Much has been said and written about George Martin. The 5th Beatle. That’s always seemed a little odd. Who was the 1st Beatle? Was Ringo the 4th? This suggested ranking never seemed quite right. Few bands, if any, have had the kind of impact on music the Beatles lay claim to. And few bands had the kind of symbiotic relationship the Fab Four had with Martin. With a different producer, would The Beatles have found their way to Rubber Soul, Revolver, or Sgt. Pepper? We can never say, of course, but one can suppose that Martin’s classical background was the perfect counterpart for the pop genius of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr.
In addition to Martin’s Classical roots, prior to the Beatles he had enjoyed success producing comedy records for the BBC with the likes of Peter Sellers, among others. Perhaps his appreciation of wit made him the ultimate “straight man” for the irreverent, mop-topped band from Liverpool, who themselves loved word play and puns.
Paul wrote “Yesterday” on guitar, but it was recorded with a beautiful string quartet, arranged by Martin. John wanted something Baroque sounding for the middle section of “In My Life”, and it was Martin who wrote the piano solo. When he couldn’t play it at tempo, it was recorded at half-speed. When played back, it was an octave higher, and had the effect of sounding like a harpsichord. One of many happy accidents or discoveries Martin and The Beatles would make over an insanely rich, and all-too brief 7 year span of recording, resulting in one of the greatest catalogues in music history.
It may not have initially been the music that drew Martin to John, Paul, George and Pete (Best – Ringo came a little later), but their charisma. So the legend goes, in any event. But of course, the music they would go on to make together….. If it’s not the soundtrack of your life, maybe it should be, and it almost certainly is part of the soundtrack of the musicians you do listen to. Between writing, recording and producing, it’s hard to fathom the influence that Martin and The Beatles had, and continue to have.
What makes “A Day In The Life” so epic? It’s not John’s Dylan-esque verse, or Paul’s Music Hall B section, each reflecting the writer’s strength. It’s the orchestral crescendo, created and scored by Martin that bridges the two together. Maybe that was Martin’s real gift; he was a conduit, a release for all the music trying to get out of those four lads.
While no one will ever think of Martin without the immediate Beatles association, he also worked with Gerry & The Pacemakers, Jeff Beck, Elton John, Shirley Bassey, America, Kenny Rogers, Celine Dion, Dire Straits, and a host of others.
But it is of course The Beatles with whom he built the legacy he leaves behind. 1st, 3rd, 5th…the man was a Beatle. For that we can all be grateful.
Sir George Henry Martin passed away on March 8th, 2016 at age 90.