Friday, March 11, 2016

Rest in Music, George Martin

Lots of people sought or were given the title of The Fifth Beatle, but in reality--that is, in the music--there's no question: it was George Martin.

Everyone who gets to success needs talent (maybe even genius), timing, luck and help.  A person who believes in them, and a person who knows the ropes and hopefully has power to get things done.  Brian Epstein believed in the Beatles, and though he wasn't a great businessman, he stuck with them as they dealt with gigs and contracts and then success.  But George Martin discovered them musically, and became a participant in the music they made for their entire career as a group.

Every record company in England had rejected the Beatles.  George Martin was the producer and director of a tiny offshoot of a huge conservative company.  He'd mostly produced comedy records.  But somehow Epstein found him, got him to see the lads.  And they charmed him.  He liked them before he liked their music.

He listened to them, always, and from the start.  When he found them a song he was sure would be a number one hit, they finally got the nerve to say no.  He didn't throw them out.  He'd already fashioned a record out of a very simple song of theirs called "Love Me Do."  Now he asked them if they had something of their own they wanted to try.  John had written a kind of Roy Orbison song, with a few Buddy Holly touches in the lyrics and bridge.  Martin got them to speed it up, they worked on it, recorded it.  When they were done he told them, you've got your first number one.

It was "Please Please Me."  I defy anyone even today to sit completely still while listening to it.  Or to avoid smiling.

Paul McCartney's response to George Martin's death the other day was beautiful and so apropos. "He was a true gentleman and like a second father to me. He guided the career of The Beatles with such skill and good humour that he became a true friend to me and my family... From the day that he gave The Beatles our first recording contract, to the last time I saw him, he was the most generous, intelligent and musical person I’ve ever had the pleasure to know."

McCartney was the one former Beatle who later return to work with Martin as producer on several of his albums.  McCartney also got him the gig to arrange the theme song for the Bond film "Live and Let Die."  The movie's producers were so pleased with it that they asked Martin to write the music for the entire film.

Though Sir George Martin came to look and sound like the personification of the English gentleman, he came from poverty deeper than that in any of the Beatles' homes.  He did not need degrees from prestigious universities or training with the greats.  He taught himself to read and write music.

His favorite composer was Ravel, and that helps explain why he was such a great partner for the Beatles.  Ravel was eclectic and exploratory, who painted impressionist pictures in music.  When the best John Lennon could do in describing a sound he wanted--"make it like an orange"--George Martin made it like an orange.

Here's a fine piece on George Martin and the Beatles, and another on his post-Beatles work.  Great feature of  Internet articles is the musical and film examples they include.  There were lots of listicules of the author's favorite Beatles productions.  Surprisingly there's not alot on YouTube, but I like this video on "Please, Please Me" and other early Beatles.

May he rest in peace.  His work lives on.

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