Giles Martin on ‘The White Album’: “You’d draw straws to not be on a Beatles session back then”

Inside the Fabs' original session secrets

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Did you really listen to everything?
Yes I listened to everything. With “I Will”, that’s 60 takes, with “Sexy Sadie” I think it’s 120. You have to do it in stints, otherwise you switch off. You need to listen to everything. It’s weird, You have to put yourself in the mindset of Chris Thomas or someone like that, because that’s what it’s like. Also Mike Healy and Kevin Hallem go through everything first and make notes, then I make notes and we compare notes. Because you might miss something.

I love the different versions of “Helter Skelter”. The 13-minute blues jam, and then a more developed version. Obviously there were two version they did at different times, July and September?
The blues version – and I think Paul had the idea of the blues version, and then he read somewhere that The Who had played Crystal Palace and it was the loudest concert ever, so in classic Beatles competition they decided they wanted to be the loudest band. For me it’s a bit like “Revolution 1” as well – there’s no point in editing it for this, we might as well have the full version. This is ‘The White Album’, as raw as possible – let’s stick the whole thing on there.

There were big stereo and mono differences on Pepper. How did you tackle this?
My approach is always – how do I remember the song sounding? In “Dear Prudence”, it’s all about the guitar, then the voice comes in, the drums come in. But the guitar sounds beautiful, spartan, arpeggio. So we would take that and put it in stereo. And it’s only when you go back and listen to the original it sounds different. So there has to be a… I’m sort of paid by them to push boundaries. They want me to. I’m not a remastering engineer, I’m not here to repackage. They say to me, listen – your job is to find new ways of looking at it. Ever since the Love project, that’s been the case. We mixed the album before Christmas last year, and by January I was thinking this sounds really bad, it’s just sounds too much like ‘The White Album’. It doesn’t sound better, it’s just.. boring. So we went back and did the whole thing. I’m incredibly privileged to be given the job to do this and I’m sure there are many other people who would do it much better, but I have to do it. There’s an element of arrogance where you have to go I think it should sound like this. But you have to be careful you don’t remove the character. I remember “Alright Now” by Free was remixed in the ’80s, and it had this really bright snare drum, the cowbell is really loud. It ruined the song for me, it didn’t sound the same. mixing isn’t about making something sound perfect. It’s about finding the heart of a piece of music. And with ‘The White Album’ especially it’s about bringing you closer to the live performances.


It’s amazing how tight they sound – especially the “Yer Blues” outtake.
You can hear in the Esher demos – they are one take, and they’re double-tracking themselves with no click track. It’s easy to underestimate how good they were as a band.

The Esher Demos – I know they have been out, have all of them been out before?
They have been bootlegged, but I didn’t know anything about them. I was like this sounds terrible, I’ve heard the original tapes. They said, “The tapes don’t exist.” I said, “They do – I was working on the Martin Scorsese Material World film, and I was down in Friar Park and I came across these tapes, Beatles 1 to 8. I transferred them.” So I phoned up Olivia Harrison, and said these are great. I’m always trying to find extra bits that are amazing for the fans – that one you get from being in Abbey Road and pressing play on a tape machine.


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