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’.
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.
I had a house of my own in London. More than that, I actually had a housekeeper looking after the house. The time was ripe to get a dog. I had always liked the look of Old English sheepdogs, so I went along to a place in Milton Keynes, about an hour north of London, and selected this little dog. I named her Martha.
I’m pretty sure I was taken in by Old English sheepdogs because of those television ads for Dulux paint. Dulux had started using an Old English sheepdog as a brand mascot back in 1961. It’s a terrible thing to admit, but I’m a sucker for ads. The Dulux dog looked so loveable. It’s not the only choice I’ve made because of what you might call product placement. For instance, I got myself the Aston Martin I mentioned earlier because I’d seen the first James Bond films and was quite impressed by the car.
Anyhow, I got Martha and she was a lovely little dog. I just adored her. One of the unlikely side effects was that John became very sympathetic towards me. When he came round and saw me playing with Martha, I could tell that he liked her. John was a very guarded person, which was partly where all his wit came from… Seeing me with Martha, with my guard down, all of a sudden he started warming to me. And so he let his guard down too.
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.
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.
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.
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.