Friday, December 30, 2016

R.I.P. 2016 George Martin

I don't have much to add to Adam Gopnik's Post Script on George Martin in the New Yorker, especially as it confirms something I noticed when listening recently to the early cuts on the Beatles Anthology: at first the Beatles were very close to a comedy group.  When he met them, George Martin was chiefly a comedy record producer, and he mostly liked their sense of humor.

Of course both Martin and the Beatles together transcended the category, but that specific early 60s era of lunacy, parody and satire, from Peter Sellers and The Goon Show, Beyond the Fringe and That Was The Week That Was in the UK (and briefly in the US) to the likes of Stan Freberg in the US, was an important aspect of the cultural shift that became what's known as the 60s.

As Gopnik notes, those early audition tapes weren't special in themselves. The Beatles were fortunate in finding the right supporters, like George Martin--to help liberate their unforeseen genius.  That comic orientation would persist--they picked Richard Lester, who'd also been associated with Peter Sellers (as George Martin had been) and the Goons to direct their movies, and continued through John Lennon's books and the group's wonderful Christmas records for their fan club.

That comic sense--parody, self-parody, satire--combined with a Liverpool twist and a British larking about--would transmute through the decade (in the crucible of mind-expanding drugs, the craziness and dangers of nuclear Cold War and Vietnam) into a kind of transcendent, desperate joy, a refusal to submit to despair in the face of possible annihilation.  It would be a major element and effect of the Beatles very individual music.

All of the Beatles were funny, and all in different ways.  George Harrison's spiritual musical expressions were part of that transcendent joy and wisdom, but he also wrote one of their great satires ("Piggies") and later bankrolled Monty Python movies.

In all this, George Martin provided all that Gopnik notes: possibilities found in the musical literature, the willingness and ability to follow creative paths and whims, and a specific taste and ability in executing arrangements as well as constructing recordings that became the definition of a producer.  The Beatles wouldn't have been the Beatles without him.

Like all great producers, Martin worked on records nobody heard with artists that never made it.  But that doesn't diminish his contribution with the Beatles, which extended to the more recent anthologies and resurrections.  He became a curator as well as a co-creator.

George Martin died in March 2016. (My commentary at the time is here.)  His work lives on.

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