From the string quartet on Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday” to finding the sonic equivalent of chanting Tibetan monks on “Tomorrow Never Knows,” George Martin – as many have already written in the wake of his death yesterday – deserved the title of “the fifth Beatle” more than anyone else.
I could say that Martin, who was 90, guided the Beatles through the bulk of their recording years together, but I then wonder how one guides the equivalent of a revolution or an earthquake? But however you want to categorize it, for much of their time as Beatles, the group told Martin how they wanted their music to sound and Martin – with huge assists from Geoff Emerick and other engineers, of course – figured out how to do that.
Sometimes, of course, it was the other way around, with one good example coming near the very start when Martin insisted that “Please Please Me” be a fast rock number instead of the ballad that John Lennon and McCartney had planned.
And sometimes, Martin’s influence on the greatest band of all time wasn’t directly involved with the sound at all: I’ve read in several places that after the disaster of the Get Back sessions and Phil Spector’s ham-handed production on the album that was eventually released as Let It Be, McCartney asked Martin if he’d work with the band and produce another album. Despite his reservations after the Get Back/Let It Be debacle, Martin agreed. And the brilliant Abbey Road was the result.
During his long career with EMI and then on his own, Martin worked, of course, with many other musicians and groups, but his name will always be linked most closely with the four young men from Liverpool whose aural visions and dreams he helped make real.
(I’ve seen a lot of good pieces online about Martin and the Beatles since yesterday. One of the best came from Justin Wm. Moyer of the Washington Post. It’s here.)
As a musical capstone to this inevitably insufficient post, I thought for moment about Sean Connery’s recitation of the lyrics to “In My Life,” a piece that closed the 1998 album Martin intended to be his last production. But I’ve offered it before, and In My Life turned out not to be the last: Martin and his son Giles remixed and combined numerous Beatles’ tunes for the soundtrack for Cirque du Soleil’s 2005 show Love.
So I poked around the shelves and found something a little more obscure: A 1968 album titled By George! Credited to George Martin & His Orchestra, it included covers of a few Beatles tunes. From that album, here’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”