Sir George Martin, British Record Executive, Producer, Arranger And The 'Fifth Beatle,' Dies At 90
March 9, 2016 at 5:40 AM (PT)
SIR GEORGE HENRY MARTIN, the BBC producer renowned for his role in the making of THE BEATLES albums, has died at age 90. Aside from his work with the group he ushered from the very start to worldwide pop stardom, he produced albums by JEFF BECK, CHEAP TRICK, KENNY ROGERS, NEIL SEDAKA and JIMMY WEBB among others.
Dubbed the “5th BEATLE” due to his large-scale influence and involvement with the band, MARTIN, then A&R head at PARLOPHONE RECORDS, was introduced to the band’s manager BRIAN EPSTEIN by music publisher SID COLEMAN. His initial impression of the band from early demo recordings made for DECCA RECORDS in 1962, was “rather unpromising,” but he liked LENNON and McCARTNEY’s harmonies enough to offer them an audition at ABBEY ROAD, home of the BBC recording studios.
He recorded their version of “How Do You Do It,” made popular by GERRY AND THE PACEMAKERS, but they didn’t want to release the song because it wasn’t an original track. MARTIN then recorded their first single “Love Me Do,” which peaked at #17 on the British charts, insisting the band re-record the song with RINGO STARR replaced by session drummer ANDY WHITE. MARTIN produced their first U.S. single, “Please Please Me,” in NOVEMBER 1962, convincing them to speed up the tempo. “Gentlemen, you have just made your first number one record,” he memorably told them from the control room. Encouraging the band to experiment in the studio with new ways of recording, MARTIN acted as their arranger, conducting the strings on “Eleanor Rigby,” suggesting the quartet on“Yesterday,” and playing piano on “In My Life.” Martin showed them how to splice together two separate takes, record in different keys and inspired the circus noises on “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite” and the orchestral climax of “A Day In The Life,” putting his artistic stamp on the breakthrough of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
He arranged the Yellow Submarine film score and McCARTNEY’s James Bond theme song, “Live And Let Die,” for which he won a GRAMMY. In 2006, MARTIN remixed, along with his son GILES MARTIN, the music for Love, a CIRQUE DE SOLEIL production that celebrates THE BEATLES music in conjunction with APPLE CORPS. It included a new orchestral song, written by MARTIN, for a solo version of GEORGE HARRISON’ s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” which he first recorded in 1968.
SIR PAUL MCCARTNEY posted to his website, "I’m so sad to hear the news of the passing of dear GEORGE MARTIN. I have so many wonderful memories of this great man that will be with me forever. He was a true gentleman and like a second father to me. He guided the career of THE BEATLES with such skill and good humour that he became a true friend to me and my family. If anyone earned the title of the fifth BEATLE it was GEORGE. From the day that he gave The Beatles our first recording contract, to the last time I saw him, he was the most generous, intelligent and musical person I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.
"It’s hard to choose favourite memories of my time with GEORGE, there are so many but one that comes to mind was the time I brought the song 'Yesterday’ to a recording session and the guys in the band suggested that I sang it solo and accompany myself on guitar. After I had done this GEORGE MARTIN said to me, "PAUL I have an idea of putting a string quartet on the record". I said, “Oh no GEORGE, we are a rock and roll band and I don’t think it’s a good idea”. With the gentle bedside manner of a great producer he said to me, "Let us try it and if it doesn’t work we won’t use it and we’ll go with your solo version". I agreed to this and went round to his house the next day to work on the arrangement.
He took my chords that I showed him and spread the notes out across the piano, putting the cello in the low octave and the first violin in a high octave and gave me my first lesson in how strings were voiced for a quartet. When we recorded the string quartet at ABBEY ROAD, it was so thrilling to know his idea was so correct that I went round telling people about it for weeks. His idea obviously worked because the song subsequently became one of the most recorded songs ever with versions by FRANK SINATRA, ELVIS PRESLEY, RAY CHARLES, MARVIN GAYE and thousands more.
This is just one of the many memories I have of GEORGE who went on to help me with arrangements on 'Eleanor Rigby', 'Live and Let Die' and many other songs of mine.
I am proud to have known such a fine gentleman with such a keen sense of humour, who had the ability to poke fun at himself. Even when he was Knighted by the Queen there was never the slightest trace of snobbery about him.
My family and I, to whom he was a dear friend, will miss him greatly and send our love to his wife JUDY and their kids GILES and LUCY, and the grandkids.
The world has lost a truly great man who left an indelible mark on my soul and the history of British music.
God bless you GEORGE and all who sail in you!
MARTIN was born on JANUARY 3rd, 1926, in HIGHBURY, LONDON, ENGLAND. He began playing piano at the age of 6 and had "fantasies about being the next RACHMANINOV," persuading his parents to let him have lessons. He worked briefly in the construction industry as a quantity surveyor and as a War Office clerk. He became a pilot after joining the ROYAL NAVY, but left the service in ’47, using his veteran grant money to pursue music at GUILDHALL SCHOOL OF MUSIC AND DRAMA, where he studied piano and oboe with MARGARET ASHER, the mother of singer/producer/ manager PETER ASHER and his sister JANE ASHER, known for her relationship with McCARTNEY in the ‘60s.
On his 22nd birthday in 1948, he married SHEENA CHISHOLM, and had two children, ALEXIS and GREGORY, but that ended in divorce. He later married JUDY LOCKHART-SMITH in 1966, and had two more children, LUCY and GILES. MARTIN lived his final days on their countryside home in WILTSHIRE, just outside of LONDON.
In the ’50s, MARTIN worked for EMI RECORDS PARLOPHONE, becoming head of A&R in ’55, his major emphasis comedy records, including PETER USTINOV’s “Mock Mozart,” along with acts like PETER SELLERS and SPIKE MILLIGAN. LENNON, a major comedy fan, was impressed by MARTIN’s work with THE GOONS and the show Beyond the Fringe, which featured PETER COOK, DUDLEY MOORE, ALAN BENNETT and JONATHAN MILLER. Under the pseudonym RAY CATHODE, MARTIN released an electronic dance single, “Time Beat,” recorded at the BBC RADIOPHONE WORKSHOP, which increased his desire to find a rock ‘n’ roll group to work with. MARTIN received an OSCAR nomination for his work on A Hard Day’s Night. Other film projects included The Family Way, and Pulp with MICHAEL CAINE and MICKEY ROONEY.
He left EMI in 1965, but continued to work in a freelance capacity, producing the band’ s final album, Abbey Road. MARTIN wrote three books including his autobiography, All You Need Is Love, produced and hosted TV programs like The Making of Sgt. Pepper and The Rhythm Of Life, a BBC documentary series that highlighted artists and discussed musical compositions. The documentary produced by GEORGE MARTIN offered an insider’s peak into the legendary music producer’ s life. In the ‘90s SIR GEORGE worked with PETER GABRIEL, KATE BUSH, STING, MEAT LOAF and CARLY SIMON. He also produced PAUL’s 1997 GRAMMY-nominated album, "Flaming Pie" as well as his solo albums "Tug Of War" and "Pipes Of Peace."
Along with his longtime engineer GEOFF EMERICK, MARTIN continued to oversee post-production on THE BEATLES’ platinum-selling compilations Live At The BBC and Anthology, the latter featuring unreleased songs “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love.” In ’97, MARTIN re-recorded ELTON JOHN’s “Candle In The Wind,” originally written for MARILYN MONROE, as a tribute to PRINCESS DIANA on her death; this song reached #1 around the world, becoming the second best-selling single of all time. MARTIN said, “Probably my last single. It’s not a bad one to go out on.” MARTIN’s In My Life, where artists and actors covered various songs in THE BEATLES catalog, was his last major project in 1998. The producer, who scored 30 chart-topping songs in the UK and 23 in the U.S., was inducted into the UK MUSIC HALL OF FAME. He opened the renowned AIR recording studios in LONDON and the CARIBBEAN, attracting artists like THE ROLLING STONES, STEVIE WONDER and THE POLICE.
Known for his charity work, MARTIN organized such events like ‘93’s PRINCE’S TRUST concert, the ’94 UNESCO benefit and ‘97’s MUSIC FOR MONTSERRAT.
He is survived by his wife JUDY and his four children.