Beatles Couldn’t Live up to the Image They’d Created, Producer Says
The Beatles created an unsustainable boy-band image of themselves, said the producer of the upcoming expanded edition of their White Album. Giles Martin, son of the band's late original producer George Martin, said it was no surprise that they quickly reached a point where they could no longer inhabit these self-caricatures.
“[T]here was that view in ‘65 and ‘66, and the Beatles were aware of that, that no one really saw that they were this pop band that had taken over the world, and they’d deliberately become this powerhouse, these four guys,” Martin told Billboard in a new interview. “They’d created these characters for themselves that they couldn’t live up to. The Help! movie is that; we all live in a house and we’re all from Liverpool!”
Asked if their mop-top image reflected reality, Martin replied: “The world lost that, because the Beatles weren’t that. They weren’t even that when they were being that. There’s a famous shot where the Beatles are waving and they were in their suits, you see that shot? That’s them taking the piss out of being a boy band. And these stories about John [Lennon] in Hamburg, a guy chatting up [Lennon's first wife] Cynthia and he kicked him in the face. They weren’t exactly an easygoing band. They created this caricature they couldn’t live up to. And when it was successful for them, they knew they had to reject it. They knew that wasn’t them. They had to stop being this four-headed monster and start growing up.”
He said the White Album proved that’s what they’d gone on to do. Describing the song selection process as “people around a campfire,” he added, “but they didn’t record the songs despite each other. That’s what people think. ‘You go and record your song, then I’m going to record my song!’ It didn’t work like that. … You don’t do 107 takes on someone else’s song if you don’t like the song. If anything, on the outtakes, you hear John saying, ‘It’s getting better, but it’s not getting easier or more fun.’ Then George [Harrison] says, ‘It’s getting better and more fun!’ I don’t get the sense that people think, ‘Yes, they were recording their own songs, but they had the others with them, doing it.’”
He recognized there had been some genuine tensions during the sessions, but said that the majority of those were normal issues experienced by any band, and exaggerated in the press simply because they concerned the Beatles. He said that while Ringo Starr had quit the band briefly, it only served to demonstrate how much they needed each other. “[T]hey realized they weren’t the Beatles. There were four of them, and then he was gone. And when he came back, they filled the studio with flowers.”
Martin said that, despite the stories written around the recording of the White Album, it was the songs themselves that made the LP so memorable. “My dad was never a fan of it because he had such a tough time making it,” he said. “I think what surprised me is that it’s only a band-driven album. The band were in control of their own destiny. It’s not as fragmented as people write about, like the four members of the band went off to record their own stuff in different rooms. It just isn’t that. … It just doesn’t feel like that.”
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