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The Beatles – Goodbye to Sir George

Musical notesOne by one we are losing the men responsible for the greatest and most influential phenomenon in the history of popular music: the Beatles. John Lennon and George Harrison have gone. Now we’ve lost Sir George Martin, the man sometimes described as the fifth Beatle. He produced all of the their hit singles, but he did much more than that: he helped turn the raw power of their music into high-octane fuel, fine-tuning their genius and revolutionizing the whole of popular culture.

The relationship between the Fab Four and the Posh One was a genuine example of synergy. That’s a much misused word, but it truly applied in their case. The Beatles and their producer were two separate entities whose collaboration made each more powerful than they would have been on their own. Lennon and McCartney were natural musicians with enormous instinctive talent, but they weren’t trained, couldn’t read or write music, and painted in the brash primary colours of rock’n’roll before George Martin signed them to the record label EMI.

Martin was classically trained and had years of recording experience under his belt with full orchestras and jazz bands, not just rock’n’rollers and comedians. He added subtler shades and extra nuances to the Beatles’ musical palette. They had the ground-breaking ideas; he was able to bring those ideas to life. You might expect that the five men had nothing in common when they first met: four wise-cracking lads from Liverpool and the former Navy officer from London. But Martin had produced records that the Beatles admired, including the vocal pyrotechnics of Peter Sellers and the anarchic comedy of Spike Milligan and the Goons, who were great favourites of John Lennon.

And so Martin and the Beatles were able to forge an instant bond. He was impressed by their charisma and charm; they were impressed by his calm and control. They were also excited by the possibilities opened to them by his enormous musical knowledge and his familiarity with far more instruments than just guitars and drums. “Please, Please Me”, the first single Martin recorded with them, was a classic pop song, but it gave no real clue as to what lay ahead. The Beatles packed decades of musical evolution and experiment into the brief span of the 1960s, as they blazed to fame, dazzled the world, and then broke apart for good. Martin was crucial to their success and their lasting fame.

It’s difficult to realize now how primitive recording techniques were when the Beatles began. Studios had only four tracks and music was manipulated physically: you cut tape up and stuck it back together. The Beatles had gold in their musical imaginations and Martin was there to help them mine it and craft it into shape. Under his guidance, they invited their ever-growing army of fans to enter new musical landscapes. Every album was ground-breaking, delighting the general public and striking awe into the Beatles’ fellow musicians. But even after the strangeness of Rubber Soul and the psychedelia of Revolver the Beatles could still say: “You ain’t heard nothing yet!”

Because Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was still to come. If it is the greatest album of all time, as many would claim nearly half a-century after its release, then George Martin must take a substantial part of the credit. It was the first album he recorded with the Beatles on eight track and they placed their greatest ever demands on his studio wizardry. They could hear what they wanted in their heads; he was able to get those head-sounds onto tape. Sgt Pepper’s is an album that has to be explored like a continent. It has many styles, many moods and many hidden beauties – and oddities.

Even other musicians and studio technicians must have been amazed or baffled by what Martin managed to do with the Beatles’ ideas. And it wasn’t just human beings who were stopped in their tracks by what they heard: Martin put a high-pitched tone on the inner groove for the dogs of the world. That high pitch probably marked the high point of the Beatles’ career. There were great albums still to come, like Abbey Road and the White Album, but it was downhill all the way after Sgt Pepper’s.

A few years later the Beatles would break up and go their separate ways. From then on John, Paul, George and Ringo worked with George Martin as solo artists, not as a band. The synergy was gone and all of those five men were living, playing and recording in the shadow of what they achieved in the ’sixties. How could it be otherwise? The Beatles gave more to the world in that one decade than some bands have given in six decades. But the Fab Four were really the Fab Five: they couldn’t have done it without George Martin.

Source: Safehands Funeral Plans

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