Sir George Martin, the Beatles' producer, dies at 90
Everything the Beatles gave the world had Sir George Martin’s name attached.
He signed the band to Parlophone Records in 1962. He put strings on singles like Yesterday and Eleanor Rigby, and played harmonium on A Day in the Life’s climactic final chord. He scored A Hard Day’s Night and Yellow Submarine. His familiarity with classical and experimental production inspired a young skiffle act from Liverpool to become the most innovative and revered rock band that will ever exist.
“If anyone earned the title of the fifth Beatle,” McCartney stated Wednesday, “it was George.”
Martin died Tuesday at age 90, of causes undisclosed, another sad full stop in the story of the Beatles, and of rock and roll history as a whole.
Before the Beatles, Martin had largely produced classical and comedy records, with some pop here and there. With them, he did what great producers do best – he recognized, fostered, nurtured and augmented their inimitable talent, and presented it in its peak form for all the world to see. In so doing, the “fifth Beatle” reset the notion of what a music producer can be, from pop visionaries like Phil Spector, Quincy Jones or Rick Rubin to modern-day maestros like Pharrell Williams and Max Martin.
If Martin did nothing more than produce every Beatles studio album (except their final LP, Let It Be, though he was involved with those sessions, too), he would perhaps still be the most accomplished rock record producer of all time. The Beatles are the best-selling artist in history, by a wide, wide margin, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and their self-titled “White Album” are among the most influential rock documents ever produced.
“If he had never signed the Beatles, then pouplar music as we know it would be completely different,” said Dean Tidey, a music instructor at the Patel Conservatory at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, and a close friend and bandmate of Martin’s son Giles.
But even if you manage to pry the Beatles from Martin’s resume – an impossible task, but let’s try – he still had a legendary career. He produced Elton John’s Princess Di tribute Candle In the Wind 1997, one of the best-selling singles of all time. He produced Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger, America’s Sister Golden Hair, the cast recording of the Broadway musical The Who’s Tommy. Ella Fitzgerald, Michael Jackson, Peter Sellers, Celine Dion: Martin produced songs for them all.
Right up until the end, he remained generous and connected to artists he worked with. In December, when Cheap Trick was voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, one of the first congratulatory emails singer Robin Zander got was from Martin.
Tidey worked with Martin on numerous occasions, including on Martin’s 1998 album In My Life and as a member of the band that performed when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.
“He was always really encouraging to me as a musician,” Tidey said. “He was incredibly funny, incredibly smart, extremely generous. Everybody I know that knew him, loved him.”
We now live in an age when producers receive more credit than ever for a hit song’s success. Rap fans scour liner notes for production credits that can transform entire careers. Uptown Funk, last year’s biggest single and the Grammys’ reigning Record of the Year, was credited not to Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson, but to Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars. The producer’s name came before that of the A-list pop star.
“Thank you Sir George Martin: The greatest British record producer of all time,” Ronson tweeted Wednesday. “We will never stop living in the world you helped create.”
Thanks to Martin and the Beatles, it's a wonderful world indeed.
-- Jay Cridlin