It’s tempting to think that the best accounts of the Beatles career are always going to be by those who were actually there. George Martin potentially stands out above all others because he was as close as it was possible to be, without being a Beatles, he WASN’T on drugs during the crucial period, he was and remains a fan and writes as a musician. But though this book is an enjoyable amble through 1967 it yields no great insight or revelation. Perhaps it’s the plethora of interviews Martin’s already given, perhaps because much of what he witnessed still exists on the Abbey Rd masters.
E.M.I. = English Misers Inc.
If you can filter out Martin’s purple prose the best parts are the pictures he paints of everyday life at Abbey Road where “legendary meanness was company policy” from the eternally padlocked fridge to the hard shiny toilet paper that was more suitable for making kazoos than wiping your bottom on. His descriptions of wrestling with archaic gear like the Mellotron (“a horizontal wardrobe”) and the home made frequency changer (“a Diplodocus-sized washing machine lookalike”) make you all the more appreciative of what he had to go through.
Life with Lennon
Speaking of trials, the book is revealing about his working relationship with John Lennon. Bringing Strawberry Fields et al to life were some of Martin’s greatest achievements but it was a thankless task. Lennon vision was massive but he had neither the skill, nor ultimately the discipline to bring any of them about. “I want to smell the sawdust”, “I want to sound like a Buddhist monk singing from the top of a mountain” and when presented with the technical impossibility of his demands, “Well George, I’m sure you can fix it”. How soul destroying then to be told by Lennon years later that “most of what the Beatles did was rubbish” and he wanted to rerecord it all. Though Martin is unfailingly gracious and forgiving that seems to speak volumes about Lennon’s high appraisal of his own gift and his lack of appreciation of Martin’s.
Nicely illustrated with some decent photos, this is a good book. Not worth going out of your way to hunt down, but pick up Summer of Love: The Making of Sgt. Pepper if you see it going cheap.