May 1999
George Martin
Doing It on the Road

ILLUSTRATION: JOSEPH FIEDLER
PHOTO SOURCE : JOHN STODDART
by PAUL D. LEHRMAN

In 1971, I wrote a college paper on the use of electronic music studio techniques in popular music. The paper, one of the favorite things I did in college (having to do with a course, that is), talked in detail about how Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix used the tools--such as tape speed change, looping, echo, reversal, splicing, reverberation and so on--developed by the pioneering composers of the electronic medium. These techniques opened up huge new vocabularies of sound to pop musicians and created a new type of rock music that could never (well, until the advent of samplers, which was quite a ways in the future) be performed on the stage.

In my introduction to the paper, I noted, "By far, the most important contributors to this new field were The Beatles, whose use of tape-manipulation techniques on such albums as Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour set the example for all of those to follow." My friend and fellow music fanatic Carl, when he read that paragraph, immediately opined, "That's an understatement." "Yes," I acknowledged, "but I don't know how to put it any more strongly."

Maybe today I do. How about this: What the Beatles were doing between 1966 and 1969 was so brilliant, so revolutionary, so liberating, so mind-blowing, so fall-on-the-floor-frothing-at-the-mouth amazing, that almost everything else, then or since, pales in comparison. And all of the toys and techniques that we use in the recording studio today, in fact, all of our careers, are a direct result of those projects.

The rest of this column, along with 56 more, is now available in The Insider Audio Bathroom Reader, published by Thomson Course Technology PTR.

Copyright ©2006 by Paul D. Lehrman