By David Werther.
The Beatles, Love (Capital, 2006).
In the short-lived post-Beatles supergroup, The Traveling Willburys, George Harrison co-wrote "Handle with Care." Harrison and company (Dylan, Petty, Orbison, and Lynne) sing about life at the top of rock echelon,
Been stuck in airports, terrorized
Sent to meetings, hypnotized
and then plead
Handle me with care.
The "new" Beatle CD Love is an answer to Harrison's plea. It is fitting that Sir George Martin and his son Giles produced it. George Martin offered the Beatles a contract when no one else would, and produced all of their albums, save the clunker Let it Be. In his career with the Beatles his contributions included string arrangements (e.g., "Yesterday," "Eleanor Rigby"), keyboards (e.g., "In My Life," "Lovely Rita"), and, most importantly, expertise to help the Beatles capture their artistic visions.
The double A side single, "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever," is a good example of Martin's abilities to bring the Beatles' creative ideas into fruition. While Paul was working on "Penny Lane" he attended a concert of Bach's Brandenburg Concerti and came to Martin raving about a high trumpet. He asked if it could be used in his song. In his autobiography, All You Need is Ears, Martin describes the situation: "[Paul] said: 'There's a guy in them playing this fantastic high trumpet.' 'Yes,' I said, 'the piccolo trumpet, the Bach trumpet. Why?' 'It's a great sound. Why can't we use it?' 'Sure we can,' I said, and at that he asked me to organize it for him. Now the normal trumpet is in B flat. But there is also the D trumpet, which is what Bach mostly used, and the F trumpet. In this case, I decided to use a B-flat piccolo trumpet an octave above the normal. To play it I engaged Dave Mason, who was with the London Symphony Orchestra."
For his side of the single, "Strawberry Fields Forever," John presented Martin with a greater challenge. In his autobiography Martin describes Lennon's request and his response: "A few days later he [John] rang me up and said: 'I like that one, I really do. But, you know, that other one's got something too . . . I like the beginning of the first one, and I like the end of the second one. Why don't we just join them together?' 'Well, there are only two things against it,' I said. 'One is that they're in different keys. The other is that they're in different tempos.' 'Yeah, but you can do something about it, I know. You can fix it, George.' . . . . I thought: If I can speed up the one, and slow down the other, I can get the pitches the same. And with any luck the tempos will be sufficiently close not to be noticeable. I did just that, on a variable-control tape machine, selecting precisely the right spot to make the cut, to join them as nearly perfectly as possible. That is how "Strawberry Fields" was issued . . ."
In some ways the Love CD was a challenge from George Harrison. Harrison told Ringo and Paul that he wanted to see one more Beatles' collaboration. And when Harrison's friend Guy Laiberte of the French-Canadian theatrical company Cirque du Soliel asked George Martin to provide music for a Beatles show, Ringo, Paul, Yoko Ono, and Olivia Harrison gave their blessings, and also feedback along the way.
The result is 78 minutes of Beatles music that, in some sense, has never been heard before. In the case of "Gnik Nus" familiar music is literally turned around; "Sun King" is played backwards. "Because" from Abbey Road is a cappella. "Yesterday" begins with an acoustic guitar introduction from the White Album's "Blackbird." Ringo sings "Octopus's Garden" with the backdrop of the string arrangement from "Good Night." "Drive My Car," "The Word," and "What You're Doing" are presented as a medley. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is George Harrison's acoustic demo with a string arrangement written by George Martin, and it is simply lovely. Ed Sullivan's introduction at the beginning of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and the audience reaction injects Beatlemania into the mix. And the juxtaposition of "I Am the Walrus" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand" dramatically demonstrates how much musical territory the Beatles mastered in a very short time.