It was no secret that Paul McCartney took on a greater autonomy during the sessions for The Beatles. That’s the nice way of saying that McCartney would often sequester himself in a separate studio and simply overdub everything a song needed, ignoring his bandmates and undermining their collaborative spirit. Even though he was doing the most to keep the band together, McCartney was also doing the most to split them apart.
McCartney had set a few precedents for himself before the recording of The White Album started. He was the first Beatle to appear on a song without any of his bandmates, recording the guitar and vocals to ‘Yesterday’ solo as George Martin cooked up an accompanying string part. McCartney also began to step into the roles of his bandmates, playing lead guitar on ‘Drive My Car’, ‘Another Girl’, and ‘Taxman’ in place of George Harrison, while providing the riffs for songs like ‘Paperback Writer’ and ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’.
Nobody could pull McCartney away from recording tracks. Over the 213 songs released by the band during their recording career, McCartney is absent on only four occasions: ‘She Said She Said’, where a fight caused McCartney to leave the studio; ‘Julia’, which was just John Lennon and his guitar; ‘Good Night’, which was simply Ringo Starr and a full orchestra; and ‘Revolution 9’, in which McCartney failed to contribute to the avant-garde piece largely assembled by Lennon and Yoko Ono.
But the first track where McCartney completely replaced all of his bandmates was ‘Martha My Dear’, the jaunty piano-led music hall track that McCartney wrote using the name of his sheepdog, Martha. A few of the tracks from The White Album were recorded at Trident Studios instead of the band’s usual home at EMI Studios on Abbey Road, and McCartney entered the studio alone to record the song while Harrison and Starr were focusing on overdubs for ‘Savoy Truffle’. Lennon, meanwhile, was absent during these sessions.
The root of McCartney going solo for ‘Martha My Dear’ came during the final session for ‘Honey Pie’. On October 4th, Martin and McCartney entered Trident to record the woodwinds for ‘Honey Pie’, with McCartney asking to take a final pass at the lead vocal. When that was done relatively quickly, McCartney started assembling ‘Martha My Dear’ with the spare time in the session. Since they had already rented the session players, Martin quickly wrote an accompanying score to add on to the piano and drums that McCartney had recorded that day. While Martin assisted McCartney on the final overdubs for ‘Martha My Dear’ on the 5th, assistant Chris Thomas aided Harrison in his own overdubs for ‘Savoy Truffle’.
It wasn’t even the only song on the album where McCartney appeared alone. ‘Blackbird’ and ‘Mother Nature’s Son’ were both solo acoustic pieces from McCartney, while ‘Wild Honey Pie’ was the deranged improv piece that somehow wound up as the album’s fifth track. In all cases, McCartney was the single solitary Beatle to appear.