Giles Martin: Revisiting the Magic of The Beatles in Concert
The Beatles have come to TIDAL. As part of our massive celebration of this historic addition to the TIDAL music library — which includes The Beatles Experience, our immersive presentation of their timeless catalogue — journalist and Beatles expert Jeff Slate has been writing an ongoing feature series on the history and legacy of the biggest band to ever live.
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Talk to anyone who attended one of The Beatles’ live shows, and they immediately become excited by the memory.
They’ll probably remember the screams most of all, but they’ll also recall the sheer joy of seeing the greatest band that ever walked the earth doing what they did best: Playing the timeless music they wrote and recorded together, live for an audience.
What they probably won’t remember, however, is what The Beatles sounded like.
“The screams were indescribable,” says Giles Martin, the son of Beatles producer George Martin, and the band’s go-to producer since his award-winning work on the band’s 2006 Love album. “The Beatles were amazing musicians and live performers, but almost no one got to hear them, because the screams – as my father used to say – were like a jet airplane taking off.”
Fortunately, recording and especially remix technology has advanced to the point that Martin has been able to salvage The Beatles’ 1964 and 1965 appearances at Los Angeles’ fabled Hollywood Bowl, out today as a companion to Ron Howard’s new film about the band, Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years.
“This project started four years ago,” Martin explains. “I’d been working with some people who’d created something I refer to as demixology – taking a mono track and splitting it into various parts – and I thought, ‘We should get the Hollywood Bowl tapes and see if we can reduce the screams.’ At the same time, we’d also found some better tapes of the Hollywood Bowl shows.
“So we played around with those and then Paul and Ringo and Apple heard what we’d done, and said, ‘This sounds pretty good.’ But I think the best part of it is that we were just looking towards making The Beatles’ live recordings sound better, because we knew the film was on the horizon, and it sounded so good they decided to release it. This didn’t happen because they wanted to release a live album and we had to figure out how to make it sound better.”
The original 1977 vinyl edition of the Hollywood Bowl performances was a curio in The Beatles’ catalog.
While the original album was beloved by hardcore fans, it was in fact only released when The Beatles were unable to stop the release of a poor quality tape recorded during the band’s final visit to Hamburg’s Star Club in 1962.
“My dad was never happy with the album,” Giles confesses. “There’s a reason it only came out on vinyl. It was quite a bit of work, especially with the technology he had.”
The recordings, made by Capitol Records at The Beatles’ single 1964 and two 1965 appearances at the Hollywood Bowl, were rejected by the band when their U.S. label sought to release them as a live album in the ’60s. Remarkably, despite his misgivings, the album that George Martin was able to cobble together from the tapes over a decade later – in the midst of the punk rock explosion – was a hit.
Ironically, in combing through the tapes again, Giles Martin marked as “best” the same performances his father did, nearly 40 years ago.
“I listened to the recordings and I chose the best tracks, and they were the same tracks my dad chose originally,” Martin says, with a laugh. “It wasn’t a deliberate decision, they were just the best performances.”
Faced with the choice of releasing all of the ’64 and ’65 performances – many of which had technical issues – or sticking with what he and his father clearly agreed were the best of the bunch, Martin decided to take the conservative approach.
“My dad made the original album when all of The Beatles were alive,” Martin says. “I thought that since we were in agreement anyway, why not keep the running order the same, but improve it with the technology we have available to us today.”
The songs included – essentially a fantasy setlist from a mid-’60s Beatles concert that never happened – show the band in fierce form. Often dismissed as a live act as a result fading memories and some of the poor quality performances that circulate from later in the band’s touring years, Live at the Hollywood Bowl should be Exhibit A in putting the idea to rest.
With the screams reduced as a result of Martin’s painstaking work, and the thump and crack of Paul McCartney’s bass and Ringo Starr’s drums driving the band, “Twist and Shout,” “Dizzy Miss Lizzie,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “She Loves You,” and “Long Tall Sally” come on like a freight train. John Lennon’s strident rhythm guitar drives “She’s A Woman,” “Boys,” and “All My Loving” and George Harrison’s remarkably effortless, intricate guitar work in the face of it all powers “Ticket To Ride,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help!” along.
“The idea was to create an experience to get the listener as close to The Beatles as possible, so that you feel as though you’re watching The Beatles live,” Martin explains.
“The initial thing that attracts anyone is The Beatles’ music – those great songs – and the feelings that they trigger in you. The thing about a live album at this point is that you can never fulfill that appetite, no matter what you do. But I think we’ve come really close to capturing the experience of The Beatles as live performers. And I think the new version of Hollywood Bowl digs in deeper and you hear the band better than ever before.”
There are also four bonus tracks that didn’t appear on the original 1977 album: “You Can’t Do That,” “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” “Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby” and “Baby’s In Black.”
“I did consider dropping them into the running order,” Giles Martin confesses, keenly aware of some of the criticism from fans prior to the album’s release. “It would make more sense, because the concert essentially ends and then starts up again. But at the same time, the concert is a mix of two or three performances anyway. And besides, I wanted to preserve the original album, as it was for fans, based on the decisions that were made by my father and The Beatles – who were all alive at the time – originally, because everyone was happy with the running order. So that’s why I put those bonus tracks at the end.”
As for future live releases, while Martin says Apple Records was originally keen to release a more comprehensive live album, he felt strongly that the material just wasn’t up to snuff.
“The only multi-track recordings were of the Hollywood Bowl concerts,” he explains. “All the rest are just mono recordings. Besides, I don’t think it would work to release a live album of various sources, because if you took the recordings of the Washington or Swedish shows, for instance – the ones we use in the film – they wouldn’t sound nearly as good as they do as when you’re looking at the band.
“It’s sort of continuity and quality that are the issues. There’s YouTube clips and bootlegs of everything, anyway. The fans can have whatever they want. What we do is make the official product that people go and buy. So we have to work as, in some ways, a filter so that what you’re listening to is not just an historical item, because I’m more interested in music than the history of it.”
When pressed, Martin recalls a quip his father used to use.
“You can polish a turd, but you can’t get rid of the smell,” Martin says with a chuckle. “Just because recordings exist doesn’t mean they should be officially released. On many the quality isn’t very good, and on some the playing is not quite right. I have to respect Paul and Ringo, not to mention George and John, and my dad George, and the way they would think about these things as well. So it’s not only the fans’ perspective I have to watch out for, it’s the artists themselves and their families, and I think it’s really important that we keep the quality at a very high level rather than release every single recorded note. Besides, even if we released everything, people would still be unhappy and still want more!”
Still, Martin is a fan at heart and is clearly moved by the support fans of The Beatles had given his work.
“It’s a huge compliment from Beatles fans that they actually want me to keep doing this,” he says, and we say our goodbyes.
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Frequent TIDAL contributor Jeff Slate is a New York City-based solo singer-songwriter and music journalist. He has written intimate portraits of The Beatles as a group and as solo artists, and about many other rock legends, for publications like Esquire, Rolling Stone and the fanzine Beatlefan, and is a go-to expert for many Beatles-related radio shows. Jeff has appeared at Beatles events and conventions in New York and Liverpool and is a well-known collector of rock ‘n’ roll books and bootlegs, with an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Dylan and The Beatles.
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