March 9, 2016

George Martin — the brilliant producer who made The Beatles The Beatles we know — has died at the age of 90.

If there are death triads, he fits with Nancy Reagan, who made Ronald Reagan the Reagan we know. (Didn't she?)

The NYT has a lovely obituary, written by Allan Kozinn. Excerpt:
In the dozen years before he met the Beatles, Mr. Martin produced symphonic, chamber and choral recordings, jazz albums and a string of popular comedy records by Peter Ustinov, Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan. In the 1960s, as the recordings he made with the Beatles rode the top of the charts, he also produced hits by other British Invasion acts, among them Gerry and the Pacemakers, Cilla Black, and Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas. He later worked with a diverse roster of pop and jazz performers, including Ella Fitzgerald, the Bee Gees, Jeff Beck, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Paul Winter, Cheap Trick, America and Ultravox....

When the Beatles played “Please Please Me” for him for the first time... it was in a slow arrangement meant to evoke the style of Roy Orbison, one of their heroes. Mr. Martin told them the song sounded dreary, and insisted that they pick up the tempo and add a simple harmonica introduction. His suggestions transformed “Please Please Me,” which became their first big hit.
My son John — who has studied The Beatles more than I would have thought possible — writes:
George Martin wasn't just a great producer who happened to work with the greatest rock band of all time. There's a reason he's called the fifth Beatle, but even that honorific fails to capture what he really did. He didn't merely provide so many studio innovations that it's possible to pick out many Beatles songs where his effect on the finished product was at least as important as that of some of the actual Beatles. He radically challenged every preconception of what a rock band was supposed to be, in a way that didn't just change what the Beatles sounded like, but changed the next 50 years of music.
John quotes a passage from the Ian MacDonald book "Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties":
Lennon wandered into an antiques shop and picked up a Victorian circus poster advertising . . . a show put on by some travelling tumblers . . . in 1843. This appealed to his sense of the ridiculous and, when the new album [Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band] called for another composition from him, he hung the poster on the wall of his home studio and, playing his piano, sang phrases from it until he had a song. Taking it to Abbey Road, he asked George Martin for a "fairground" production wherein one could smell the sawdust — which, while not in the narrowest sense a musical specification, was, by Lennon's standards, a clear and reasonable request. (He once asked Martin to make one of his songs sound like an orange.) While The Beatles' producer worked more naturally with the conventionally articulate McCartney, the challenges of catering to Lennon's intuitive approach generally spurred him to his more original arrangements, of which Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! is an outstanding example. Using harmonium, harmonicas, and a tape of Victorian steam organs and calliopes cut up and edited into a kaleidoscopic wash, he created a brilliantly whimsical impression of period burlesque, ideally complementing Lennon's dry nasal delivery. Few producers have displayed a tenth of the invention shown here.
 ADDED: Here's George Martin explaining his work on "Please Please Me":



AND: Here's a whole 51-minute BBC documentary about George Martin:

18 comments:

Fabi said...

R.I.P.

Fritz said...

The Beatles are so Yesterday.

dustbunny said...

I remember Martin saying it was their personalities that first caught his interest, their music was not in his particular wheelhouse but their humor was as he was involved with Sellers and the Goon Show.

CStanley said...

Wow....highly recommend that BBC video. i clicked on it just intending to view a sample but was mesmerized, couldn't turn it off. What an incredible talent. RIP.

Johanna Lapp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Johanna Lapp said...

Here's the Bleaker Street Cowboys recreating that original slow version of Please, Please Me. Apparently the Beatles demo was overwritten to save tape, so we'll never know what might have been. But I think Martin was right.

This incident surely inspired the Wonders' hit tune That Thing You Do.

https://s3.amazonaws.com/PopGeekHeaven/PGH+-+Surprise+Box/Bleaker+Street+Cowboys+-+Please.mp3

surfed said...

The world wont see the likes of him again.

damikesc said...

Probably the single most unsung genius in music history. Without him, the Beatles are still playing in German strip clubs and making asses of themselves. He made them into the most successful act in music history.

Bay Area Guy said...

@damikesc

The Beatles without George Martin = The Monkees

damikesc said...

The Beatles without George Martin = The Monkees

I doubt they'd have been that successful. The Beatles from Germany would've never hit it big without Martin changing everything...including their look and behavior on stage.

William said...

In life as well as music, he seems to have hit all the right notes......His success was justly but not riotously celebrated. He lived the appropriate number of years. He seems to have led a pleasant life and he didn't subvert its pleasures with rock star excesses.......It's comforting to read about a talented man whose genius was not subverted by his deficits and contradictions......You can't help but think of Phil Spector and all the discordant rhythmns in that life. Martin found just the right tempo for the melody of his life.

Char Char Binks said...

George was my favorite Beatle.

AMDG said...

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=CnVyCuc9_P8

George Martin with Brian Wilson in a studio.

Martin was great, but at his best, Wilson was better.

walter said...

Blogger damikesc said..
would've never hit it big without Martin changing everything...including their look and behavior on stage.
--
That guy was Brian Epstein

Edmund said...

The work Martin and his son did in the remixing and editing for the Cirque du Soleil show "Love" is amazing. He managed to refresh some of the songs into something new, yet still The Beatles.

RigelDog said...

God they were so beautiful...I honestly didn't realize that---thank you for posting the videos.

Fabi said...

If you have the chance, go back and listen to some of the demo tracks from Anthology -- I believe they're available on iTunes and a few of the streaming sites. Some of their finest songs were, with all due respect, sadly lacking. Martin changed tempos, colors, instrumentation, sequence -- almost every secondary aspect of composition -- to unearth their gems. His classical music training was an incredible bonus.

If additional proof is needed look to the heavy-handed garbage that Phil Spector brought forth on Let It Be. Their deglazing of Let It Be Naked wasn't a cure-all, but Martin would have been a blessing on that album as well.

Rhythm and Balls said...

I loved this little five-minutes clip of him with Brian Wilson.

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/music/posts/la-et-ms-watch-george-martin-los-angeles-god-only-knows-brian-wilson-20160309-story.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnVyCuc9_P8

Watching him work is an absolute joy.