I have read so many articles over the years where many scribes have declared numerous people who have ever had anything to do with the Beatles, to be the fifth Beatles. Indeed, many of them are self-professed too. Anyone, a roadie, a driver, a guest musician, probably even a tea-maker have called themselves the fifth Beatle. There really are very few who can claim that title, Pete Best, Stuart Sutcliffe perhaps, and maybe, just maybe, at a little stretch of imagination, Billy Preston, but no one, no one, can claim that title more than the man, who, on the back of a phone call in 1962 from Sid Coleman at the music publishing company Ardmore & Beechwood and agreeing to listen to a tape of a group who had already been turned down by, among others, Decca records. He wasn’t overly impressed with the sound, but like John and Paul’s vocal sound so agreed to sign them, and stuck with them to the end. That man, is George Martin.
George was born in north London in 1926, and it was after his family bought a piano when George was only six that his interest in music began. This experience was enhanced when the BBC Symphony Orchestra, complete with conductor Sir Adrian Boult, gave a concert from George’s school and he was hooked. His love for classical music grew and after joining the Royal Navy in 1943 he took up piano and oboe. His first tenuous link to the Beatles started here, because his oboe teacher was Margaret Eliot who was Jane Asher’s mother. Jane Asher was an early girlfriend of Paul McCartney. George left the service in 1947 and enrolled at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama for three years.
He graduated in 1950 and briefly joined the BBC in their classical music department before moving on the join EMI records as an assistant to Oscar Preuss who was running their Parlophone imprint. The label was used to record the more insignificant artists as well as the novelty material, which, back then, was plentiful. George got his first chance of a say when he asked Oscar if he can record a track with the actor Peter Ustinov performing Mock Mozart. EMI weren’t keen but Oscar insisted they give George a chance.
The first chart record to credit George was the 1953, number three hit Theme from Limelight as performed by Ron Goodwin and his Orchestra. A couple of years later he scored with Jimmy Shand’s Bluebell Polka and Eve Boswell’s Pickin’ A Chicken and then in 1956 more hits followed in the shape of Dick James’ version of Robin Hood and Humphrey Lyttelton’s Bad Penny Blues. If you’re not familiar with the latter, have a listen and see if you can spot which Beatles song was probably influenced by it.
In 1955 Oscar retired and George took over the running which involved many classical works and the occasional soundtrack. Then in 1957 came an influx of comedy actors and entertainers and George did the lot. He recorded with Peter Sellers initially then Jim Dale, Bernard Cribbins, Charlie Drake and Lance Percival who all made the chart and some of the ones that didn’t were; Bruce Forsyth, Sid James, Terry Scott, Flanders and Swann (although they made the EP chart) and Joan Sims. George was, if nothing else, experimental and even released an early electronic dance single under the pseudonym Ray Cathode. His first chart topping single, as a producer, came in 1961 when the Temperance seven reached the summit with You’re Driving Me Crazy.
Don’t be disillusioned, there were also serious acts and serious hits, Matt Monro, Jerry Lordan and Shane Fenton (later Alvin Stardust) all served well, but George wanted to take the label to a different level and that’s when the chance phone call came from Sid Coleman who put him in touch with Brian Epstein who played him that tape of the Beatles. After a second meeting and being impressed by Eppe’s enthusiasm, he signed them.
George said in an interview in 1987, “In those early days they weren’t very good performers, they were raw and uninhibited and certainly weren’t glossy and polished in any way whatsoever. The guitar work was fairly primitive and the drum sound wasn’t very good at all, but of course, we didn’t have Ringo at the beginning.” But he sorted them out musically and with Epstein helping with their image and haircuts they became, shall we say, a bit more successful.
George worked tirelessly particularly with John and Paul throughout the Beatles’ career and they all wanted to experiment and John was forever bringing ideas to the table for George to implement. A famous one is on the single Strawberry Fields Forever which George spliced two different takes together. John like the first half of one mix and George preferred the second half of another, but because they were recorded at slightly different tempos, George had to speed one up and slow the other down so they matched. Virtually every Beatles song has a story involving something George did to make it the way we know it.
George never stopped, as well as working full on with the Beatles, he also worked with and produced hits in the sixties and seventies with Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas, Cilla Black and the Fourmost, then in the eighties with U.F.O. and Ultravox. In 1997 when the news broke of the death of Princess Diana and with Bernie Taupin’s hastily re-written lyrics, Elton re-recorded Candle In The Wind as a tribute to her with George producing and went on to become the biggest selling single of all time ahead of any song by the Beatles. It was released as a double A-side with Something About The Way You Look Tonight which was, by far, the better song, but under the tragic circumstances it lost out on the airplay. George, in total produced 129 UK hit singles.
He suffered a hearing loss and, in 2006, brought in his son Giles to Abbey Road to help out, and eventually oversee, all remastering of all further material. George was as appointed a CBE in 1988 for his services to music and in 1996 received a knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. Two years later he was named as the BPI’s (British Phonographic Industry) Man of the Year and in 1999 he was inducted in to the American Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for his outstanding contribution to music.
The news of George’s death was first announced by Ringo Starr on Twitter who said, “God bless George Martin peace and love to Judy and his family, love Ringo and Barbara. George will be missed xxx” His cause of death was not announced at the time, but George, who had just turned 90 nine weeks previous, received thousands of tributes on social media from friends, family, colleagues, actors and musicians worldwide. The most touching came from his son Giles who posted, “RIP dad. I love you. I’m so proud to have been your son. I’ll miss you more than words can say. Thank you for the all times we had together.”