Thursday, March 10, 2016

George Martin - Random Stream Of Consciousness

When you wake up in the morning and read a headline that says "The 5th Beatle Has Died" the educated mind immediately considers numerous possibilities ... 

Murray The K?  
No, he died YEARS ago

What about Billy Preston who shared label credit with The Fab Four when he worked with them on "Get Back" and what ultimately became the "Let It Be" album?
No, he's been gone for awhile now, too.

Pete Best?
Not likely ...
And Stu Sutcliffe (who actually WAS the fifth Beatle when the band had five members) died before the others achieved their worldwide success.

Over the years several people have CLAIMED to be (or have been designated as) The Fifth Beatle ... even their roadies Mal Evans and Neil Aspinall have been referred to this way at various times ... as has Brian Epstein, their manager (although not likely Tony Sheridan, who sang lead on their first single "My Bonnie" when The Beatles were still just a backing band) ...

The plain and simple fact is that the ONLY person who can legitimately lay claim to the "Fifth Beatle" title is Producer George Martin, who died on Tuesday at the age of 90.

After every other record company in London turned them down, Martin signed The Beatles to a contract with the Parlophone label, a division of EMI.  It hardly seemed the perfect fit on the surface ... Martin's experience was mostly in the comedy field (although The Beatles were familiar with his work as they were big Peter Sellers fans) and he was a good twenty years older than they were ... but somehow it worked.  (Martin remembered trying to single one of them out to be the "lead" at the time, as this is the way most groups presented themselves back then ... but realized that perhaps their greatest strength early on was the fact that all of them sang ... and sang very well together.)

As an ice breaker after their first full recording session, Martin asked The Fabs to let him know if there was anything they didn't like ... to which George Harrison (the so-called QUIET Beatle) replied "Well, for starters, I don't like your tie."  (Consider the ice officially broken!)

Martin also persuaded the band to consider changing drummers if they wanted to go further in their career ... a change that they had already been contemplating for some time.  Soon Pete Best was out and Ringo Starr was in.  (And then, of course, Martin famously hired a session drummer, Andy White, "just in case" Ringo couldn't cut it when The Beatles recorded their first single Parlophone single "Love Me Do" / "P.S. I Love You", delegating Starr to tambourine and/or maracas, and literally tearing his heart out in the process.)

A couple of months later, after recording their second single "Please Please Me" (a song previously rejected by Martin), George proclaimed, "Boys, you've just recorded your first #1 Record.)  Shortly thereafter they knocked out their first album (also titled "Please Please Me") in a single day, thanks to a thirteen hour marathon session.  It quickly topped the charts as did nearly every album and every single they released thereafter. 

In the studio, it was a true partnership in every way.  In effect, they learned from each other, especially once The Beatles progressed beyond the simple "Love Me Do" / "From Me To You" / "She Loves You" phase into a more sophisticated style of music.  (It was Martin who suggested a string quartet for "Yesterday", one of the most-recorded songs in history ... and when The Beatles recorded "In My Life" and needed an instrumental interlude, John Lennon said "Play something like Bach" and Martin did.)  He was always there to overdub an extra piano or make a suggestion ... and to honor their most unrealistic requests. ("I want to hear what my voice sounds like when I'm hanging upside down submerged in a pool of water with a tennis ball in my mouth", perhaps a bit of an exaggeration of a typical recording session Lennonism ... but not by much!) 

For the orchestral crescendo that ends "A Day In The Life", Martin had some of London's finest classical musicians bewildered and befuddled as they randomly raised each instrument from Point A to Point B in an otherwise completely haphazard fashion.  Again, somehow it worked!

In fact, in their constant pursuit of new sounds and innovations, The Beatles regularly challenged him in the studio to take them farther than they'd gone before.  When John Lennon liked the first half of one take of "Strawberry Fields Forever" and the second half of another, he told Martin to put them all together.  George explained that they were recorded at different tempos and in different keys ... to which Lennon replied "You'll figure it out" ... and he did.  (By speeding up the first track and slowing down the second, it brought both takes into the same key.  Martin insisted for the rest of his life that the "splice" of those two takes meeting together jumped out at him like a sore thumb even though nobody else listening to the record could ever detect it!)

I had the pleasure of meeting George Martin once.  After he published his memoirs "All You Need Is Ears" he went on a short tour of The United States to promote his book and play some studio outtakes and separated tracks and alternate takes recorded by The Beatles and we were fortunate enough to be there for one of these showings.  (Keep in mind that this was YEARS before the "Anthology" CDs came out ... and even with an extensive bootleg library like mine most of what Martin brought to the party was stuff that virtually NOBODY else in the world had ever heard before.)  One of those examples were the two separate takes of "Strawberry Fields Forever" which he used to illustrate how the "blend" was achieved.

He also did a brief Q&A with the sold out audience and even answered one of our questions about recording techniques then vs. the technology of the early '80's.  Afterwards we waited through the long line of fans coming up on stage to shake his hand and thank him for the incredible lifetime of memories he had helped to provide over the years.

Most recently his son Giles has been helping to restore and upgrade The Beatles' catalog, first working with them on their "Love" / Cirque du Soleil extravaganza which has been playing at The Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas for over ten years now.  (George knew his ears weren't what they used to be and wisely deferred to his son to helm the control board.)

He had a remarkable career and is probably one of the best known and most highly regarded producers of all time.  (He was knighted in 1996, a year BEFORE this honor was bestowed on Paul McCartney.)  Paul continued to work with Martin on several solo projects after the disbanding of The Beatles, perhaps most notably on his "Live And Let Die" James Bond Theme from 1973.  He also produced McCartney's "Tug Of War" and "Pipes Of Peace" albums as well as the soundtrack to the McCartney film "Give My Regards To Broad Street" in which he also appears.  (This means that George Martin was the man in the booth for the #1 Hit Singles "Ebony And Ivory" by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder as well as "Say Say Say" by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson.)  He also produced several albums by the group America as well as releases by Seatrain, Celine Dion, The Little River Band, British Invasion Acts Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas and Cilla Black, the Shirley Bassey "Goldfinger" James Bond Theme, the Peter Frampton / Bee Gees "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" film soundtrack and Elton John's tribute to Princess Diana remake of "Candle In The Wind".

An extraordinarly remarkable career.
Kent Kotal
Forgotten Hits