Why George Martin, Who Died Tuesday, Was Called the ‘Fifth Beatle’
George Martin may not have been as famous as John, Paul, the other George or Ringo, but he was as key a member of The Beatles as any of the musicians..
Martin, who produced all of the group’s studio recordings, died Tuesday at the age of 90. And the surviving Beatles were quick to mourn his passing.
“He was a true gentleman and like a second father to me, McCartney expanded on his Website. “He guided the career of The Beatles with such skill and good humour that he became a true friend to me and my family. If anyone earned the title of the fifth Beatle it was George. 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.”
Martin was knighted in 1996 and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. Over a 50+ year career, Martin produced some 700 records and won six Grammys.
Martin’s real contribution
Some of the Beatles most distinctive sounds came not from the band, but from Martin’s imagination.
“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,” wrote McCartney. “After I had done this George Martin said to me, “Paul I have an idea of putting a 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.'”
While he will always be linked with the Fab Four, whom he signed to a record contract in 1962, he also had a hand in the sound of many other rock legends.
His work with Elton John on the 1997 remake of “Candle In The Wind” made the song one of the best selling singles of all time. Originally written as a tribute to Marilyn Monroe, Martin helped John retool it to become a tribute to Princess Diana after her death.
Other artists he worked with included Celine Dion, Jeff Beck, Kenny Rogers, Neil Sedaka and the 70s band America – whose biggest hit “Sister Golden Hair” was a Martin production.
Long after the Beatles were finished, he stayed especially close to McCartney, working with the artist on some of his biggest solo projects, including Wings’ “Live and Let Die,” “Say Say Say” (a collaboration with Michael Jackson) and “Ebony & Ivory” (McCartney’s duet with Stevie Wonder).
Devoted to the Beatles legacy
While he formally retired from studio recording in 1998, he kept a hand in not only the music industry, but in the legacy of The Beatles. He spent three years working with his son Giles to create the soundtrack for Cirque du Soleil’s “The Beatles: Love” – a showthat has run in Las Vegas since 2006.
Martin took the roundabout way to his calling. After considering careers in architecture and aircraft design, he joined the British Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm in 1942. But the draw of the music industry was one he ultimately couldn’t resist.
“Music was pretty well my whole life,” he wrote in his autobiography “All You Need Is Ears”.
By age 29, he was the youngest person to ever run a label at EMI Records. Seven years after taking the job, he met with the Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein. No other British label would sign the band, but Martin saw something he liked.
“It was love at first sight,” Martin wrote. “That may seem exaggerated, but the fact is that we hit it off straight away.”
The next year, the band released “Love Me Do” (which took 15 takes to record) and “Please Please Me” (which took 18 takes) – and the rock world was never the same.