Q Magazine

On This Day in Music... March 8, 2016: Beatles Producer George Martin Dies

From the very beginning, Martin was the unquestionable elder statesman who brought focus and polish to the Beatles.

Source: VM1/ZOB/Vince Maher / WENN/Newscom/The Mega Agency

Beatles producer Sir George Martin was an indispensable figure in 20th century popular music.

Link to FacebookShare to XShare to Email

When Beatles producer George Martin passed away on March 8, 2016 at the age of 90, time stood still for a few moments in fond remembrance of a man who had not only guided a scrappy young band from Liverpool to worldwide adulation, but also a gentleman whose quiet manner and distinctive persona helped craft the sound of tomorrow.

Article continues below advertisement
qgeorge martinbrianepsteindickjamesemistudios
Source: Bela Zola/Mirrorpix/Newscom/The Mega Agency

Music publisher Dick James, Beatles manager Brian Epstein, and producer George Martin at EMI Studios, October 1964.

From the very beginning, Martin was the unquestionable elder statesman who brought focus and polish to a quartet of young men who, until they stepped inside EMI Studio Three on June 6, 1962, had never worked in a professional recording studio. The group still had Pete Best on drums when Martin first worked with them, and the producer (who walked into the sessions halfway through) was unimpressed with Best's timekeeping, and with the material the band had presented. Martin, a trained pianist and outlier producer then known for his work on low-budget comedy records, gave his opinion to them straight.

"We gave them a long lecture about their equipment and what would have to be done about it if they were to become recording artists," engineer Norman Smith told Mark Lewisohn for The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions. "They didn't say a word back, not a word, they didn't even nod their heads in agreement. When he finished, George said 'Look, I've laid into you for quite a time, you haven't responded. Is there anything you don't like?' I remember they all looked at each other for a long while, shuffling their feet, then George Harrison took a long look at George and said 'Yeah, I don't like your tie!' That cracked the ice for us and for the next 15-20 minutes they were pure entertainment. When they left to go home, George and I just sat there saying 'Phew! What do you think of that lot then?' I had tears running down my face."

Article continues below advertisement
Source: tomswain.co.uk/CC BY-SA 3.0

EMI Studio Two, where the Beatles spent considerable time recording with Martin in the control room at top left.

The Beatles came back on Sept. 4 with their new drummer, Ringo Starr. And so began one of the most storied artist-producer relationships in pop music history.

Article continues below advertisement
Source: Universal Archive/Universal Images Group/Newscom/The Mega Agency

The Beatles, circa 1963.

Never miss a story — sign up for the Q newsletter for the latest music news on all your favorite artists, all in one place.

Article continues below advertisement

Martin became an indispensable figure in the studio. He pitched in as a musician (his Baroque-infused bridge for "In My Life" was his own composition) and as an arranger. It was he who suggested the minimalist string quartet to accompany Paul McCartney on "Yesterday," and he worked tirelessly with engineer Geoff Emerick to piece together the puzzle that was John Lennon's "Strawberry Fields Forever" from two versions with different keys, tempos and moods.

It was his work that inspired the Beatles to go the full distance with the best technology available in the '60s, and then push those limits further. 1967's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was a watershed moment for popular music and album production. Winner of four Grammy Awards, with two for Martin, the LP was later inducted into the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

Source: Eric Harlow/Mirrorpix/Newscom/The Mega Agency

George Martin with engineer Geoff Emerick (holding his Grammy for Best Engineered Recording - Non-Classical) and Ringo Starr at EMI Studios, March 1968.

Article continues below advertisement

His work with the Beatles is his most significant and notable contribution to 20th-century music. Yet he also had a maverick streak. As one of the first record producers to break away from studio management and contracts, he founded Associated Independent Recording (AIR) in June 1965, and worked with Cilla Black, the Action and, much later, Cheap Trick and Celine Dion. He produced seven albums for America. He composed "By George! – It's The David Frost Theme" in 1966. He worked on film scores (Pulp, The Optimist of Nine Elms) and in 1973, collaborated with McCartney for the James Bond theme, "Live and Let Die."

Source: s_bukley/Newscom/The Mega Agency

Sir George Martin with his son, producer Giles Martin, at the opening of Cirque Du Soliel's production of The Beatles 'Love' in 2006.

Article continues below advertisement

Yet Martin never separated himself from the Beatles legacy, working with McCartney extensively through the 1980s. In 1998, at the request of Yoko Ono, he scored an orchestral arrangement for the 1980 Lennon demo of "Grow Old with Me," which appeared in the John Lennon Anthology. He was called upon to remaster and reimagine his vast knowledge of the Beatles catalog during the Anthology post-production sessions, and worked with his son Giles in 2006 to create a soundtrack from existing Beatles music for the Las Vegas performance of Cirque Du Soleil's Love. His final orchestral production was a demo score of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" for the soundtrack.

Martin died on March 8, 2016 at his home in Coleshill, Warwickshire, from complications due to stomach cancer. A memorial service was held in May at London's St. Martin-in-the-Fields and was attended by McCartney, Starr, Ono, Olivia Harrison, Elton John and one of Martin's beloved artists, Bernard Cribbens, who had a Top Ten hit on the Official Charts in 1962 with the Martin-produced "Right Said Fred."

"I’ve been awfully lucky," he told BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs in 1995. "As a whole I've had a wonderful life - I've worked with the most wonderful people, worked with the greatest of artists and I'm very fortunate. I've got no grudges at all."


Subscribe to our newsletter

your info will be used in accordance with our privacy policy

Read More