Posted by: gdevi | March 9, 2016

Obituary: Sir George Martin (1926-2016)

Beatles producer and musician George Martin died in his sleep at home on Tuesday; he was 90.

Though Martin has worked with numerous other musicians and has composed, arranged and produced music for other settings, including serving as the musical director for Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee in 2002, and composing the music for both Shirley Bassey’s Gold Finger and Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die, Martin is rightfully remembered as the “fifth Beatle” for his long, productive and inimitable collaboration with John, Paul, George and Ringo in a career spanning the band’s most creative years, 1962-1969.   Martin signed the Beatles on to Parlaphone, the label he managed for EMI, in 1962; the many wonderful studio colorings and tape manipulations that would become a hallmark of the Beatles musical catalog were arranged and engineered by Martin in EMI’s Abbey Road studios.

As noted Beatles scholars Walter Everett and Mark Lewisohn have noted, the radically sui generis openings and closings of many of the Beatles tracks , as well as the general arrangements of many of the band’s most enduring songs, were directly arranged and engineered by Martin following John’s (mostly) or Paul’s (sometimes) requests for certain kinds of sounds and sound effects, not just for the song, but for the whole album. Martin’s musical judgements as a producer were never off the mark in the life of a Beatles song. It was Martin who rearranged She Loves You to start with the bright chorus, or to raise the tempo of Please Please Me, or even switching the voices of the chorus of Love Me do from John to that of Paul.

Martin, a classically trained pianist, often played the studio Steinway piano on the band’s songs to add color, texture, depth and density to the songs in unexpected and unpredictable ways. In many of these collaborations, Martin experimented with manipulating the taped sounds in novel ways that produced unheard-of sounds and sound effects, the loveliest example of which would be the harpsichord or clavichord-sounding piano solo he played for John’s In My Life.  Martin’s truly inspired ear for musical innovation sometimes came out of nowhere as in his decision to add a string quartet to Paul’s Yesterday.  A sound engineer of ingenious and unparalleled provenance, only Martin could have translated into musical terms what John, Paul and George thought and heard in their minds from the showmanship of the band’s early years to the intellectual content and dense tonal structures of the later albums. If there was another kind of mind there, Martin helped them to sing it.

The meeting of George Martin with John, Paul, George and Ringo was a musical watershed of unparalleled history that established not only the careers of the band, but also augmented and energized our popular expectations of what a song can do. Thank you for your ebullient mind, George Martin; your great work with John, Paul George and Ringo, and the musical legacy you have left behind. Thank you for the lovely, lovely songs. You are loved the world over. Rest in peace, George Martin.

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