The great George Martin, his contributions to the Beatles’ sound still highly underrated, has passed at the age of 90:
Martin had been dubbed “The Fifth Beatle” for his work with the legendary rock band. He signed the Beatles to EMI’s Parlophone record label in 1962 and went on to produce some of the most popular and influential albums of modern times — “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Revolver,” “Rubber Soul,” “Abbey Road”. Along the way, Martin and the Beatles elevated rock LPs from ways to cash in on hit singles to art forms, “concepts.”
Martin later recalled meeting the quartet for the first time and realizing their potential, saying “I liked them as people apart from anything else, and I was convinced that we had the makings of a hit group.”
However, he was not convinced they had songwriting ability.
“As composers, they didn’t rate. They hadn’t shown me that they could write anything at all,” he once told the magazine Melody Maker. “‘Love Me Do’ I thought was pretty poor, but it was the best we could do.”
Martin both witnessed and enabled the extraordinary changes of the Beatles and of the 1960s. From a raw first album that took just a day to make, to the months-long production of “Sgt. Pepper,” the Beatles advanced by quantum steps as songwriters and sonic explorers, turning the studio into a wonderland of tape loops, multi-tracking, unpredictable tempos, unfathomable segues and kaleidoscopic montages.
“Once we got beyond the bubblegum stage, the early recordings, and they wanted to do something more adventurous, they were saying, `What can you give us?”‘ Martin told The Associated Press in 2002. “And I said, `I can give you anything you like.”‘
Martin was endlessly called on to perform the impossible, and often succeeded, splicing recordings at different speeds for “Strawberry Fields Forever” or, for “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” simulating a calliope with keyboards, harmonica and a harmonium that the producer himself played with such intensity he passed out on the floor. Martin would have several good turns on the keyboards, performing a lively music hall solo on McCartney’s “Lovely Rita” and a speeded-up Baroque reverie on Lennon’s “In My Life.”
Paul McCartney has issued a statement, which reads in part:
I’m so sad to hear the news of the passing of dear George Martin. I have so many wonderful memories of this great man that will be with me forever. He was a true gentleman and like a second father to me. He guided the career of The Beatles with such skill and good humour that he became a true friend to me and my family. If anyone earned the title of the fifth Beatle it was George. From the day that he gave The Beatles our first recording contract, to the last time I saw him, he was the most generous, intelligent and musical person I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.
It’s hard to choose favourite memories of my time with George, there are so many but one that comes to mind was the time I brought the song ‘Yesterday’ to a recording session and the guys in the band suggested that I sang it solo and accompany myself on guitar. After I had done this George Martin said to me, “Paul I have an idea of putting a string quartet on the record”. I said, “Oh no George, we are a rock and roll band and I don’t think it’s a good idea”. With the gentle bedside manner of a great producer he said to me, “Let us try it and if it doesn’t work we won’t use it and we’ll go with your solo version”. I agreed to this and went round to his house the next day to work on the arrangement.
He took my chords that I showed him and spread the notes out across the piano, putting the cello in the low octave and the first violin in a high octave and gave me my first lesson in how strings were voiced for a quartet. When we recorded the string quartet at Abbey Road, it was so thrilling to know his idea was so correct that I went round telling people about it for weeks…