Giles Martin talks Beatles' 'Yellow Sadmarine' rarity and why 'Revolver' was a 'prog' album: 'If any other band did this, they'd be accused of being pretentious'

The Beatles in August 1966, the month 'Revolver' was released. (Photo: Roger Viollet Collection/Getty Images)
The Beatles in August 1966, the month 'Revolver' was released. (Photo: Roger Viollet Collection/Getty Images)

After the late Sir George Martin’s son, Giles Martin, oversaw the boxed-set reissues of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, White Album, Abbey Road, and Let It Be, it’s time for 1966’s watershed record Revolver to get the same treatment. This was an especially tricky project for the younger Martin, since his father once said in 1987 that it wouldn’t be possible to create a stereo remix of Revolver, but as the song says, tomorrow never knows: Due to new developments in recording technology, the impossible is finally possible.

Along with Giles and engineer Sam Okell’s new stereo and Dolby Atmos mixes of the groundbreaking studio album’s 14 tracks (all sourced directly from the original four-track master tapes), the physical and digital Super Deluxe collections also feature the album’s original mono mix, 28 early takes from the sessions, three home demos, and a four-track EP with new stereo mixes and remastered original mono mixes for “Paperback Writer” and “Rain.” But perhaps the most surprising previously unreleased gem among the box’s four discs and 68 tracks is a melancholy, acoustic, completely transformed “Yellow Submarine,” with forlorn lead vocals by John Lennon.

Below, Yahoo Entertainment chats with Giles about the Revolver reissue, and it turns out that — despite being so deep in the Beatles’ world his whole life and working on various Beatles projects — he’s just as big a Fab Four fan as the rest of us.

Yahoo Entertainment: So, Revolver has always been my favorite Beatles album, but to be honest, “Yellow Submarine” has never been one of my favorite Beatles songs. I always found it too sing-songy and nursey-rhymey. It never even seemed like a John Lennon composition to me. But then I heard Lennon’s much darker work-tape version of “Yellow Submarine,” which I like to call “Yellow Sadmarine,” and my jaw dropped. I think that's going to be the rarity from this box that everyone talks about.

Giles Martin: Yeah, it’s funny, isn't it? “Yellow Submarine” is one of the most famous Beatles songs, but certainly not one of the most respectedBeatles songs. … I always think of these as sketches, like you go to an art gallery and you see sketches before the painting's done, and sometimes those sketches are be surprising, because they're not how they should be. And this is one of the ones just like that. I always thought “Yellow Submarine” was written by Paul and then given to Ringo; I didn't realize it was a collaboration. And this is John doing “Yellow Submarine,” and it's quite sad. It's like the submarine is sinking, but it's lovely. [laughs] I think what's fascinating about that demo is that it's in three/four, and “in the place where I was born, no one cared, no one cared” is a very sad sentiment. But the demo shows kind of in real time the unfolding of the drama, if you like, of Lennon and McCartney — that sort of interplay between one person who is coming from one place, and another person coming from another place. And yet there's a symbiotic collaboration, which is unquestioning about the direction they're going to go in. There's a trust that happens between the two of them.

Paul obviously transforms the song into “Yellow Submarine.” John completely accepts that. And this is during Revolver, obviously, but we hear that same dynamic on them next album, Sgt. Pepper’s, where Paul has this endless enthusiasm of singing, “It's getting better all the time” and John sings, “It can't get much worse” back. [laughs] That's the way they were. And I think that this whole [Revolver] album is them being individuals, but they have complete empathy for each other's talents and they're not challenged by their individuality, if that makes sense. They realized that the Beatlemania monster had expired and they'd become four individuals, but they knew that the DNA they had together created a sound that no other band could do. And it created a number of sounds. The [demo] feel of “Yellow Submarine” is very different from the [album] feel when Ringo does it; they later managed to sort of turn it into this sort of swing/pop song that suits Ringo.

Since you mention Ringo Starr, I interviewed him recently and asked him what his favorite drum parts were and he said the pre-Revolver sort of companion single “Paperback Writer”/“Rain,” which are included on the Revolver boxed set’s bonus EP. Do you have any insight into why he would've cited these two Revolver-era tracks specifically?

Well, the one thing you have to remember is no one really told Ringo how to play the drums — which is obvious when you hear him play the drums, because he's a completely unique drummer. … And I think this period of time, with this album, is when Ringo went away from Merseybeat. Like, he was a Merseybeat drummer — that style of “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Can't Buy Me Love,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” And that kind of feel had gone. If you listen to “Tomorrow Never Knows” or “Paperback Writer” or “Rain,” a number of songs from this era, he's changed the way he plays. He's become a much more percussive drummer. I think he really enjoyed Revolver because… he was part of that process as they tracked things live. I imagine that's the reason why he's choosing those two songs. But I think that this whole era is when he changed as a drummer.

Since we are discussing individuality in the context of making Revolver, we of course have to talk about my favorite Beatle, George Harrison. I'm curious about the ways in which he came into his own on this record. I mean, Revolver opens with one of his most iconic compositions, “Taxman.”

Yeah, and the interesting thing is that’s kind of a throwback interpretation of Merseybeat, in a way. But that wasn't seen as George’s main influence in the Beatles, which is the Indian influence and the spiritualism, that kind of stuff, which you hear in “Love You To.” In the Scorsese documentary Living in the Material World, George says he had Lennon and McCartney [in his band], and he felt his songs weren't as good as theirs. But I think the key behind Revolver is that acceptance and empathy and progression. My dad always used say he felt sorry for George because Paul and John would rely on each other for songs, and George was on his own. I’ve always found it amazing that there's no Lennon/Harrison songs, or McCartney/Harrison songs. But I think that at this particular time, with Revolver, it wasn't a question of “how many songs do people get?” It was unusual that George would have three songs on an album, but it made absolute sense.

Was there something particularly unique regarding their bond and camaraderie during the time when this album was made?

What’s interesting about Revolver is it’s the only album where they really had a break before doing anything; they had three months off. ... So, listening to these sessions, going back to the Revolver demos, going back from [later albums] back to 1966, it's like a different band. You can hear it in their voices. They're different. They just don't seem tired. You get the sense that they are coming back from holiday.

A lot of people, including myself, consider Revolver to be the Beatles’ finest album. How do you feel about that assessment?

Do I think it's their best work? I think it's a pretty bloody great record, but it depends on the mood you're in. Like, if you’re in a White Album mood, then that's your favorite Beatles album. But Revolver is amazing, because it's like a concept album. That's the weird thing about Revolver: If any other band did this, they'd be accused of being pretentious! Like, I can’t think of another pop song [like “Eleanor Rigby”] that is just a string octet and voices. There isn't one! Or just having “Tomorrow Never Knows” on the same album — it's like a prog album. And it would be even more of a prog album, apart from all the songs are about two and a half minutes long — and they're all good! [laughs] They are pop songs, but they have the weirdest kind of treatment, if you think about it. We're just used to them now, but at the time it must have been really weird to go, “Hey, let's put on this album.”

Album cover designed by artist Klaus Voorman for the Beatles' album 'Revolver,' August  1966. (Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Album cover designed by artist Klaus Voorman for the Beatles' album 'Revolver,' August 1966. (Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Do you know if there was any concern from the record label, from management, whatever, that the Beatles might be committing career suicide putting out a record like Revolver in 1966?

Well, I think the Beatles had a couple of advantages. First of all, they were the Beatles! [laughs] And second, their singles weren't on their albums. So, their albums were kind of treated like different things. People have this idea that the Beatles sort of turned their backs on wanting to be successful. Of course, that's not the case. They continued to be successful, but they pushed their albums harder, and then they would go, “OK, ‘Paperback Writer’ is the single.” That was the way they did things. They had the buffer of having these really successful songs that weren't on the albums, and then thought, “We can do whatever the hell we want on our albums. And this is what we're going to do.”

I mean, the Beatles didn't happen by accident. If you get to know Paul McCartney, he is a really intelligent man. These guys were all super-bright and knew what they were doing. They know what their market is, if you can be so crass say that. And I think that they went, “OK, we've been the best pop band, we've been the toppermost of the poppermost, and we've been the most successful live band” — which they were, the first stadium band — “and now we're going to be the biggest recording band in the world.” And Revolver is what they did in order to achieve that and push boundaries. As my dad used to say, they never made Jaws 2. If they’d done it once, they didn’t have to do it again. And Revolver is the ultimate example of that, in that it sounds like seven or eight different bands.

Is it even fair to say that the Beatles kind of invented the idea of the album? When they came up, it was not an album-driven market at all. I feel like a Revolver was instrumental in the whole idea of albums being events.

I think that's a really good point. I mean, obviously the Beach Boys were doing the same thing at the same time with Pet Sounds, so it wasn’t just the Beatles. But I think what a lot of artists use the album format for is not so much as a collection, but trying to write a single and missing and then just putting those other songs on there. The Beatles almost deliberately wrote songs that were challenging to put on their albums, because they had the protection of the album around them. Case in point: “Tomorrow Never Knows,” which was a risk. But people also forget that the Beatles had a supreme confidence to them. Revolver is a really confident record. They're not going, “Oh, have a listen, we're going to try this; I hope people like it.” It's more like, “We're the Beatles and this is what we're doing now.” And that was the thing they had. They sort of surfed on this wave of endless enthusiasm and self-belief.

Where do you think that supreme confidence, from the very beginning, came from?

I think it’s because they had each other, and they believed in each other. And there was a lot of love there as well. Obviously I don't do these projects in isolation, and the two Beatles who are alive are very present and they remember it all. And they tell me what happened. And the one thing I get from both of them, which I'm sure should be the same thing the other two would say as well if they were here, is that unquestionable appreciation for each other. I speak with Paul, and it's almost with regrets that he knows that the Beatles is the best it's ever been. It's the best band he’s been in. He never got that band back. … They had that kind of thing where if anyone fell down, the others would pick them back up. As Paul says, they were four corners of a cube. And without one of those corners being there, it would collapse. And that's where their belief came from.

Producers George Martin and Giles Martin at the Grammy Awards in 2008. (Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)
Producers George Martin and Giles Martin at the Grammy Awards in 2008. (Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

Is it too much for me to argue that the Beatles even kind of invented the idea of being in a band, as we tend to think of “bands” now? When I was watching Get Back and seeing them jam, or have arguments and resolve them, that’s one of the takeaways I had…

That’s also a really good point. People forget about that. When my dad signed the Beatles, there weren't bands. There were singers in bands. There was Buddy Holly & the Crickets or Cliff Richard & the Shadows, for instance. And my dad was just basically going, “Which one is Cliff Richard?” Because Cliff was the most successful British artist. “Which one is Richard, and who are the Shadows?” [laughs] And then it became terribly apparent that there wasn't a Cliff Richard; there wasn’t a “leader.” All three of the people that were standing up sang, and then the bloody drummer started singing as well! Even now, if I'm dealing with them, Paul says, “What does Ringo think? What does Ritchie think?” And Ringo goes, “What does Paul think? Has he agreed to this?” You know, as Paul says to me, “Everyone writes about the Beatles, and everyone has opinion about the Beatles” — and we sit in in these rooms and I try to be as non-partisan as possible — “but the fact of the matter is, there are four Beatles, and only the four of us knew what it was like to be in the Beatles. No one else did, and no one else ever will.” But yeah, they were the archetypal band, one of the first, and obviously one of the greatest bands that has ever been. And they never could have existed without each other. … You know, people look for the secret button, that secret thing like, “Oh my God, if only if I had George Martin here or if I was at Abbey Road, I could make a sound like the Beatles.” But no. You couldn't.

Of course, there's been so much speculation about what Beatles would've been like would they have made an album like Revolver or even gotten to that point? had Pete Best not replaced Ringo, or if Stu Sutcliffe had lived and stayed in the lineup…

Oh, no, no. They’d have been a very different band. Pete Best wasn't actually, in my opinion, a great drummer. My mum gave me an acetate that she found in our loft, and it was that one copy that existed of “Love Me Do” with Pete Best playing drums. I listened to it when was about 20 years old, and I phoned up my dad and said, “This is ‘Love Me Do,’ but the drums aren't very good. I think it must be Pete Best.” And he went, “I don't think we ever recorded with Pete Best…” But it turned out they did, and that was it. But you can tell. I mean, Ringo's a solid drummer. You always can tell when it's Ringo. And especially on Revolver, you can really hear what he does.

Going back to Revolver specifically, its last track, “Tomorrow Never Knows,” is one of my all-time favorite Beatles songs. What was it like deconstructing your father's legendary production on that monster?

Well, the thing about that track is in your mind, you thinkit's complex. But it really is not complex at all. … There's only four things happening on that track. But the efficiency of it is such that, as is the case with great music or great art or great films or great books or whatever, the single brush strokes paint an entire picture. And that's what “Tomorrow Never Knows” is. And so, working on it is ironically quite complex, because you haven't got much to deal with. One of the things I try to do is treat these records how you remember them — does that make sense? In essence, you can be with someone you love and listen to an AM radio, and the music sounds so great because you're with someone you love; your brain fills in all the blanks. In that way, coming out of a little mono speaker, “Tomorrow Never Knows” in 1966 must have sounded like another world. So, my job in 2022 is that when it comes through your speakers, it should still sound like another world, but now everything is laid bare in front of you because of the technology we have and the way we're listening to it. So, I try to make the songs sound how you remember them. It’s complicated.

What were some of the other most rewarding tracks you worked on when tackling this project?

Well, because of De-mix technology, it was those quiet shots, like “She Said” where you suddenly have Ringo much more dynamic, or you suddenly hear the kick drum in “Here, There, and Everywhere” or the snare drum in “For No One.” And you realize that the band are actually playing this song, without it being distracting. Like, you suddenly hear the band play in the room, and it's that visceral connection. You get the beauty of music. The beauty of great bands is they make a great noise together. You listen to Revolver and it's like, my God, this is just four 24-, 25-, 26-year-olds — young kids — just opening themselves up and opening the world up to a whole new journey of sound and music. And the point behind doing all of this is that music doesn't actually get old. The Beatles were like 26 or 25 when they did Revolver, and they're still 26 and 25. … Whether I've changed the acoustic guitar at the beginning of “Yellow Submarine” or all that stuff, that's completely missing the point about how songs touch you. It's not a forensic exercise.

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