The Beatles (White Album) artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 4, 5 October 1968
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Barry Sheffield

Released: 22 November 1968 (UK), 25 November 1968 (US)

Available on:
The Beatles (White Album)


Paul McCartney: vocals, piano, bass, lead guitar, handclaps
George Harrison: electric guitar
Ringo Starr: drums
Bernard Miller, Dennis McConnell, Lou Sofier, Les Maddox: violins
Leo Birnbaum, Henry Myerscough: violas
Reginald Kilbey, Frederick Alexander: cellos
Leon Calvert, Stanley Reynolds, Ronnie Hughes: trumpets
Leon Calvert: flugelhorn
Tony Tunstall: French horn
Ted Barker: trombone
Alf Reece: tuba

The jaunty ‘Martha My Dear’ was written by Paul McCartney as a piano exercise, and was released on the White Album.

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
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

McCartney had bought an Old English sheepdog puppy in 1965, soon after buying his house in Cavendish Avenue, London. He named the dog Martha, and she was his first pet.

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.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

Many listeners have interpreted the song as a message of love to Jane Asher, whom 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’.

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.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

In the studio

‘Martha My Dear’ was recorded over two days at Trident Studios in Soho, London, which had eight-track facilities.

Work began on 4 October 1968. McCartney recorded vocals and piano first, and between 9pm and midnight 14 session musicians added brass and string parts. George Martin had written the score to a demo previously taped by McCartney.

Paul McCartney and George Harrison recording Martha My Dear, 4 October 1968

The session musicians were violinists Bernard Miller, Dennis McConnell, Lou Sofier and Les Maddox; viola players Leo Birnbaum and Henry Myerscough; cellists Reginald Kilbey and Frederick Alexander, trumpeters Leon Calvert, Stanley Reynolds and Ronnie Hughes; French horn player Tony Tunstall; trombonist Ted Barker; and tuba player Alf Reece. Leon Calvert also added a flugelhorn part after the main overdub had been completed.

George Harrison and Ringo Starr also played on the recording. Harrison’s electric guitar can be heard most clearly during the “Take a good look around you” section.

From midnight to 4.30am McCartney re-recorded his lead vocals, adding handclaps to the instrumental section at the same time.

The next day he completed the song with the addition of bass and lead guitar parts.

Previous song: ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’
Next song: ‘I’m So Tired’