**picture from taken from the internet
As the Stones once sang, “It’s another goodbye to another good friend”…
It has been a tough year for Rock and Roll in 2016. Another great one, another titan has passed. George Martin, erstwhile producer of the Beatles passed away this week. George was a behemoth in the music community. I’ve heard Rick Rubin, who I think is one of the best producers out there today, say that George Martin was his hero. Paul McCartney described him as “The Fifth Beatle”. I’m not quite sure where this concept of the “Fifth Beatle” came from, but since the 60s people have been clamoring to be anointed the fifth member of the group. I guess if anybody deserves that title it’d be George Martin. I saw an interview with Joe Strummer of the Clash and he said, “never underestimate the chemistry of four guys in a room”… in the Beatles case, it really was five guys in the room.
George signed the group to their first record deal. We might never have heard the Beatles without him. It was George Martin who sped up the tempo of “Please, Please Me” and gave the Beatles their first #1 hit record. He was originally a jazz guy, but when he heard the Beatles he knew he had something special. Maybe it was the jazz background, and the freeform nature of jazz, that made George Martin the ideal producer for the Beatles. Let’s face it you don’t go from “Love Me Do” to “Sgt Pepper” to “Helter Skelter” without an open minded producer. One of my favorite stories is of John Lennon coming into the control room after a take and saying to George, “make that sound orange.” The fact these guys could see music in colors tells you a lot about their genius.
My brother was always a bigger Beatles fan than I was. I was a Stones guy. It’s like Batman and Superman, you sort of had to pick a side. My brother’s favorite Beatles’ solo work was George Harrison. Over time, I became a big Beatles and George Harrison fan. My brother has always been way ahead of me musically despite being younger. I remember going into my brother’s room in high school with a box of cassettes. It was my intention to tape, from his vast collection of Beatles’ albums, all the Beatles “good songs”. I was going to be highly selective so I could get as much on tape for my car’s tape deck as possible. It soon became apparent that all the Beatles’ songs were good songs. There were no discards in the bunch, with the possible exception of “Revoluton No 9”. That’s an amazing thing for a band and a producer to pull off. Every song sounded like they’d put everything they had into it. And then, the next song was just as brilliant. What a band! I just let the tape player roll that day. Needless to say, I had to buy additional cassettes.
A friend once asked me what a producer does. It’s really a broad definition. There are the technical aspects of it – where to put the microphones when you’re recording the band, where to set up the drum kit, how to arrange the band. The producer oversees all of the technical aspects of production to not only get the perfect sound but to get that perfect sound on tape. For example, Jimmy Page used to double mic John Bonham’s drums, one mic close, one farther away, to get the full sound of the drums, which made their drum-sound so much heavier. Clearly George was a technical genius. There was an organ solo in “Mr. Kite” that George recorded, sliced up the tape, and glued it back together randomly, giving the organ a dissonant, disjointed feel that helped propel the song into a more psychedelic direction. His orchestrations on many of their records are simply brilliant in and of themselves. They frame the music.
There are other aspects to music production that are more subtle. The producer helps the group form the songs. Whether it’s a suggestion about tempo, like “Please, Please Me” or instrumentation, the producer can change the basic sound of the song. The producer can help the artist frame the lyrics. Typically a producer will help coax the lyrics, the hardest part of any song, out of the musician. I have to imagine, in a group as big as the Beatles, George Martin had to employ all his abilities as a shuttle diplomat as well. Having to help pick who plays the guitar solo and who plays the piano on any given song must have been difficult. Egos gone wild. His influence on that band was tremendous.
Martin went on to produce one of my favorite Paul McCartney solo albums, “Tug of War” which was partly inspired by the senseless murder of John Lennon. Martin also produced McCartney’s amazing “Live and Let Die” for the Bond film of the same name. Martin had actually been involved in producing other Bond theme songs. McCartney and his artistic pretensions fit perfectly with Martin’s artistic vision. They were in some ways, an almost better team than Lennon-McCartney. Blasphemy? Maybe. It was Martin whom McCartney turned to when he needed a producer for “Chaos and Creation in My Back Yard”. Martin was retired and he turned Paul onto Nigel Godrich. It turned into a rather difficult relationship but it was a great, if overlooked album.
Martin went on to produce some other great albums by great bands. ‘All Shook Up’ by Cheap Trick was probably their last great album. He did both of Jeff Beck’s milestone jazz-rock fusion albums, ‘Wired’ and ‘Blow By Blow’. Like with the Beatles, Martin was the perfect choice to produce those particular Jeff Beck albums.
My condolences go out to all of George Martin’s family and friends. Like I said, it’s been a tough year for rock and roll heroes this year. It’s a long, dark, bumpy ride folks. Thank God we have all this rock and roll to get us through.