January 3, 2020

GEORGE MARTIN

Producer George Martin was born on this day in 1926. It's interesting to see how one person can make a difference in so many lives. For anyone who saw Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life again over the holidays, the idea is probably fresh in your mind. Just as one person can act as a catalyst for others in daily life, so can a person conduct mass culture over the course of their career. Sir George Martin was the "man with the golden ear." Blessed with musical genius and a sense of humor, Martin was a bit like the Wizard of Oz- the man behind the curtain- whose work as a producer and arranger defined the music and humor of the last half of the 20th Century and beyond. The artists he worked with included Flanders and Swann, Peter Ustinov, The Goons, Peter Sellers, Sophia Loren, Beyond the Fringe (with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore), Matt Monro (of From Russia With Love), Gerry and the Pacemakers, Cellia Black, Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas, Jeff Beck, Elton John, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Paul Winter Consort, and America. In addition to multiple Grammys and other major awards, George Martin scored 30 #1 hits in the UK and 23 #1 hits in the US. (See Spy Vibe's article Peter Sellers to John Lennon and Peter Sellers posts for more about comedy in the UK). Of special interest to Spy Vibers, Martin also produced two James Bond theme songs: Goldfinger (1965) with Shirley Bassey, and Live and Let Die (1973) with Paul McCartney.


George Martin was perhaps most famous as the producer/arranger behind The Beatles. Legend has it that a shared sense of humor sealed the deal between Martin and the Fab Four. The band loved his records with Peter Sellers and The Goons. In their first meeting in the studio on June 6th, 1962, the group recorded four test songs that didn't quite measure up. Martin gave them a bit of talking to about what they needed to do in order to become recording artists. When he finished, he added, "Is there anything you don't like?" Without skipping a beat, George Harrison responded, "Yeah, I don't like your tie." Jokes and laughter followed. The producer appreciated their irreverent humor and committed himself to recording the band. Martin's expertise fostered musical experimentation throughout the 1960s, allowing The Beatles to push their songs into new territory. Martin often contributed as keyboard player in the studio, in addition to arranging the accompaniment to well-know songs like YesterdayEleanor Rigby, and Penny Lane. I once got to see him speak about the making of SGT. Pepper, which was really fascinating and quite a thrill. George Martin most recently worked with his son Giles to produce the soundtrack to the Cirque Du Soleil show, The Beatles Love.


Sue Lawley chatted with George Martin on Desert Island Discs on November 19th, 1995 (Recorded the same year as The Beatles Anthology broadcast. 40minutes. Listen here). In the program Martin talked about his earning money for piano lessons as a kid, his career recording the comedians during Britain's satire boom of the 1950s and 1960s, and his signing and collaborating with The Beatles starting in 1962. George Martin's discs included The Beatles, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, Benjamin Britten, and George Gershwin. He was also the subject of a wonderful documentary film in 2012 called Produced by George Martin. It's hard to imagine what the world would have been like if he hadn't been there to help bring talents like Peter Sellers and The Beatles to our attention. Sir George, we thank you for your magic. George Martin passed away on March 8, 2016. Below: Martin with Peter Sellers. 


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