Wednesday 9 March 2016

George Martin

Some air guitar by George Martin
Sad news that George Martin has just died. It's hardly surprising - he was ninety, after all - but it is something of the end of an era for those of us who regard the songs of the Beatles as the soundtrack of our youth. Beatles detractors have sometimes claimed that the real talent on the albums was his, that he moulded the raw energy of a rough-and-ready Merseybeat group into something more commercially appealing, and that without him they would have languished in provincial obscurity, but he always denied such mean-spirited accusations.

A more realistic assessment is that he provided the opportunity for their talent to shine through, helping, advising and sometimes steering them, but the suggestion that he was some kind of Svengali figure is wide of the mark. One simple example was their reaction to his proposal to record How Do You Do It? as their first single. While they did record a competent version, you can tell there's no enthusiasm in their performance, and it really is no more than the Beatles sound by numbers. Gerry and the Pacemakers subsequently had a well-deserved number one hit with their rather more exuberant rendition. The Beatles held out for their own song Love Me Do to be their first single, an act of determined self-assurance virtually unheard of in a newly-signed band back in 1962. Martin's relationship with the Beatles was collaborative, not controlling, and the respect was mutual.

His reach was far wider than the Beatles, from Kenneth McKellar and Jimmy Shand to Ultavox and Celine Dion. Soundtracks included Live And Let Die, Roger Moore's first Bond film, of which Moore has said: "He made my first Bond film sound brilliant!" He also produced the theme song, for my money one of McCartney's best post-Beatles singles, and arranged its orchestral section: the end result was nominated for an Oscar.

Some idea of the sheer breadth and quantity of his work can be seen here, but he will always be known as the 'fifth Beatle'; while such an accolade has been given to a number of people, it is undeniably justified in his case. He was proud of his work with the group, but was always keen to emphasise it was their talent that he helped bring out: "I've been cast in the role of schoolmaster, the toff, the better-educated, and they've been the urchins that I've shaped. It's a load of poppycock, really, because our backgrounds were very similar. Paul and John went to quite good schools. We didn't pay to go to school, my parents were very poor. Again, I wasn't taught music and they weren't, we taught ourselves. As for the posh bit, you can't really go through the Royal Navy without getting a little bit posh. You can't be like a rock 'n' roll idiot throwing soup around in the wardroom."

I'd argue that by enabling the Beatles to transcend their Merseybeat roots, encouraging them to take chances and become more innovative, he contributed to the general reshaping of pop and rock music in the 1960s and beyond, with singer-songwriters, whether in bands or solo, becoming the norm. Previously most pop performers had bought their songs from Tin Pan Alley.

Here is one of my favourite Lennon-McCartney songs, produced, of course, by George Martin who contributed the instrumental break:

1 comment:

  1. Spot on Neville. I have exactly the same thoughts on George M.


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