“Martha My Dear” is a Beatles’ song on their “White Album” from 1968. The inspiration for the song came about from Paul McCartney’s Old English Sheepdog, also named Martha.
Recorded: 4th & 5th October, 1968
Studio: Trident Studios, Soho, London
Genre: Music hall
Track Duration: 2:28
Record Label: Apple Records
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Barry Sheffield
Paul McCartney: double-tracked lead vocals, piano, bass, drums, handclaps, brass and string arrangement
George Martin: brass and string arrangement:
Bernard Miller, Dennis McConnell, Lou Sofier, Les Maddox: violin
Henry Myerscough, Leo Birnbaum: viola
Frederick Alexander, Peter Halling, Reginald Kilby: cello
Leon Calvert: trumpet, flugelhorn
Ronnie Hughes, Stanley Reynolds: trumpet
Tony Tunstall: French horn
Ted Barker: trombone
Alf Reece: tuba
Martha My Dear
Written wholly by Paul McCartney, the song credit goes to the songwriting team of Lennon-McCartney, of course. The song features a piano solo for around the first 20 seconds only for that to blend in perfectly with a string and brass section arranged by George Martin. The piano intro piece clearly has the feel of some music hall inspired script.
“When I taught myself piano I liked to see how far I could go, and this started life almost as a piece you’d learn as a piano lesson. It’s quite hard for me to play, it’s a two-handed thing, like a little set piece. In fact I remember one or two people being surprised that I’d played it because it’s slightly above my level or competence really, but I wrote it as that, something a bit more complex for me to play. Then while I was blocking out words – you just mouth out sounds and some things come – I found the words ‘Martha my dear'”.
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles
Some people wrongly believed that the song was a covert message of love to Jane Asher who was McCartney’s lover for the previous five years. However, McCartney insists that the song was about his Old English Sheepdog, Martha:
“She was a dear pet of mine. I remember John being amazed to see me being so loving to an animal. He said, ‘I’ve never seen you like that before.’ I’ve since thought, you know, he wouldn’t have. It’s only when you’re cuddling around with a dog that you’re in that mode, and she was a very cuddly dog……..
It’s a communication of some sort of affection but in a slightly abstract way – ‘You silly girl, look what you’ve done,’ all that sort of stuff. These songs grow. Whereas it would appear to anybody else to be a song to a girl called Martha, it’s actually a dog, and our relationship was platonic, believe me”.
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles
Of the four Beatles, only Paul McCartney features on “Martha My Dear” while George Martin provides the brass and string section. Although we know that George Harrison was present and playing his electric guitar during parts of the recording, it is not clear whether he features on the final mix.
Paul McCartney began recording the track on the 4th October, 1968, at the Trident Studios in Trident House, Soho, London during the 4.00pm-4.30am session. In this case, only one take was necessary to complete the rhythm track on the eight-track tape recorder. Obviously this shows the true professionalism of McCartney and the production team. Remember also that this was at a time when the band were not getting along at all.
The eight-track tape recording facilities allowed for greater flexibility, of course, and overdubbing was a lot easier. Meanwhile, Paul McCartney recorded his vocal piece again while tweaking the track.
On the 5th October, during the 6.00pm-1.00am session, further overdubbing occurred in order to complete the song.