In a place and time not so long ago, music was delivered on vinyl disks. For anyone who doesn’t remember, these flat plastic disks were called ‘records’ and some of the very best of them were produced by an Englishman named George Martin.
Sir George Martin, the man without whom the Beatles might never have happened, died March 8 at the age of 90. Former Beatle Ringo Starr confirmed the sad news via Twitter.
Sometimes referred to as ‘the fifth Beatle,” George Martin was much more than that. Yes, he worked studio magic on records such as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road, but his musical expertise was evinced at recording sessions well before he began working with the Beatles in the early 1960s.
Prior to collaborating with John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison, collectively known as the Beatles, Martin produced a number of jazz acts and comedy albums by Peter Sellers, Dudley Moore and Spike Milligan on the EMI Parlophone label, states The Hollywood Reporter.
George Martin was an all-around music man who acted not only as a record producer (and a fine one at that). Martin was a music company executive, song arranger, Knight of the British Empire and, as if that all were not impressive enough, George Martin was also a musician and a writer. That’s Martin playing piano on the Sgt. Pepper song “Lovely Rita” and his harpsichord work on “Fixing a Hole.”
According to Billboard Magazine, when Martin got his first earful of the demo record the Beatles made for Decca Records, he was not impressed. He did, however, notice something special about the vocal harmonies between the young men who would, under his tutelage, become the most popular pop band of all time.
In 1962, George Martin signed the Beatles to Parlophone and the rest, as they say, is musical history. One of Martin’s first acts was to recommend that drummer Pete Best be replaced by a ring-wearing percussionist named Richard Starkey. Martin then encouraged the foursome to focus on recording their own songs in lieu of the cover songs they’d been performing in German nightclubs.
The first single the Beatles recorded at Parlophone was called “Love Me Do.” Recorded in the summer of 1962, the U.S. release featured Andy White on drums and Richard Starkey, who by that time was going by the moniker, Ringo Starr, on tambourine. John Lennon did double duty on guitar and harmonica. The record, with its flipside song, “P.S. I Love You,” made it to # 17 on U.K. charts.
The next Beatles song recorded at Parlophone was their first produced by George Martin. The song was called “Please Please Me.” Martin suggested they ramp up the tempo a bit, and they did. Upon completion of the final take, George Martin told the band, “Gentlemen, you have just made your first #1 record.” He was correct. The happy-go-lucky love song zoomed to the top of U.S. records charts, setting a precedent that would be followed by a long string of Number One hits.
One of those hits was a little number called “Yesterday.” It was George Martin who conducted the string quartet on “Yesterday” –which remains to this day the most-recorded song in musical history. Martin also conducted the string section on “Eleanor Rigby” and “Day in the Life.”
In his 1979 memoir, All You Need Is Ears, George Martin described his association with The Beatles.
“I must emphasize that it was a team effort. Without my instruments and scoring, very many of the records would not have sounded as they do. Whether they would have been any better, I cannot say. They might have been. That is not modesty on my part; it is an attempt to give a factual picture of the relationship.”
In addition to his celebrated collaboration with The Beatles, Martin produced records for Mahavishnu Orchestra, Peter Gabriel, Dire Straits, Meat Loaf, Sting, Celine Dion, Stan Getz and other notable musical acts.
Martin was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1996 and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999, according to BBC News. The man won numerous Grammy awards and was honored with an Oscar for scoring the soundtrack to the 1964 Beatles movie, A Hard Day’s Night. Other film scores attributed to Martin include Shirley Bassey’s soulful rendition of “Goldfinger” and the Paul McCartney-penned “Live and Let Die.” Both were featured in James Bond 007 movies of the same names.
In more recent years, George Martin, along with his son and protegee, Giles Martin, remixed more than 130 Beatles songs that became the sound score for the Grammy-winning Cirque du Soleil show, Love.
Born in Highbury, London on January 3, 1926, Martin was 90 years old when he died on March 8, 2016. His loss leaves an aching wound in the heart of the music world. Sir George Martin is survived by four grown children and Judy Lockhart Smith, his wife of almost fifty years.
Rest in peace, Sir George. You made a difference, and you will be missed for a very long time.
[Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images]