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Martin's genius touched Beatles and beyond

Martin stands with poster of the Beatles in 1984.
NPR
/
Martin stands with poster of the Beatles in 1984.

“The Fifth Beatle” – it’s become a catch phrase for the unsung hero or unofficial collaborator.  In the legendary story of the Beatles, there are quite a few “fifth Beatles.”  The ill-fated Stu Sutcliffe actually was the fifth member of the fledgling group in its formative Hamburg days.  Manager Brian Epstein, keyboardist Billy Preston, New York disc jockey “Murray the K.”  But the person most deserving of the honor was producer Sir George Martin, who has died at the age of 90.

Basically, no Martin, no Beatles, especially not the evolved Beatles of “Penny Lane,” “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “A Day in the Life.”  It is Martin’s harpsichord that gives John Lennon’s “In My Life” from Rubber Soul its classical feel.  It is Martin who arranged the elegant strings on Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday” and “Eleanor Rigby.”

Martin signed the Beatles to an EMI/Parlophone contract in 1962.  He saw their musical talent, but he saw something else, too:  Their magnetic personalities and wicked humor.  On their first meeting, the magisterial Martin told the youngsters from gritty Liverpool, “Tell me if there’s anything you don’t like.”  George Harrison shot back, “Well, for starters, I don’t like your tie.”

“The Fabs” (as Harrison ironically called them) were well acquainted with Martin’s work as the producer of comedy records by The Goons, who included a young Peter Sellers;

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8moo2olqDS4

Compare “You Gotta Go Ow” to the Beatles’ oddball obscurity “You Know My Name.”

For someone who possessed the stiff-upper-lip demeanor of a proper British gentleman, Martin had a remarkable comic touch.  Here’s the Martin-produced “Goodness Gracious Me” by Sellers and Sophia Loren:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36YyCo8FXXA

Martin lent the Beatles touch to America in the 1970s …

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENYB9-XQ4e0  (“Daisy Jane”)

… and he continued to work closely with Paul McCartney.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7aGAIWe3uE “Live and Let Die.”

When Yoko Ono released the John Lennon Anthology many years after John’s death, she entrusted a home demo of one of her husband’s last songs to George Martin.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A49B0ds55J4 “Grow Old With Me.”

Released in 1999, it’s George Martin’s last great production.  Thanks for the greatest music of the 20th Century, Sir George.

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