Sir George Martin, the composer, musician, and rock producer extraordinaire who helped define the sound of the Beatles, has died at the age of 90. Martin passed away peacefully last night at his home in England, as reported by CNN.
Known anecdotally as the “fifth Beatle,” (regardless of others who claimed the title) Martin is credited with helping to lace together the many threads of the fab four into more cohesive works of art. An experimenter in the studio with a traditional composition background, Martin first signed the Beatles in 1962 when the group was still playing copycat to early, blues-based Rock ‘N Roll.
With Martin serving as both mentor and collaborator by all accounts, the four lads from Liverpool began diving into deeper theoretical composition, using richer chord structures and song forms that helped push the boundaries of their music into an iconic new chapter.
“George Martin made us what we were in the studio,” said John Lennon in 1971 (via Rolling Stone).
“He guided the career of The Beatles with such skill and good humour that he became a true friend to me and my family.”
The Beatles and Martin dove into whole new realms of pop music, moving from some of their early pop hits like Love Me Do to expand into whole new genres. With Martin as a musical guide, the Beatles helped create the psychedelic music movement with albums like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Martin helped the band to experiment with esoteric composition forms such as the use of raw tape recordings (known in the composition scene as Musique Concrete) to create a colorful tapestry of musical soundscapes.
He played along in sessions on the piano, and helped create new recording techniques to constantly redefine the sound of the Beatles in studio, which played an integral part in their success — especially after they famously stopped touring in 1966. And somehow, no matter how far they took the music, the brilliant alchemy of the five working together never failed.
No one knows the importance of Martin to the Beatles better than Sir Paul McCartney. The living legend penned a tribute to his lost friend this morning, posted on his blog.
“I have so many wonderful memories of this great man that will be with me forever, McCartney writes. “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.”
McCartney goes on to tell the following story about Martin’s creative genius applied to one of his best loved songs.
I brought the song Yesterday to a recording session and the guys in the band suggested that I sang it solo and accompany myself on guitar … George Martin said to me, ‘Paul I have an idea of putting string quartet on the record.’
I said, “Oh no George, we are a rock and roll band and I don’t think it’s a good idea”. With the gentle bedside manner of a great producer he said to me, “Let us try it and if it doesn’t work we won’t use it and we’ll go with your solo version”. I agreed to this and went round to his house the next day to work on the arrangement.
He took my chords that I showed him and spread the notes out across the piano, putting the cello in the low octave and the first violin in a high octave and gave me my first lesson in how strings were voiced for a quartet. When we recorded the string quartet at Abbey Road, it was so thrilling to know his idea was so correct that I went round telling people about it for weeks. His idea obviously worked because the song subsequently became one of the most recorded songs ever with versions by Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye and thousands more.
This is just one of the many memories I have of George who went on to help me with arrangements on ‘Eleanor Rigby’, ‘Live and Let Die’ and many other songs of mine.
Ringo Starr, too, remembered Martin for his friendship and mentorship today, tweeting “God bless George Martin peace and love to Judy and his family love Ringo and Barbara George will be missed xxx.”
Throughout his lifetime, Martin worked with multiple other stars outside the Beatles realm, including Cheap Trick, Peter Sellers, Celine Dion, and Jeff Beck. He also guided the Beatles in their solo careers after they’d left the Abbey Road nest, helping McCartney produce huge rock numbers like Live and Let Die. Later in life, he reworked old Beatles tunes for Cirque Du Soleil in the show The Beatles Love. It was strange, maybe even sacrilegious to some at first, but it created whole new ways to listen to the classic tracks. And besides, if anyone had the right to, as the official “fifth Beatle” (“If anyone earned the title … it was George,” Paul writes), Martin did.
But it was his humor, his kindness, and his ability to take himself far less seriously than others did, that those closest to him will remember most.
McCartney summed up his tribute to Martin with the following words:
“The world has lost a truly great man who left an indelible mark on my soul and the history of British music. God bless you George and all who sail in you!”