Monday, January 13, 2014

Mark Lewisohn's "Tune In" discoveries

While researching the initial installment of his sweeping, obsessively detailed three-part history of The Beatles, Mark Lewisohn unearthed the true story of how George Martin came to be the band's producer. Abridged version: It was a punishment of sorts. From a NYT interview with Lewisohn:
Q: One of the biggest surprises in the book concerns how and why George Martin, the Beatles’ producer, signed them to his label, Parlophone. The story was always that when everyone else turned them down, he saw a spark or originality. But it turns out to have been a far more byzantine transaction.
A: When I wrote the “Recording Sessions” book, I found very little paperwork about their first session, on June 6, 1962, and people who were involved remembered it differently. That was thought to have been an audition. But in 1991 I gained access to another archive within EMI, where I found the studio booking forms, and those showed that at the time of that session, they were already under contract. It was not an audition, or an artist test, or any test at all — it was a proper session, under a contract.
This created a mystery: it meant that George Martin had signed them without having heard them perform live. In 1992, I laid all these documents out in front of him, and I said: “George, can you explain this to me? You appear to have signed them before you saw them.” And he appeared genuinely befuddled by it. He said, “Why would I have done that?” We never resolved it, but I knew there had to be more to it.
Q: The key was someone else who had never been interviewed, Kim Bennett, who worked for EMI’s in-house publisher, Ardmore & Beechwood, which published the Beatles’ first songs. Ardmore & Beechwood pushed EMI to sign the Beatles because it wanted to publish their music, and EMI, after first resisting the idea, agreed because the company saw it as a way to punish George Martin for various indiscretions.
A: I had been looking for Kim Bennett to talk about the early publishing, but unbeknownst to me, he had been trying for years to get people to listen to his story about how the Beatles got signed, and nobody wanted to know. I interviewed him extensively over two days, and I grilled him — to the point where he lost his temper, a bit — because I wanted to be sure I understood this properly, and that it stood up. And the story was that for a combination of reasons, George Martin had his arm twisted to sign the Beatles.
. . .
Other noteworthy details from the book:
- MOJO: "The infamous tug-of-love scene in Blackpool, where five-year-old John Lennon is forced to choose between his mother and father, didn’t happen."
- The Weekly Standard: "Lewisohn tells us, for example, that manager Brian Epstein wanted the chief songwriter to get top billing in credits rather than use the Lennon-McCartney nomenclature; that Epstein was not to blame for the lame set list for their disastrous Decca audition; that the band was briefly known as “Japage 3” for John, Paul, and George; and that Paul McCartney was at the low end of the totem pole when the Beatles first played Hamburg (“Everyone hates him,” bassist Stuart Sutcliffe wrote back home)."

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