Wednesday, March 9, 2016

A Tribute To George Martin: The Fifth Beatle


  1. Paul McCartney:

    “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. His idea obviously worked because the song subsequently became one of the most recorded songs ever with versions by Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye and thousands more.

    “This is just one of the many memories I have of George who went on to help me with arrangements on 'Eleanor Rigby', 'Live and Let Die' and many other songs of mine.

    “I am proud to have known such a fine gentleman with such a keen sense of humour, who had the ability to poke fun at himself. Even when he was Knighted by the Queen there was never the slightest trace of snobbery about him.

    “My family and I, to whom he was a dear friend, will miss him greatly and send our love to his wife Judy and their kids Giles and Lucy, and the grandkids.

    “The world has lost a truly great man who left an indelible mark on my soul and the history of British music.

    “God bless you George and all who sail in you!”


  2. “…[T]he Beatles… clearly understood that a weird creative synergy had existed between them and George Martin from the start. On their Decca audition tape, the Beatles sounded reedy and timid and knock-kneed, a shadow of the band who would record music as vibrant and compelling as I Saw Her Standing There or Lennon’s raw-throated take on Twist and Shout a year later. In the intervening period, Martin had not merely signed the band, but identified drummer Pete Best as a weak link, suggested they dramatically speed up a ‘dreary’ Roy Orbisonish Lennon and McCartney ballad called Please Please Me, thus securing them their first No 1, and put them at such ease in the studio that they could record their entire debut album in just over 12 hours.

    “And they clearly appreciated that, however unlikely a figure George Martin cut at the cutting edge of 60s pop – with his hair oil and his tie and his Royal Navy background – he was every bit as inquisitive, brave and mischievous as they were when it came to music. He was bold enough to encourage their belief they should write their own singles in an age when almost no other artist did. He was flexible and open-minded enough to translate their most playful and abstract requests into reality and completely unflappable when confronted with apparently impossible demands during the making of Strawberry Fields Forever or I Am the Walrus.

    “And he was capable of writing arrangements that made great songs even better: the strings on Yesterday that immediately placed the song somewhere outside of pop music, into the ranks of modern standards; In My Life’s baroque electric piano solo, tweaked until it sounds like a harpsichord, sped up until it felt slightly unearthly, an inventive and effective interpretation of the song’s mood of dreamy nostalgia; the spectacularly inventive kaleidoscope of harmonium, harmonica and calliope that gives Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite! its weird hallucinatory atmosphere.

    “Tellingly, when they attempted to replace Martin, the Beatles called upon the most famous record producer in the world, Phil Spector, and the most famous record producer in the world made a dreadful mess of things. Admittedly, the source material he had to work with on Let It Be wasn’t the finest – Lennon called it ‘the shittiest load of badly recorded shit with a lousy feeling to it ever’ – but, nevertheless, Spector did things that George Martin would never have done, submerging songs in inappropriate orchestral and choral syrup until heartfelt songs sounded like kitsch. It’s instructive to hear Martin’s subtle arrangement on the single version of Let It Be, before the Tycoon of Teen was let loose on it, and audibly took sides in the Beatles’ fractious personal relationships: it’s hard to miss a slight in the way McCartney’s earnest song about his late mother is bookended by John Lennon impersonating a choirboy and a snatch of a folk song about a prostitute…

    “[George Martin] remained unfailingly modest about his role in the band’s success: ‘I can’t imagine anyone who’s been luckier than I have,’ he said towards the end of his life, perhaps safe in the knowledge that he wasn’t the only one blessed by immense good fortune the day the Beatles walked into his studio” (The Guardian).

  3. There are magical combinations of personalities in human history. George Martin and the Beatles truly transformed music in the 1960s. They were truly greater than the sum of their parts.

  4. “…His collaboration with the Beatles inevitably overshadowed his other accomplishments. From 1962 to 1970, Mr. Martin produced 13 albums and 22 singles for the group, a compact body of work that adds up to less than 10 hours of music but that revolutionized the popular music world. After the Beatles broke up, he virtually doubled that output, overseeing archival releases drawn from the group’s concerts at the Hollywood Bowl, BBC radio performances and unreleased studio recordings that reveal a great deal about the Beatles’ working process…

    “A modest man who had been trained as a classical pianist and oboist, Mr. Martin always deflected credit for the Beatles’ success, telling interviewers over the years that his own efforts were secondary to the songwriting genius of John Lennon, Paul McCartney and, to a lesser extent, George Harrison. The Beatles, for their part, recognized that Mr. Martin came to the job with a virtually infallible ear for arrangements. His advice and his behind-the-scenes scoring and editing gave some of the Beatles’ greatest recordings their characteristic sound.

    “When the Beatles played ‘Please Please Me’ for him for the first time, for example, it was in a slow arrangement meant to evoke the style of Roy Orbison, one of their heroes. Mr. Martin told them the song sounded dreary, and insisted that they pick up the tempo and add a simple harmonica introduction. His suggestions transformed ‘Please Please Me,’ which became their first big hit.

    “Always intent on expanding the Beatles’ horizons, Mr. Martin began chipping away at the group’s resistance to using orchestral musicians on its recordings in early 1965. While recording the ‘Help!’ album that year, he brought in flutists for the simple adornment that enlivens Lennon’s ‘You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,’ and he convinced Mr. McCartney, against his initial resistance, that ‘Yesterday’ should be accompanied by a string quartet.

    “A year later, during the recording of the album ‘Revolver,’ Mr. Martin no longer had to cajole: The Beatles prevailed on him to augment their recordings with arrangements for strings (on ‘Eleanor Rigby’), brass (on ‘Got to Get You Into My Life’), marching band (on ‘Yellow Submarine’) and solo French horn (on ‘For No One’), as well as a tabla player for Harrison’s Indian-influenced song ‘Love You To.’

    “It was also at least partly through Mr. Martin’s encouragement that the Beatles became increasingly interested in electronic sound. Noting their inquisitiveness about both the technical and musical sides of recording, Mr. Martin ignored the traditional barrier between performers and technicians and invited the group into the control room, where he showed them how the recording equipment at EMI’s Abbey Road studios worked. He also introduced them to unorthodox recording techniques, including toying with tape speeds and playing tapes backward…" (NY Times).