March 8, 2016 – George Martin (the Fifth Beatle) A trained musician, George Martin worked in the BBC’s classical department before moving to EMI and its subsidiary, Parlophone, producing jazz and classical as well as comedy records for Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Peter Ustinov. He was the genius producer behind a wave of hit British acts in the 1960s, including Gerry and the Pacemakers and Cilla Black, but it was his work with four other Liverpudlians that understandably overshadowed them all.
The Beatles auditioned for Martin on 6 June 1962, in studio three at the Abbey Road studios. Ron Richards and his engineer Norman Smith recorded four songs, which Martin (who was not present during the recording) listened to at the end of the session. The verdict was not promising, however, as Richards complained about Pete Best’s drumming, and Martin thought their original songs were simply not good enough. Martin asked the individual Beatles if there was anything they personally did not like, to which George Harrison replied, “Well, there’s your tie, for a start.” That was the turning point, according to Smith, as John Lennon and Paul McCartney joined in with jokes and comic wordplay, that made Martin think that he should sign them to a contract for their wit alone.
The Beatles’ second recording session with Martin was on 4 September 1962, when they recorded “How Do You Do It”, heavily modified by The Beatles which Martin thought was a sure-fire hit, even though Lennon and McCartney did not want to release it, not being one of their own compositions or style. Martin was correct: Gerry & the Pacemakers’ version, which Martin produced, spent three weeks at No. 1 in April 1963, before being displaced by “From Me to You”. On 11 September 1962, the Beatles re-recorded “Love Me Do” with session player Andy White playing drums. Ringo Starr was asked to play tambourine and maracas, and although he complied, he was definitely “not pleased”. Due to an EMI library error, a 4 September version with Starr playing drums was issued on the British single release; afterwards, the tape was destroyed, and the 11 September recording with Andy White on drums was used for all subsequent releases. Martin would later praise Starr’s drumming, calling him “probably … the finest rock drummer in the world today”. As “Love Me Do” peaked at number 17 in the British charts, on 26 November 1962 Martin recorded “Please Please Me”, which he did only after Lennon and McCartney had almost begged him to record another of their original songs. Martin’s crucial contribution to the song was to tell them to speed up what was initially a slow ballad. After the recording Martin looked over the mixing desk and said, “Gentlemen, you have just made your first number one record”. Martin directed Epstein to find a good publisher, as Ardmore & Beechwood had done nothing to promote “Love Me Do”, informing Epstein of three publishers who, in Martin’s opinion, would be fair and honest, which led them to Dick James.
Martin’s more formal musical expertise helped fill the gaps between the Beatles’ unrefined talent, and the sound which distinguished them from other groups, which would eventually make them successful. Most of the Beatles’ orchestral arrangements and instrumentation (as well as frequent keyboard parts on the early records) were written or performed by Martin, in collaboration with the less musically experienced band. It was Martin’s idea to score a string quartet accompaniment for “Yesterday”, against McCartney’s initial reluctance. Martin played the song in the style of Bach to show McCartney the voicings that were available. Another example is the song “Penny Lane”, which featured a piccolo trumpet solo that was requested by McCartney after hearing the instrument on a BBC broadcast. McCartney hummed the melody he wanted, and Martin notated it for David Mason, the classically trained trumpeter.
His work as an arranger was used for many Beatles recordings. For “Eleanor Rigby” he scored and conducted a strings-only accompaniment inspired by Bernard Herrmann. On a Canadian speaking tour in 2007, Martin said his “Eleanor Rigby” score was influenced by Herrmann’s score for the Alfred Hitchcock thriller, Psycho. For “Strawberry Fields Forever”, he and recording engineer Geoff Emerick turned two very different takes into a single master through careful use of vari-speed and editing. For “I Am the Walrus”, he provided a quirky and original arrangement for brass, violins, cellos, and the Mike Sammes Singers vocal ensemble. On “In My Life”, he played a speeded-up baroque piano solo. He worked with McCartney to implement the orchestral ‘climax’ in “A Day in the Life”, and he and McCartney shared conducting duties the day it was recorded.
Martin contributed integral parts to other songs, including the piano in “Lovely Rita”, the harpsichord in “Fixing a Hole”, the old steam organ and tape loop arrangement that create the Pablo Fanque circus atmosphere that Lennon requested on “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” (both Martin and Lennon played steam organ parts for this song), and the orchestration in “Good Night”. The first song that Martin did not arrange was “She’s Leaving Home”, as he had a prior engagement to produce a Cilla Black session, so McCartney contacted arranger Mike Leander to do it. Martin was reportedly hurt by this, but still produced the recording and conducted the orchestra himself. Martin was in demand as an independent arranger and producer by the time of The White Album, so the Beatles were left to produce various tracks by themselves.
Martin composed and arranged the score for the Beatles’ film Yellow Submarine and the James Bond film Live and Let Die, for which Paul McCartney wrote and sang the title song. He helped arrange Paul and Linda McCartney’s American Number 1 single “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”.
Paul McCartney once commended Martin by saying: “George Martin was quite experimental for who he was, a grown-up.”
Film and composing work
Beginning in the late 1950s, Martin began to supplement his producer income by publishing music and having his artists record it. He used the pseudonyms Lezlo Anales and John Chisholm, before settling on Graham Fisher as his primary pseudonym.
Martin composed, arranged, and produced film scores since the early 1960s, including the instrumental scores of the films A Hard Day’s Night (1964, for which he won an Academy Award Nomination), Ferry Cross the Mersey (1965), Yellow Submarine (1968), and Live and Let Die (1973). Other notable movie scores include Crooks Anonymous (1962), The Family Way (1966), Pulp (1972, starring Michael Caine and Mickey Rooney), the Peter Sellers film The Optimists of Nine Elms (1973), and the John Schlesinger directed Honky Tonk Freeway (1981).
Martin oversaw post-production on The Beatles Anthology (which was originally entitled The Long and Winding Road) in 1994 and 1995, working again with Geoff Emerick. Martin decided to use an old 8-track analogue deck – which EMI learned an engineer still had – to mix the songs for the project, instead of a modern digital deck. He explained this by saying that the old deck created a completely different sound, which a new deck could not accurately reproduce. He also said he found the whole project a strange experience (and McCartney agreed), as they had to listen to themselves chatting in the studio, 25–30 years previously.
Martin stepped down when it came to producing the two new singles reuniting McCartney, Harrison, and Starr, who wanted to overdub two old Lennon demos. Martin had suffered a hearing loss, so he left the work to writer/producer Jeff Lynne of the Electric Light Orchestra.
Martin’s contribution to the Beatles’ work received regular critical acclaim, and led to him being described as the “Fifth Beatle” (in 2016, Paul McCartney wrote that “If anyone earned the title of the fifth Beatle it was George”. However, he distanced himself from this claim, stating that assistant and roadie Neil Aspinall would be more deserving of that title.
In the immediate aftermath of the Beatles’ break-up, a time when he made many angry utterances, John Lennon trivialized Martin’s importance to the Beatles’ music. In his 1970 interview with Jann Wenner, Lennon said, “Dick James is another one of those people, who think they made us. They didn’t. I’d like to hear Dick James’ music and I’d like to hear George Martin’s music, please, just play me some.”
In a 1971 letter to Paul McCartney, Lennon 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 putdown, it’s the truth.” Lennon wrote that Martin took too much credit for the Beatles’ music. Commenting specifically on “Revolution 9”, Lennon said with ironic authority, “For Martin to state that he was ‘painting a sound picture’ is pure hallucination. Ask any of the other people involved. The final editing Yoko and I did alone.”
Lennon later retracted many of the comments he made in that era, attributing them to his anger. He subsequently spoke with great affection and fondness for Martin. In 1971 he said: “George Martin made us what we were in the studio. He helped us develop a language to talk to other musicians.”
Martin produced recordings for many other artists, including contemporaries of the Beatles, such as Matt Monro, Cilla Black, Gerry & The Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas, The Fourmost, David and Jonathan, and The Action, as well as The King’s Singers, the band America, guitarists Jeff Beck, John McLaughlin and John Williams, sixties duo Edwards Hand, Gary Brooker, Neil Sedaka, Ultravox, country singer Kenny Rogers, UFO, Cheap Trick, Elton John, Little River Band, Celine Dion and Yoshiki Hayashi of X Japan.
Martin produced 13 albums and 22 singles for the group between 1962 to 1970. His influence on The Beatles’ output is undeniable: he added strings to songs, encouraged the band to experiment with electronic sounds and harnessed recording techniques from his comedy days to play with backwards vocals and instrumentation.
Martin was among a small group – Phil Spector and Quincy Jones included – who revolutionized what a record producer could do, and an evidently inspirational figure for later generations.
George Martin died on 8 March, 2016 at the age of 90.
Among the many tributes left on Twitter, producer Mark Ronson wrote: “We will never stop living in the world you helped create.”
According to Alan Parsons, he had “great ears” and “rightfully earned the title of “Fifth Beatle”. Julian Lennon called Martin “The Fifth Beatle, without question”.