had outgrown their own heads.
The magnificence of George Martin’s genius took place on The Beatles final and possibly best record, “Abbey Road.” They wanted to do one more album like they had done in the old days. They had to convince him that they were willing to hand control over to him so that he could become a producer again instead of “detention teacher for spoiled kids.”
After the band and Martin had parted ways, George continued to do excellent work with other bands and artists. Some of the best music America had ever recorded took place under the watchful eye of George Martin as he produced several of their albums. Little River Band also revived their career under Martin’s talents. One thing that I found out after he passed was that Dire Straits had George Martin do the lush string arrangement for a song called “Ticket to Heaven” for their last album “On Every Street” in 1991. I always have thought that was one of Dire Straits’ best songs!
George Martin was not without flaws. He has apologized for snubbing Ringo on “Love Me Do” or ignoring George Harrison’s talents. But in the same breath he also has stated that he was working with two of the greatest writers in musical history, so you can’t blame him too much for arriving late to catch up to Harrison.
So, as I look back to that birthday when I first received my copy of “Meet the Beatles,” and noticing the very plain unassuming name for producer, George Martin, and then seeing it appear over and over again on subsequent releases over the years, you had to respect the talent. Even with the incredible songs on each record, they always had an incredible sound quality. Ringo’s drums always sounded sizzling. Harrison’s guitar distorted or clear for just the right effect. The vocal harmonies were so crisp!
I don’t think that under the circumstances of the musical industry at the time that The Beatles would have made it without George Martin. He was willing to let the band evolve and explore with him at the helm. Another producer may have just crushed them and we might still be listening to novelty songs and one hit wonders. But The Beatles wanted a career. They were wed to their music. A common question during Beatlemania was what would everybody do once the bubble burst. Through the work of George Martin, that bubble has never burst and probably never will with young people discovering the band every day. Thank you, George Martin! You helped make some of the best music ever made!
Historically, The Beatles put together an unprecedented number of “firsts.” Many of which may never be duplicated again: The first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the activity on the record charts in April 1964, the audience for the first performance of “All You Need Is Love,” and so on.
In August 1965, Beatlemania still hadn’t run out of steam, particularly in New York City. In an unprecedented arrangement, promoter Sid Bernstein along with Beatles manager Brian Epstein put together a deal to play the large arena, Shea Stadium, that was primarily used for sporting events. Both the baseball Mets and the football Jets callrf the stadium their home. Although state of the art for sports, it was lacking in sound quality for a musical mega event. That would turn out to be the major problem in producing a post concert product worth watching.
Everyone knew the Shea appearance would be an epoch event for the band and ir was treated as such. A film crew followed The Beatles for several days before and after the show to document the whole experience. The film used for recording was 35mm which from a sound engineering perspective let alone the visual quality was preferred by audiophiles particularly among classical artists. The film was wider than audio tape and therefore would produce a sharper sound since more of it would be magnetized.
Although there was plenty of apprehension in The Beatles camp, especially whether they would be able to fill the stadium with paying customers, both Bernstein and Epstein had taken risks the previous year when they put group at Carnegie Hall, a primarily classical venue. When that became a non issue once tickets moved rapidly, all that remained was how big of an impact the concert would have.
The were several bands to warm up the crowd including The Young Rascals and King Curtis. The Beatles ran out to their midfield stage wearing identical brown suits with star badges, (Yeah, whatever.) and played a 12 song set that lasted 37 minutes. But once the concert was over, the effect for post marketing lasted for a couple of years.
Even with all of the preparation for the event, the sound quality produced on the tapes was atrocious. George Harrison’s vocals were missing. Paul McCartney’s bass parts disappeared. John Lennon went “crazy” on the organ for “I’m Down.” So The Beatles tried to salvage the historical record by going clandestinely into CTS Studios in London in January of 1966 to rerecord parts of songs and sometimes redoing whole songs. This, by the way, is something that happens on most “live” recordings up to the present.
Live sound is a compromise. It is more important to have the sound better for the listening audience at the event versus making a recording to be used later. The Beatles also had in reserve, pretty good sound quality tapes of their Hollywood Bowl performances. Some of these were substituted for the bad quality versions of the Shea stadium performance. So basically, the finished product for the show had only a small percentage of actual source material.
The show was turned down by CBS even though Ed Sullivan, one of their stars, introduced them at Shea. Rumor is, they wanted to show it raw minu the overdubs. NBC also passed. ABC, the lowest rated of the three networks at the time landed the special, but didn’t show it until January 1967.
The question that always comes up is whether The Shea Stadium concert will be released for public consumption. Since some of the material is from The Hollywood Bowl performances, the idea is that it’s not a true depiction of the show.
Don’t care! Don’t care! Don’t care!
Last I checked, there aren’t any Hollywood Bowl DVDs so let’s get off this point. There’s supposed to be mono and stereo mixes of the show, just like much of The Beatles’ catalogue, that sound completely different. That’s fine. Put it all together including the raw version and release it all as a set!
Somebody has to be first and just like much of their history, The Beatles were their to raise the bar. Yes, other bands have had concerts that have had more attendees than the 55, 600 at Shea Stadium. But at the time, it was unsure that enough people would go to a show that huge. Just watch the mayhem and screaming at the show, let alone the music. This show needs to be released and it’s just as important now as it was “Fifty Years Ago