Tuesday, March 8, 2016

George Martin: An Appreciation of the "Fifth Beatle"

Tonight I got the news George Martin, the producer of nearly every Beatles album, passed away at the age of 90.  While the story of the Beatles is an often told tale, it never seems to to get old.  Many individuals played a pivotal role in the Beatles career, but few are as integral as Martin.

A longtime producer at EMI records, the Beatles came to know Martin as a producer of "The Goon Show", a popular comedy show starring Peter Sellers. 

In 1962 Martin began working the Beatles as a producer on their initial hits such as "Love Me Do" and "Please Please Me."  In the early days Martin worked closely with the group and encouraged them to write their own material.

In time John Lennon and Paul McCartney surpassed Martin and they took on more of the producing responsibilities (the only advantage Martin had over them was that he could read music).  

Martin arranged many of the orchestral arrangements for the group, including 'Yesterday" and "Eleanor Rigby."  Some of the most sublime moments on Beatles records feature Martin.  His piano solo on "In My Life" comes to mind; my favorite moment on Rubber Soul.

The high point of Martin's collaboration with the Beatles was during the making of Sgt. Pepper in 1967. He admired the group's interest in experimentation and never stood in their way, never told them to stick to a formula. I recall a moving interview when Martin recalled the making of "A Day in the Life." He watched John perform the song for the first time and added a wistful reflection, "Even in this early take he had a voice that could shivers down your spine."
Photo from Sgt.Pepper sessions.


Martin continued to work the Beatles on their final records.  During the making of the epic "White Album" Martin grew disenchanted with the band's increasingly erratic approach to recording and often expressed his dislike of the double album for its sloppiness.  He returned to produce the Beatles final effort, Abbey Road. I suspect the lavish and poignant production on side two of Abbey Road owe much to Martin.

He went on to work with a number of other artists and continued to work with McCartney, most notably on the James Bond soundtrack Live and Let Die.

Over the years many referred to Martin as the "Fifth Beatle" and I am inclined to agree. He began as their mentor and evolved into an important collaborator on their road to immortality.  Martin witnessed all those magical moments in the studio; a guiding hand to some of the most creative music of the 20th century.

RIP George Martin (1926-2016)