TO SAY THAT the late Sir George Martin made a contribution to music is like saying water makes a contribution to growing crops.
It could be argued that he pretty much invented the job we now know of as “music producer”.
In a career that spanned decades, he oversaw countless recordings, from his early work with Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan, notable contributions to James Bond soundtracks, right up to notable work with Cheap Trick and Pete Townshend.
He also helped out Celine Dion, which only goes to prove that no one’s reputation remains completely untarnished.
After leaving the Royal Navy in 1947, Martin studied piano and oboe, skills that would serve him well later. After a brief stint at the BBC he joined EMI in 1950.
His work on several comedy recordings, including the highly influential work of The Goons, transformed the insignificant Parlophone Records imprint into a nicely profitable arm of EMI.
The fifth Beatle
Martin will, of course, be mostly remembered for a working relationship that began on the 6 June 1962, when he auditioned four unknowns from Liverpool at Abbey Road studios, London NW8. We can only imagine what Martin must have thought when The Beatles came through the door.
Here was a man for whom the term “old school” could have been invented, faced with the long haired future, although he hardly could have suspected so at the time.
The story, often repeated, of George Harrison having a go at him for his choice of tie no doubt help to break the ice somewhat.
Although initially musically unimpressed, Martin signed The Beatles for the princely royalty of one penny per record sold, which they could split between them anyway they saw fit. The rest is a history that should be familiar to anyone in possession of a pair of ears.
His contribution to music
His contribution was immense; it is his piano you hear on In My Life, as it was his idea to add strings to Yesterday. The orchestral freak out at the end of A Day In The Life would have been very different without Martin’s expertise.
It was left to him, alongside engineer Geoff Emerick, to finagle the two very different takes we can hear on the Anthology series of Strawberry Fields Forever into the cohesive whole that still astounds.
One could point to any recording by The Beatles (they are, if anything, underrated) and be left slack jawed by its genius, and Martin’s contribution to it, so let’s point at one in particular.
It is difficult if not impossible to imagine what it must have been like being a music fan in 1966, as successive slices of timeless genius exploded from the wireless, especially faced with an age that not only gifts us the like of Westlife and Boyzone, but now some horrific Dr. Moreau-esque splicing of the two.
The Beatles released Paperback Writer in the middle of the year; it shot to number one on both sides of the Atlantic. To give this a bit of context, it replaced the Rolling Stones’ Paint It, Black in the US, and was followed by the Kinks’ Sunny Afternoon in the UK.
And we award Sam Smith an Oscar for a demo. Paperback Writer is a rush of Beach Boys’ harmonies served on a bed of Who-like guitars, the Beatles nicking everything that was going on around them in that very second and making it their own.
John and George jokingly sing “Frère Jacques” in the background for a bit, giddy with joy at how great they are. And then you turn the record over. Rain is a spectacular Beatles song, which is like saying that’s a spectacular sunrise or that’s a spectacular pint of Guinness – they’re all pretty good. And they put it on the B-side.
Not only is it on the B-side, it’s on a single that they didn’t even bother to include on their albums, and the contemporaneous albums are Rubber Soul and Revolver (The Beatles entire recording career lasted seven years, which is about the length of time it takes U2 to set up their gear in the studio).
On this one song, George Martin contributed to the drum sound, the fact that McCartney’s bass is going through an extra speaker for added heft, the recording of Lennon’s voice using a slowed down tape machine, the backwards vocals, and just the massive bang off the record in general.
You know, sometimes you meet people who say they don’t like The Beatles, but they are wrong. Saying you don’t like The Beatles is not the same as saying you don’t like something else.
If someone says to you I don’t like Bob Dylan, for example, then they may be referring to the fact that his voice grates on them, or he’s a bit preachy, or whatever, and that’s fair enough, but when you say you don’t like The Beatles, the problem is not with them, it’s with you, for it is a scientific fact that The Beatles are great.
I prefer the Rolling Stones, but it can most likely be proven in a lab that I am wrong. A lot of that is down to George Martin.
Pat Carty works for the School of Histories & Humanities in Trinity College and is incurably addicted to music.