All the greatest bands were more than a sum of their parts.
A band at it’s best is a team but if you add to this team then you have the army of genius.
Joy Division were the four band members plus the vision of Martin hand, Tony Wilson, Peter Saville, Rob Gretton – the Beatles were the same.
Without George Martin it could not have ever been the same. The urbane, gentlemanly, older producer almost, initially, seemed like stuffy establishment juxtaposed against the youthful band but his open mind and his garrison of talents was vital in letting the band realise it’s vision. Also his musicianship was key and his brilliance at letting he band’s imagination run riot and seek out the sounds they were yearning for makes him easily the ‘fifth Beatle’.
It seems hard to imagine now through the mists of time but the very idea of the house producer at EMI having any understanding of rock n roll or having his interest pricked by the young band seems amazing – a real boundary breaking moment and then to go on one of pop’s great trips with his charges is a wonderful story.
But then he had worked with the Goons and had handled Spike Milligan’s insane genius – a deal maker for both sides when the fabs arrived in the studio for their first meeting in the early sixties.
The eternal vision of the polite and well spoken George Martin in his shirt sleeves realising the brilliant and increasingly lysergic visions of the band in the perfect Abbey Road studio is a pop culture staple. His skill at string arrangements, his willingness to explore new sounds and his genius at inventing new ways of working make him arguably the greats producer of them all.
1. The Beatles ‘Strawberry Fields’
The dark brooding atmosphere of Lennon’s tripped out masterpiece and paean to his youth is a perfect piece of sound. The multilayered song that oozes backwards and forwards is an insanely difficult piece of music to create and record and captures the vision of Lennon and adding to it was George Martin as his very best. The textures and sounds created by strings and various other instruments are expertly recorded and arranged and sound perfectly natural where in other hands they would sound like a mess and that’s not even mentioning the famous join when George spliced together two different versions of the song into one with a razor blade and very steady nerve.
2. The Goons
The absurd humour of Spike Milligan was captured on their spoof record releases which were produced by George Martin which had the dual purpose of giving him an eventual big dose of credibility for the Goon loving Lennon and for the opportunity to indulge and frame creative madness and genius for the producer.
3. Love Me Do
Those first sessions are key because George Martin held all the cards. This was make or break for the Beatles. At that point in time the band may have been a big local phenomena but that meant nothing to the snooty London music biz types who were still decades away from realising that musical talent comes from outside their gilded capital walls. George Martin was the last chance saloon for the band and when he heard them he recognised something in their humour and playing.
4. Hard Days Night
The hardest job for a producer is to capture the moment – the simplicity of reflecting the situation so perfectly that everything sounds so effortless. Instead of meddling with perfection, instead of adding everything but the kitchen sink and just leaving it as it is. Set the mics up, create the atmosphere and press record – sounds simple – but it’s not. The early Beatles recordings are some of the greatest raw rock n roll records ever made. Of course a lot of this is down to the band being on creative fire but in any other hands this could have been muffled and ruined. Somehow the very un rock n roll George Martin supervised this period perfectly.
5. Abbey Road suite
Arguably the Beatles greatest moment saw the band return from the chaos of the Let It Be sessions and back to the studio to make their last stand – an album that showcased their creativity and their discipline which was remarkable in the fractious situation they found themselves in.
Key to this was the school masterly atmosphere provided by George Martin who was brought back to the fold to recreate the perfect team. The band now long haired, bearded, multi millionaires fell into the perfect patterns of their glory years and the suite of songs on side two threaded together from song fragments by Macca and George Martin was their perfect epitaph. It’s complex, almost classical ebbs and flows took some doing.
6. Shirley Bassey ‘Goldfinger’
It’s not all Beatles but they are hard to get around. The 1964 Bond theme may have been supervised by John Barry but George Martin is credited as producer and his finger prints are all over the song with the instrumentation.
7. The Beatles ‘Yesterday’
The string arrangement on the song is exquisite and sound so much part of the famous song that it seems hard to believe that McCartney was initially reluctant to have it on the track until George played him some Bach to show how it could work. It’s this meeting of George Martin’s in depth knowledge of the classical and the Beatles’ then cutting edge pop that both cemented the band permanently in music history and gave their songs a new added depth.
8. The Beatles “Eleanor Rigby’
Not just the producer George Martin was an active creative member of the team and on Eleanor Rigby he scored and conducted a strings only accompaniment inspired by Bernard Herrmann. This creative brilliance saw him as far more than just the mics guy and fully earning his mantle as the fifth Beatle.
9. The Beatles ‘In My Life’
It’s great if you are in the studio with a producer and they can play better than the band. Need a varispeeded-up baroque piano solo? then get George on the keys adding another brilliant texture and flavour to an exquisite song and adding to its atmosphere and its permanence. These interventions from George Martin show a sensitivity and understanding that are far removed from the ego driven nonsense of so many producers. He knew what to add and how little to add and when he added it changed everything.
10. The Beatles ‘ A Day In The Life’
The climatic orchestra on A Day In The Life is one of the great pop culture moments. That finally juddering note which he worked on with Paul McCartney for the orchestral climax in A Day In The Life is one of the great pop culture moments and he and McCartney (Note it was Macca and not Lennon that was in the mix for so many of these key creative moments) shared conducting duties the day it was recorded.