Saturday 12 March 2016


The identity of the true "fifth Beatle" has been hotly debated for half a century, but the strongest case can be made for Sir George Martin. The band's trusted and loyal producer, Martin served as expert and conspirator, taskmaster and mad scientist, friend and father figure throughout the band's studio life. He shaped their songs in ways that are seldom appreciated but impossible to forget.

Unlike most producers of his era, his creative daring fostered an environment where it was acceptable to explore and expand the realm of the possible. He played with the Beatles, in every sense of the word — by picking up an instrument, or merely indulging their curiosity and translating their abstract musical fantasies into reality. "He was always there for us to interpret our strangeness," recalled George Harrison. It's difficult, and frightening, to imagine the Beatles' artistic trajectory had they been paired with anyone else. His role as a confidant, advocate and realizer cannot be overstated.
As we mourn his death at age 90, we remember his life and the incredible work he did with "the boys." These are favorite moments in the Beatles' catalog that we owe to George Martin.

*When John Lennon and Paul McCartney first played "Please Please Me" for George Martin during their second EMI recording session on September 4th, 1962, the song was miles away from the uptempo tune that would become their first Number One. "At that stage 'Please Please Me' was a very dreary song," Martin recalled to historian Mark Lewisohn. "It was like a Roy Orbison number, very slow, bluesy vocals. It was obvious to me that it badly needed pepping up." He suggested they speed it up double-time, and suddenly they had a hit on their hands.  "We were a bit embarrassed that he had found a better tempo than we had," admitted McCartney in The Beatles Anthology

*When Paul first completed "Yesterday" he literally dreamed up, the rest of the band were at a loss for what to play on it. The somber tone and mournful lyrics didn't really lend themselves to an effective drum pattern, jangly guitars or even vocal harmonies. Martin convinced McCartney to grab an acoustic guitar and just sing the song by himself, a first in Beatles history. He also suggested another Beatle first: a string quartet. At first the notion conjured up thoughts of syrupy Mantovani schmaltz, and the young man resisted, but Martin assured him that it could be done tastefully. The part was the first of many elegant arrangements the producer would create for their songs.

*John knew he had something special when he completed this introspective lyric,("In My Life") born out of a poem about his Liverpool childhood. Space had been left for a solo, but an electric guitar felt out of place on such a delicate track. He knew he wanted "something baroque sounding," but the actual instrument eluded him. Martin took it upon himself to deliver the desired result. "While they were having their tea break, I put down a baroque piano solo which John didn't hear until he came back. What I wanted was too intricate for me to do live, so I did it with a half-speed piano, then sped it up, and he liked it."

*"For No One" - George Martin took a very collaborative approach when working out arrangements with his young charges. There are many instances of Martin transcribing musical notation on the spot, wrestled from the Beatles' impromptu whistles and hums. But perhaps the most memorable occurred during the recording of this Revolver track. When singing the solo that he wanted from a French horn, Paul unknowingly hummed a note that was off the scale of the instrument and technically impossible to play. Martin informed him of this, yet the Beatle was undeterred. "George saw the joke and joined the conspiracy," Paul said later. But session man Alan Civil was such a pro that he proved able to hit the high note, giving the song its emotional climax.

*The Beatles had recorded the bitter George composition "Only a Northern Song" during sessions for Sgt. Pepper, but Martin's intense dislike of the song (he later called it "the song I hated most of all" from Harrison) caused him to block its inclusion on the album. Instead, Harrison submitted the regal "Within You Without You" to his musical comrades about a month later.  Martin oversaw a gorgeous East-meets-West arrangement that blended Indian instrumentation with a swooping string section. Its inclusion on Sgt. Pepper cemented Indian music's place in the soundtrack of the sixties. 
*Though all of the Beatles' piano skills vastly improved during their recording career, none tickled the ivories like Martin. When Paul's "Lovely Rita" required some slick honky-tonk piano, the producer's hands were enlisted to provide the tricky parts. He also did similar duties on the bar-room ballad, "Rocky Raccoon."

*"Strawberry Fields Forever" -The Beatles had lavished more studio time on John's hallucinatory new song than nearly any track to date, recording take after take and eating up 55 hours worth of tape. Ultimately, the decision came down to two distinct versions — a faster one backed by George Martin's bombastic orchestral arrangements, and a gentle, dreamier run-through. Lennon was torn — he liked the quiet beginning of the latter and the raucous end of the former.
"He said, 'Why don't you join the beginning of the first one to the end of the second one?'" Martin explained. "'There are two things against it,' I replied. 'They are in different keys and different tempos.'" While easy to fix today, this was a serious problem in the analog age. But the technologically illiterate Lennon wasn't fazed. "'Well,' he said, 'you can fix it!'"
Armed with little more than two tape machines and a pair of scissors, Martin and his star engineer Geoff Emerick performed a minor mechanical miracle by adjusting the speed on both takes and literally cutting the two tapes together at the 60-second mark. It's become one of the most famous edits in rock history.

*"All You Need is Love"-The Beatles recorded this Summer of Love anthem live on a worldwide television special broadcast by satellite. For the fade out, Martin composed what could be considered an orchestral proto-mashup, with fragments of "Greensleeves," Bach's Invention No. 8 in F Major and the big-band swing classic "In the Mood" all weaving in and out. But it was the last title that nearly got Martin in trouble for copyright infringement.

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