This George Martin obituary was written by Jen Taylor, a GIGsoup contributor
George Martin has died peacefully in his home in England at age 90. Best known as the producer of The Beatles, his legacy extends beyond just that, as he has been one of the biggest influences on the music industry and the cultural revolution he helped to shape.
In 1962, George Martin was working at EMI, after a stint in the Navy and his studies in piano and composition at the Guildhall School of Music. From the first time he came across them, Martin saw something in The Beatles that other big labels had failed to see. At that time the demos were raw, and Martin himself thought they were not completely up to scratch, but he saw in the band a quality that stood out to him and decided to take a chance. Some say the pairing was due to luck, but Martin has proved from his varied career that he has an ability to see potential in people and bring out the best in them.
In a time that had previously been dominated by soloists, no doubt Martin was infinitely relieved that this chance paid off, with Lennon and McCartney proving they could write BIG hits. However, the necessary ingredient was the input and direction of Martin; turning ‘Love Me Do’ from a dragging ballad into the catchy pop tune it became. He worked on their look, their sound, even changed their line-up; he helped mould them into the group that became arguably the biggest that has ever existed. He gave them the guidance and focus they needed, while still allowing them the support and flexibility to be creative.
By 1966 The Beatles decided they would no longer tour, and George Martin found himself with a band who were now dedicated solely to recording music. He guided their music and their career through its evolution, and along the way pioneered countless musical effects, including the idea of running vocals backwards to create atmospheric sounds. The magic he worked on the primitive 4-track tape recorder he had at his disposal will forever go down in history as resourceful and absolutely genius.
Martin fitted in seamlessly with The Beatles – unsurprisingly people might not realise the impact he had on their recordings. His hand was on all those memorable moments; from the ‘Ooh la la’ vocals in ‘Nowhere Man’ to the strings he added in ‘Yesterday’ (much to the initial horror of McCartney who was worried it would ruin their rock band status). From the sped up harpsicord solo that makes ‘In My Life’ stand out, to the aggressive and emotional string arrangement in ‘Eleanor Rigby’, and the absolutely inspired orchestral arrangement of ‘A Day In The Life’. While The Beatles created the ideas, it was George Martin who added the detail and built up the overall sound, transforming their thoughts into realities, experimenting every step of the way to enhance their music beyond what anyone could have imagined.
As things broke down with The Beatles, it was time for Martin to move on, and he understandably became one of the most sought after producers. He established his own studio ‘Air Studios’, and attracted artists such as Elton John, The Police and Dire Straits.
He worked with a swathe of different artists over the 6 decades of his career, both before and after The Beatles, and produced over 700 records. He even lent his skills to the James Bond franchise twice, producing Shirley Bassey’s ‘Goldfinger’ in 1964 and again in 1973, producing the epic ‘Live and Let Die’ with Paul McCartney.
Martin had a knack of working with difficult and strong personalities, from the quirky but often argumentative and strong-willed Fab Four, to comedians such as Peter Sellers and The Goons. He even turned Jim Carey and Robin Williams into singers for the album he compiled in 1998, ‘In My Life’. He was a charming character, always kind and affable, but knew how to challenge the artists he worked with to get the very best out of them.
George Martin is one of the few producers in history who was as famous as the band he shaped, and in 1996 he received his Knighthood, a year before Paul McCartney received his. While Martin’s fame may have come from his work with The Beatles, his prowess wasn’t necessarily defined by it.
Tributes have come in all forms and from so many sources, but a particularly memorable sentiment was made by producer and performer Mark Ronson, who said: “We will never stop living in the world you helped create.”