“Rock and Roll has the same function as classical music, to make sounds that are appealing to a mass of people and are of some worth” – Sir George Martin
Born in Holloway, north London, in 1926, Sir George Martin was best known as ‘the 5th Beatle’. He produced every single Beatles record, bar one, along with signing them in 1962 to Parlophone records when others had turned them down. Despite having achieved 23 US and 30 UK No 1 singles, his reputation as a producer went much further than this, working with artists such as Sting, Jose Carreras, Stan Getz and scoring compositions for film.
Originally working in comedy, Martin worked with some of the most notable names of the 60’s including Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, Peter Cook and Jonathan Miller. This crew of comedians were the original line-up of The Goon Show which quickly strengthened his relationship with the Beatles, one which would last for several decades.
Having been turned down by Decca amongst other labels, the Beatles on first meeting Martin struck an immediate rapport – George Harrison quipping “I don’t like your tie for a start” when asked if they didn’t like anything about the set up of the studio. He was instrumental in some of the success stories of their career, the first being ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’.
Paul McCartney reminisces about ‘Yesterday’ here, which reveals just how key a player Martin was in the Beatles hits;
“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,” says McCartney. “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’n’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.”
His work with the band survived the rows (and drug use) which he would tolerate permitting it stayed outside of studio 2 in which he recorded with them in Abbey Road.
Later he went on to work with some of the world’s biggest artists including Elton John, Celine Dion, Kenny Rogers, Jeff Beck and Neil Sedaka. He produced two James Bond themes: Goldfinger by Shirley Bassey and Paul McCartney and Wings’s Live and Let Die.
In 1996 he was knighted , a year before Paul McCartney. David Cameron, the British prime minister, earlier tweeted: “Sir George Martin was a giant of music – working with the Fab Four to create the world’s most enduring pop music.”
He is survived by his widow, Judy, and 4 children.