Sir George Martin, frequent collaborator and legendary music producer of The Beatles, passed away on March 8th, 2016 at the age of 90. Martin is considered the true “Fifth Beatle” for all of his efforts in the studio and out. The legendary lineup of Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr may not have ever been, if it weren’t for Martin. When The Beatles auditioned for Martin at Abbey Road Studios, they were still working with their first drummer Pete Best. It was Martin who suggested that they fire him and get a new drummer, Starr, who became a permanent member.
Martin was able to bring to the table what the members of The Beatles could not bring: years of experience in the studio and a trained ear. He demonstrated his expertise in his orchestral arrangements for many Beatles songs,adding trumpets and string instruments, and displaying a feel for what would enhance the song that the members of the band would bring to the table. With 30 number ones on both the UK and US charts, it’s clear that Martin knew what would make a song great.
So in tribute, let us take a look back at five songs that showcased Martin’s iconic magic.
Strawberry Fields Forever
Two versions were recorded: an orchestral recording and a more traditional rock version. The band couldn’t decide what recording to go with so Martin was able to blend the orchestral recording with the rock version to create the unique sound of the classic song. The main difficulty with combining these two tracks was that both were in different keys and temperatures. Through many hours in the studio, Martin was able to fuse them together.
Martin wrote and conducted the orchestra here, another song that would not have the same power without Martin’s touch. The string section of this song is really what captivates the listener and gives the song the eerie feel that adds to the tale of this strange woman.
“Yesterday” was the first song that Martin added an orchestra part to, and it is clearly influential to the sound the piece conveys . The strings added a somber feeling to the lyrics and the overall message of the record. The emotional intensity of this song is due to the strings, and without Martin’s brilliance in writing and conducting that part, the song might not have been as powerful as it was.
Martin brought in the trumpeter to play on the song “Penny Lane” of the Magical Mystery Tour album. The trumpet line became a signature part of the classic tune. This song was released as a single with “Strawberry Fields Forever”. Martin was able to take what McCartney and Lennon wanted in their songs, and improve it in ways they couldn’t have imagined.
The final Beatles song that I felt was a true testimony to the magic of George Martin, was not a song alone but the entire Grammy award-winning album of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart Clubs Band. Martin is noted for adding so many different parts to the songs on the album. It is on this record that listeners could hear how many layers there were in the music. This album demonstrated how the music studio could add so much to a tune, and revolutionized how albums could be produced.
Sir George Martin leaves behind a legacy of incomparable talent and music that showcased his gift, and for that the world is grateful.
Rest in Peace Sir George.