George Martin: The Beatles’ weird ideas translater

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As the producer behind the Beatles and  Paul McCartney and others, he notched 23 No. 1

Now that George Martin has died, there’s going to be a lot of (deserved) eulogies. And here’s another.george

As the producer behind the vast majority of the Beatles’ massively popular and groundbreaking catalog, Working with the Beatles, solo Paul McCartney and others, he notched 23 No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 — more than any other producer. As we look back on his influence in the wake of his death, we’re looking at ten songs from the Beatles that wouldn’t have been the same without Martin’s input. Some were huge hits, others are essential album tracks, and all bear Martin’s impact.

George Martin Studio Techniques

This item could almost be a separate list in and of itself. The Beatles (and their recording engineers) either pioneered or popularized Artificial Double Tracking (ADT), back masking, tuned feedback, spliced audio loops, distortion, equalization, stereo effects, multi-tracking (overdubbing), compression, phase shifting, and innovative “microphoning.” Although the Beatles are not credited with the invention of most of these studio tricks, they were responsible for directly inspiring countless musical acts that were desperate to copy their unique sounds.

When assembling a rough mix of the medley, ‘Her Majesty’ was originally tucked in between ‘Mean Mr. Mustard’ and ‘Polythen Pam.’ But McCartney decided he didn’t like the song and had it removed. But engineer John Kurlander, having been told never to throw anything away, stuck it 20 seconds after ‘The End’ and an acetate was made from that tape. McCartney heard it and realized he liked the way it worked in that context, and it remained.

That’ll be talked about elsewhere no doubt, but I’d like to talk about George Martin — translator of musician nonsense.

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(AP Photo/Stephan Chernin)

 He still referred to affectionately as ‘the boysBeatles would be getting messy, and coming up with preposterous stoner ideas, and George — instead.’ The of muttering ‘for fuck’s sake’ or having it out with his charges and throwing his weight around like a lot of record producers did in the 60s and 70s — was ever the problem solver, and pragmatist.

“Eleanor Rigby”

While Martin’s orchestration on “Yesterday” was an exercise in beautiful restraint, his Bernard Herrmann-esque string octet orchestration for “Eleanor Rigby” is almost as essential to the song as its enigmatic lyrics. Martin’s staccato string section in the chorus is one of the most recognizable orchestral segments in all pop music.

 

John Lennon was known for his daft requests, on separate occasions, asking George Martin to make him sound like ‘paper,’ ‘orange,’ and ‘like a hundred Tibetan monks on a hill.’ Now, while most people would’ve told a mid-twenties stoner to shut their stupid faces, George Martin clearly liked the challenge; achingly middle class and polite, you can almost imagine George rolling up his white shirt sleeves, straightening his tie, lighting up a cigarette and thinking ‘righto boys, let’s see what we can do.’

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PAUL Remembers George Martin

I’ was 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!

Unlike “Love Me Do,” this is a much happier example of Martin’s influence on the Beatles’ first album. The titular track was originally a much slower composition, with John Lennon intending it as his version of a weepy Roy Orbison song. Depending on whose account you’re listening to, Martin insisted or suggested they speed up the tempo, and the peppy pop song that resulted gave them their second hit in Britain.

“In My Life”

When John Lennon dipped his toes into the sentimental, backward-looking territory McCartney previously mined to great success, he naturally got “Yesterday” arranger George Martin in on the action to add a Baroque touch to the tune. The harpsichord bridge Martin composed and performed for the Rubber Soul ballad is one of the loveliest moments in the band’s catalog.

Of course, George Martin’s input into Beatle records is immense  ‘Eleanor Rigby’ was his moment to show off how deft he was with an orchestra, with a stoned Paul McCartney gibbering on about something he’d heard at the Proms on the radio, not knowing what the instruments were called, and wrongly remembering which composer he’d heard. Martin managed to decipher what Macca was talking about, and pretty much invented baroque-rock on the spot.

George Harrison once gave George Martin instructions for a record that went: “It doesn’t go like that — it goes like that; but it goes like that, and then it goes to everything… you know what I mean?”


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