As the music world mourns the “Fifth Beatle” George Martin, who passed away yesterday at the age of 90, one somewhat unpleasant little story currently doing the rounds is how John Lennon once snarled that the legendary producer took too much credit for the music of The Beatles.
George Martin was renowned worldwide as one of the great architects of music, and he was also affectionately know as the “Fifth Beatle” for playing a pivotal role in shaping the sound of the Fab Four.
Alongside John, Paul, George, and Ringo, Martin redefined the possibilities of pop music and was essential in helping four young guys from Merseyside take on the world and win.
Known as both an artist and a gentleman, Martin helped fuse Lennon’s sullen, sardonic, and magnetic presence, McCartney’s’ cheery, breezy bluster, Harrison’s introverted spiritualism, and Ringo’s happy-go-lucky vibe into a four-headed beast called The Beatles.
Yet the Beatles first meeting with George Martin on that fateful day of June 6, 1962, at Abbey Road studios, while it changed pop culture forever, wasn’t without its hiccups.
There was always going to be a clash of cultures between the predominantly working class Beatles and the upper-middle class Martin.
Perhaps this is what led George Harrison to snap at their initial get together, “For a start, I don’t like your tie.”
Years later, perhaps the staunchest “Working Class Hero” in The Beatles, John Lennon, would react angrily and rather militantly to a George Martin interview in 1971 where the “Fifth Beatle” told British Music Weekly that Lennon and Yoko Ono’s 1971 song “Power To The People” “[wasn’t] really very good”.
“I don’t think Linda (McCartney) is a substitute for John Lennon, any more than Yoko is a substitute for Paul McCartney.”
The Mirror reports that tension between the pair was revealed in letters penned by John Lennon at the height of his fame, which were later published in 2012.
In response to the Fifth Beatle’s snub of Lennon and Yoko’s protest song, the angry Beatle wrote, “When people ask me questions about ‘What did George Martin really do for you?’, I have only one answer, ‘What does he do now?’ I noticed you had no answer for that!”
“It’s not a put down, it’s the truth.
“I think Paul and I are the best judges of our partners. Just look at the world charts and, by the way, I hope Seatrain is a good substitute for The Beatles.”
Seatrain was of course, the U.S. band George Martin worked with in the aftermath of The Beatles’ bust-up.
Yet, despite hitting out at his old producer from time to time, if still alive, Lennon would no doubt join his old sparring partner Paul McCartney, who said in a statement released today that George Martin was like, “a second father to me.”
“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.”
Perhaps after the dust had settled and the wounds had healed, it was John Lennon who best summed up the deeply rewarding and enriching relationship between the Fab Four and the Fifth Beatle in a television interview he once gave.
“George had done little or no rock ‘n’ roll when we met him and we’d never been in a studio so we did a lot of learning together.
“He had a very great musical knowledge and background so he translated for us and suggested a lot of things which he did. ‘Look chaps, I thought of this, this afternoon and I came up with this.’ And we’d say, ‘Oh great, we’ll put it on here.’
“He taught us a lot and I’m sure we taught him a lot with a primitive musical knowledge.”
(Photo by Chris Ware/Keystone/Getty Images)