‘Fifth Beatle’ – George Martin – Crosses Abbey Road To Rock & Roll Heaven

A Fan’s Tribute from Doug Draper

Posted March 9th, 2016 on Niagara At Large

They called him “the fifth Beatle” and a convincing case can be made that without him at the console, The Beatles may never have emerged from inside the damp, dimly lit walls of the Cavern in Liverpool to conquer the world in ways that changed pop music forever.

Producer George Martin, right, listens to a playback with John Lennon, during the recording of the Sgt. Petter's album in 1967.

Producer George Martin, right, listens to a playback with John Lennon, during the recording of the Sgt. Petter’s album in 1967.

It was George Martin who heard earlier Beatles drummer Pete Best crash, boom and banging his way through an earlier take of ‘Love Me Do’ (you can hear too on The Beatles’ Anthology, Volume One) and said the group couldn’t move forward with him as a drummer. Enter Ringo Starr and the ingredients for the ‘Fab Four’ were complete.

And it was George Martin who raised the idea of following up ‘Love Me Do’, The Beatles’ first single, with a cover version of a song composed by someone outside the group – challenging John Lennon and Paul McCartney (by then determined to be The Beatles’ principle songwriters) to come back with a self-penned tune that was better. The song Lennon and McCartney composed was ‘Please, Please Me’ and when the group finished recording it, Martin leaned into the studio’s intercom and said; “Gentlemen, you’ve just made your first number one record.”

Not a word of a lie in that remark. Before ‘She Loves You’, ‘From Me To You’ and ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, the release of ‘Please, Please Me’ as the A-side of the group’s second single marked the dawn of Beatlemania.

George Martin went on to collaborate with The Beatles in so many important ways over the more than 200 songs they recorded together, from lending his own hands ever now and then on keyboards, including the Bach-like piano riff in John Lennon’s ‘It’s My Life’, to offering suggestions that punched up so many of the group’s songs to chart-busting status.

George Martin, with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr at Abbey Road studios in the late 1960s.

George Martin, with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr at Abbey Road studios in the late 1960s.

It was Martin’s idea to begin ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ with its chorus (a radical one for any pop tune at the time) and to turn ‘Help’ from the slower tempo folk song Lennon originally wanted it to be to the revved-up rocker that shot up to the top of the charts as the title song for The Beatles’ second feature film.

It was also Martin who suggested backing up Paul McCartney’s ‘Eleanor Rigby’ with a string quartet and who helped make room for George Harrison to add a sitar to The Beatles’ arsenal of instruments and a growing number of Harrison compositions to the group’s songbook.

And of course, the innovative ways Martin used odd assortments of instruments and recording tape (running it faster or slower or even backwards, and once cutting it up and splicing the pieces back together randomly) to create a kaleidoscope of sound that few others could replicate until computers came along is the stuff of legend.

George Martin during the years he was the Rolls Royce of record producers around the world.

George Martin during the years he was the Rolls Royce of record producers around the world.

Following the break-up of The Beatles in 1970, George Martin went on to produced recordings for Paul McCartney and Ringo Star as soloists, and for many other artists, including guitarist extraordinaire Jeff Beck, jazz sax giant Stan Getz, Canadian singer Celine Dion and the best work by the Seventies folk-rock band America– adding to a treasure trove of music that earned him a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999 alongside other pioneering producers like Sam Phillips, Phil Specter and Jerry Wexler and, hopefully one day, Rick Hall, who played such a major role in shaping the Muscle Shoals sound that has influence so munch soul and funk-based music ever since.

In 2003, George Martin’s storied career went full circle when he and his son Giles began weaving together a lengthy tapestry of classic Beatles recordings for a Cirque du Soliel stage tribute to the group called ‘Love’, that would open in Las Vegas in 2006.

To be honest, the idea of showcasing anything to do with The Beatles and their music in Las Vegas – one of the last places Elvis Presley was last seen, wearing tacky suits, shades and belt buckles, and playing a burned out parody of his once electrifying self – made it hard to keep my food down.

Yet when the soundtrack for The Beatles Vegas spectacle was released, just in time for Christmas 2006 and running 78 minutes and 38 seconds on specially packaged CDs and vinyl disks, old instrumental and vocal tracks from the group’s years at Abbey Road studios were enhanced and edited in ways that had them sounding new and totally engaging.

I don’t know about Love, the stage production. But Love, the album or audio disc, if you will, turned out to be a a masterful piece of work that only someone as skilled and as intimately familiar with the original recordings as George Martin was could pull off.

From start to finish, it sounded like of one last labour of love around a body of music that he, along with John, Paul, George and Ringo, had poured so much of their passion and genius into making, all those years ago when he was the fifth Beatle and they were the Fab Four.

George Martin died this March 8th, 2016 at age 90, leaving the world with a rich and beautiful bounty of music that continues to entertain, teach and inspire.

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One response to “‘Fifth Beatle’ – George Martin – Crosses Abbey Road To Rock & Roll Heaven

  1. Linda McKellar

    He was a master of his craft. He saw the potential, developed it and gave it a chance to shine. He also shared a wry sense of humour with the Beatles that enabled the relationship to flourish. All the elements clicked. His remark to them (not exact) ….”If there is anything you don’t like feel free to tell me” to which George Harrison responded “I don’t like your tie to begin with”.


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