When was it recorded? Oct. 4-5, 1968
When was it first released, and on which album? Nov. 22, 1968 on “The Beatles”
Who wrote it? McCartney
Have I heard this song before? Yes
What my research dug up:
Alan Pollack wrote in his notes on “Martha My Dear,” “I’m not embarrassed to admit I’m of that generation for whom the suggestion that this song was dedicated to the composer’s sheep dog was a disambiguating revelation.” I, on the other hand, am from a generation where such information is now common knowledge so I’m definitely coming at this song from a different angle.
Way, way back in the day, according to the Beatles Bible, “[m]any listeners… interpreted the song as a message of love to Jane Asher, who McCartney intended to marry in 1968. However, in 1997 he revealed that it was his dog that had been the inspiration behind ‘Martha My Dear.’”
“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.” — Paul McCartney (Barry Miles, Many Years From Now)
Martha was an Old English sheepdog Paul purchased as a puppy in 1965. She died in 1981 at 15 years old.
As for the song’s melody, that was based on a simple piano exercise Paul used to practice.
“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’.” — Paul McCartney (Barry Miles, Many Years From Now)
Though aided by a number of studio musicians, Paul is the only Beatle performing on “Martha.” He began recording the song Oct. 4, bringing in brass and string players from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM. According to the Beatles Bible, “George Martin had written the score to a demo previously taped by McCartney.”
Paul re-recorded his vocals and added handclaps from midnight to 4:30 AM on Oct. 5. He came back later that day to add bass and lead guitar. Yowza.
I really like this song. Listening to it again, I think the lyrics are maybe a tad thin, but the orchestration is fascinating enough to make up for it. Before one style wears out its welcome, the song transitions into something else, keeping the listener on their toes. It’s exactly the kind of song I want to listen to on a Saturday morning.