Thursday, March 10, 2016

R.I.P. George Martin (1926-2016)

Just couldn't let this one pass without a few words, even if it's mostly cribbed from my own old post...

“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” / The Beatles

I didn’t know what to make of this song in 1967; it weirded me out a whole lot more than the psychedelic images of “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds,” or even the apocalyptic sorrow of “A Day In the Life.” I’m not sure I know what to make of it even now . . . but in some ways it’s my favorite song on this album. And with the news of George Martin's passing, it's a good time to listen again to see what that revolutionary record producer contributed to the brilliance of the Beatles.

Apparently John Lennon transcribed this song almost word for word from an old circus poster, with just a few tweaks to make things rhyme. That info makes this song at least a bit more comprehensible to me. Veering in and out of minor keys, Lennon's melody weaves a nightmare experience -- and the sinister sound effects added by George Martin were crucial.

There's that haunting barrel organ, the whirligig Wurlitzer fills, splashes of tinny harpsichord, the cacophony of triangles and backwards snippets of strings and who-knows-what-else at the end, as Mr. Kite tops the bill. (That part is practically like a Hieronymus Bosch painting.) And above all the stealthy bass line and relentless lockstep drums -- that foregrounded cymbal crash, over and over. It gives me the chills, every time.

The strange phrases filched from the poster only add to the creepy carnival atmosphere – the hogshead of real fire, Henry the Horse dancing the waltz, Mr. Henderson demonstrating ten somersaults on solid ground, it’s all surreal and discombobulated. Whatever the lyrics tell you, the music is telling you that this is dangerous territory – something akin to Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, about an evil traveling show blowing into a small town. Mr. Kite could very well be Satan (Mr. K will challenge the world! Mr. K performs his tricks without a sound! And tonight Mr K is topping the bill!). No wonder it freaked me out when I was 13.

I assume that this tacky showbiz outfit has some parallel to the Beatles themselves, thrust into the spotlight and expected to perform like capering monkeys. The insane circus that surrounded the Beatles – something in this freakish daredevil act obviously spoke to John Lennon. And as Lennon tapped into his subconscious, George Martin was there at his elbow, like a good shrink in his proper English gentleman's suit and tie, feeding him all the aural threads to weave into the tapestry.

Pure genius.


The Modesto Kid said...

A sweet little salute to George Martin from Tony Visconti --

Holly A Hughes said...

Absolutely perfect!!

Anonymous said...

I HATED this song as a kid and I would beg my dad to skip over it when he played the record. It's still not one of my favorites of Sgt Pepper's, but I do appreciate it more now. I mean, listen to all of those crazy sounds!

Steve Hurrell said...

I've found your words and humour after doing a search for 'Girl's talk'. I heard Dave Edmunds version very recent;y and fell in love with that choogling bass and such a wonderful pop song. Now I have flicked through your various entries and find I want to subscribe but am not sure how.

But I think you should know we have similar interests and even likes. I also regularly post a blog based on my photos. I think you will be amused at this one ( for several reasons.

I grew up musically just a few years before you, but from then on my tastes seem to concur a lot with yours according to some of your posts. I also for a short time, worked in production of music videos/promos in the 1980s and particularly on the first three World Party videos. I noticed you posted about him early on. I still love his music, which says a lot because after working for some musicians, you often never want to see or hear of them again.

Do you make spotify playlists which you share? That would be interesting to hear.

Can you let me know (stevehurrell at how to subscribe to this blog Holly? In the meantime I will try to keep watching out for it with interest. It has been fun finding it and you.

Steve said...

Sorry, but I meant to add a specific comment about George Martin. I met him a couple of times when he visited the video production office I was working in at Chrysalis Records in London. I felt really lucky to have met him, even if only very briefly, and he was as charming as you might imagine from the anecdotes everyone has about him. A sad loss to the music world.