Why Paul McCartney and a French Horn Player Almost Fought While Recording ‘Revolver’
When you hear about shouting matches during Beatles recording sessions, the usual suspects are John Lennon and Paul McCartney. It makes sense in a lot of ways. John and Paul wrote the bulk of the band’s material and often came into the studio juggling multiple ideas.
So when Paul dragged out the recording of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” across five days, you understand why John might snap at him. The same goes for Paul telling his bandmates to stuff it and walking out during the “She Said She Said” sessions. (George Harrison filled in on bass.)
However, you never hear much about John or Paul (or anyone else) clashing with the classical musicians producer George Martin hired to play on Beatles tracks. Though Paul made an odd request during the recording of the strings for “Yesterday,” those sessions went well enough.
The same can’t be said for Revolver’s “For No One” sessions. To make Paul’s gorgeous ballad truly sing, Martin hired Alan Civil, one of England’s greatest French horn players. It didn’t go well.
The horn player ‘nearly exploded’ following a silly comment by Paul.
On “For No One,” Paul asked George Martin to get a French horn player for a short solo in the middle. In Anthology, Paul spoke of how much he loved the instrument and how he thought it was perfect for what became one of Revolver’s highlights.
Once Martin notated the music based on what Paul told him, he got Civil, who’d been leading the horn section at the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, to play it. However, things got off to a bad start as soon as Civil read the score.
Paul and Martin had included a high F in the part — a note that was outside the instrument’s range. Meanwhile, Civil disliked everything else about the song. In The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Civil said it was “in rather bad musical style, in that it was ‘in the cracks,’ neither B-flat nor B-major.”
Nonetheless, he set his feelings aside and delivered the exquisite solo you hear on the record. Only Paul didn’t think so. “Well, OK, I think you can do it better than that, can’t you, Alan?'” Martin recalled Paul saying in Anthology. Then, “Alan nearly exploded.”
Paul couldn’t tell how great Civil had played on ‘For No One.’
Martin had known Civil for years and felt somewhat embarrassed by Paul’s remark. “Paul didn’t realize how brilliantly Alan Civil was doing. We got the definitive performance,” Martin said in Anthology. “He didn’t do it better than that, and the way we’d already heard it was the way you hear it now.”
In Geoff Emerick’s recollection in Here, There and Everywhere, Civil crushed what was an impossible assignment for most horn players. “Paul’s attitude toward outside musicians was ‘You’re being paid to do a job, so just do it.'”
Of course, Civil did it, delivering a solo that makes the Revolver track. As for the near-explosion Martin recalled, Civil eventually kept his cool. Like a great session musician, he simply considered it another day at the office. And Martin, in his typically discreet way, left it there.