So Martin filled out their sound with English orchestration. What he found at first was plenty of energy, three great harmony voices and a pedestrian rhythm section – no real instrumental flavour at all. So in the early recordings he made the vocals do most of the work: not just harmony but call-and-response, vocal fill-ins which other bands would have done instrumentally.
But then he built up the guitar sound, fattening the bass and letting the guitars chime and rasp. That was Revolver. But then came the real Revolution in the Head. The Beatles started out thinking they were an American band – the great black R&B girl groups, the great white males, Presley, Holly, Orbison and the Everlys, were their touchstones. But lurking was Englishness: McCartney’s music hall whimsy, Lennon’s Lewis Carol jabbernonsense and Goonery.
So we get Martin's orchestral colour flooding into the Beatles arrangements: the Bernard Hermann inspired strings on Eleanor Rigby; the insidious fairground calliope of Mr Kite, the English psychedelic colours of Penny Lane, Lennon’s true Ur-song of alienation (“No one I think is in my tree”) Strawberry Fields, Baby You’re a Rich Man adding a synthesized Indian shenai to the mix, and of course I am the Walrus, about which more soon.
And the Beatles instrumental contribution was now fat and confident: McCartney’ stomping multitracked piano and vertically spaced bass lines; Harrison’s piercing guitar fills that meshed perfectly with Martin’s use of cello; McCartney’s sometime stinging lead guitar lines.
If there’s one song that perfects the Martin sound it is I am the Walrus. When Lennon sings “Sitting in an English garden waiting for the sun...” orchestrally, we are transported to a Vaughan Williams pastoral amazingly twinned with Lennon’s deadpan acid vocal line: Martin must have been waiting for this moment.
Sadly, the arc of this flowering was cruelly truncated. If I am the Walrus was the apogee of ripeness, a track recorded a few months earlier shows the rot already taking root. All You Need is Love is a bloated, turgid, mostly three-chord song – a Twist and Shout overproduced with all the Martin machinery. Then came the Get Back movement. The Beatles abandoned their rich orchestrations to return to rock and roll, bequeathing their Martin inheritance to the Electra Light Orchestra.
Lennon was now the jealous guy again, a late-Elvis kind of figure, with all the horror and tedium that implies.