For Stage Show, Producer Mashes Up Beatles

By David Bauder

It's the Beatles as they never even imagined themselves.

The Beatles' "Love" album being released on Tuesday is a thorough reinterpretation of their work, with familiar sounds in unfamiliar places, primarily created by the son of the man who was in the control room for virtually all of their recording sessions.

It's a mashup, even though Giles Martin said he hates the word. John Lennon sings "he's a real nowhere man" in the background of the instrumental track to "Blue Jay Way." The keyboard of "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite" dissolves into the plodding guitar of "I Want You (She's So Heavy)."

"Strawberry Fields Forever" builds from Lennon's acoustic demo into a psychedelic swirl of sounds that incorporates bits of "Hello Goodbye," "Baby You're a Rich Man," "Penny Lane" and "Piggies."

The project was created for a collaboration with Cirque du Soleil and has the endorsement of Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and the widows of Lennon and George Harrison, Martin said.

"I had fresh ears — if you can have fresh ears to the Beatles — and my job was to make things different," said Martin, who was born in 1969 as the band was breaking up.

The rules were simple: Beatles tracks only, no electronic distortion of what they recorded, and no newly recorded music. The single exception was a string arrangement, written by original Beatles producer George Martin, to accompany an acoustic version of Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."

Of course, the idea for the album itself distorts songs that fans have been familiar with for 40 years, in some cases. "There will be a lot of people pissed off about this," Giles Martin said, "but it was all in fun."

Count Bob Spitz, author of "The Beatles: The Biography," among the unhappy fans.

"I'm disappointed," Spitz said. "Not by the end product but by the fact that they are the Beatles' songs and overdubbing them and massaging them allows other people to impose their own creative ideas on something that was so immediate and of a particular time. I thought that legacy was virtually tamper-proof, until now.

"Once you meddle with something so fixed in the public's mind you will risk having a failure on the proportion to Twyla Tharp doing Bob Dylan," Spitz said, in a reference to the musical that is closing Sunday after less than a month on Broadway.

Spitz said the Beatles' company, Apple, has become adept over the past 15 years in putting new twists on the band's catalogue for projects like "Love," which pointedly arrives in stores at the beginning of the holiday shopping season.

At the very least, it's a grand guessing game. Where is that instrumental passage from? What will come next?

Martin, a former jingles writer who has had production or mixing credits on Jeff Beck, Elvis Costello, INXS and Kate Bush albums, likened the project to "going through your dad's closet."

He did most of the work at the Abbey Road studios, where the music was originally recorded. His dad, now 80, is hard of hearing and his primary job was to interpret his knowledge of the Beatles, saying whether or not Lennon would have liked something, for instance.

Giles Martin said he came away impressed with the Beatles' abilities as a unit. Even when cracks were appearing in their personal relationships at the end, you could still hear the chemistry and quality in the music, he said.

Periodically, he would invite the two Beatles and two widows hear what he had done.

"They didn't have any disagreements," he said. "They really didn't. Yoko was concerned about the quality of John's voice on 'Strawberry Fields Forever' because it was a demo. All they care about is whether it's good or bad."

During a playback of "Come Together," McCartney leaned over to Starr and said, "I remember that. We were really good on that day."

Starr said hearing the finished product was powerful for him and that "I even heard things I'd forgotten we'd recorded."

When journalists were recently invited into a New York studio to hear Martin play some of the songs, a security guard stood at the entrance to make sure no CDs or recordings snuck out. Beatles received the same treatment, Martin said. They weren't allowed copies of the project in progress, Martin said.

As a producer, Martin said the term "mashup" implies two things rammed together — like when producer Danger Mouse, now of Gnarls Barkley fame, mixed Jay-Z's "The Black Album" and the Beatles' classic "White Album" for an underground hit. While those type of projects can be good, Martin said they don't stand up to repeated listenings, which he believes is what sets "Love" apart.

It was a unique bonding experience for the two Martins. Giles wasn't around to experience those key moments in his father's career and through "Love," by extension, he was.

"Without question, it gave me enormous respect for him and them," he said. "His world was laid bare in front of me, as was their playing. We'd smile at each other and say, 'They were really good, weren't they?'"

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