Sir George Henry Martin CBE (3 January 1926 – 8 March 2016) was an English record producer, arranger, composer, conductor, audio engineer, and musician. He was referred to as the “Fifth Beatle”, including by Paul McCartney, in reference to his extensive involvement on each of the Beatles’ original albums. Martin produced 30 number-one hit singles in the United Kingdom and 23 number-one hits in the United States.
Martin produced comedy and novelty records in the early 1950s, working with Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, and Bernard Cribbins, among others. His career spanned more than six decades of work in music, film, television and live performance. He held a number of senior executive roles at media companies and contributed to a wide range of charitable causes, including his work for The Prince’s Trust and the Caribbean island of Montserrat. In recognition of his services to the music industry and popular culture, he was made a Knight Bachelor in 1996.
Martin was born in Highbury, London. When he was six, Martin’s family acquired a piano that sparked his interest in music. At eight years of age, Martin persuaded his parents, Henry and Betha Beatrice (nėe Simpson) Martin, that he should take piano lessons, but those ended after only eight lessons because of a disagreement between his mother and the teacher.
As a child, he attended several schools, including a “convent school in Holloway”, St Joseph’s School (Highgate), and at St Ignatius’ College (Stamford Hill), where he had won a scholarship. When WWII broke out, and St. Ignatius College students were evacuated to Welwyn Garden City, his family left London, and he was enrolled at Bromley Grammar School.
Despite Martin’s continued interest in music, and “fantasies about being the next Rachmaninov”, he did not initially choose music as a career. He worked briefly as a quantity surveyor, and later for the War Office as a Temporary Clerk (Grade Three), which meant filing paperwork and making tea.
In 1943, when he was 17, he joined the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy and became an aerial observer and a commissioned officer. The war ended before Martin was involved in any combat, and he left the service in 1947. Encouraged by Sidney Harrison (a member of the Committee for the Promotion of New Music) Martin used his veteran’s grant to attend the Guildhall School of Music and Drama from 1947 to 1950, where he studied piano and oboe, and was interested in the music of Rachmaninoff and Ravel, as well as Cole Porter. Martin’s oboe teacher was Margaret Eliot (the mother of Jane Asher, who would later become involved with Paul McCartney). After that, Martin explained that he had just picked it up by himself. On 3 January 1948 – while still at the Academy – Martin married Sheena Chisholm, with whom he would have two children, Alexis and Gregory Paul Martin. He later married Judy Lockhart-Smith on 24 June 1966, and they also had two children, Lucie and Giles Martin.
Following his graduation, he worked for the BBC’s classical music department, then joined EMI in 1950 as an assistant to Oscar Preuss, the head of EMI’s Parlophone Records from 1950 to 1955. Although having been regarded by EMI as a vital German imprint in the past, it was then not taken seriously and only used for EMI’s insignificant acts. After taking over Parlophone, as head of artists and repertoire, when Preuss retired in 1955, Martin recorded classical and Baroque music, original cast recordings, and regional music from around Britain and Ireland.
Martin also produced numerous comedy and novelty records. His first hit for Parlophone was the “Mock Mozart” single by Peter Ustinov with Antony Hopkins – a record reluctantly released in 1952 by EMI, only after Preuss insisted they give his young assistant, Martin, a chance. Later that decade Martin worked with Peter Sellers on two very popular comedy LPs. One was released on 10 format and called The Best Of Sellers, the second was released in 1957, being called Songs for Swinging Sellers (a spoof on Frank Sinatra’s LP Songs for Swingin’ Lovers!). As he had worked with Sellers, he also came to know Spike Milligan, with whom he became a firm friend, and best man at Milligan’s second marriage: “I loved The Goon Show, and issued an album of it on my label Parlophone, which is how I got to know Spike.” The album was Bridge on the River Wye. It was a spoof of the film The Bridge on the River Kwai, being based on the 1957 Goon Show episode “An African Incident.” It was intended to have the same name as the film, but shortly before its release, the film company threatened legal action if the name was used. Martin edited out the ‘K’ every time the word Kwai was spoken, with Bridge on the River Wye being the result. The River Wye is a river that runs through England and Wales. The album featured Milligan, Sellers, Jonathan Miller, and Peter Cook, playing various characters.
Other comedians Martin worked with included Bernard Cribbins, Charlie Drake, Terry Scott, Bruce Forsyth, Michael Bentine, Dudley Moore, Flanders and Swann, Lance Percival, Joan Sims, Bill Oddie, and The Alberts. Martin worked with both Jim Dale and the Vipers Skiffle Group, with whom he had a number of hits. In early 1962, under the pseudonym “Ray Cathode,” Martin released an early electronic dance single, “Time Beat” – recorded at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. As Martin wanted to add rock and roll to Parlophone’s repertoire, he struggled to find a “fireproof” hit-making pop artist or group.
As a producer, Martin recorded the two-man show featuring Michael Flanders and Donald Swann, At the Drop of a Hat, which sold steadily for twenty-five years, although Martin’s breakthrough as a producer came with the Beyond the Fringe show cast album, which starred Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett, and Jonathan Miller, and he would also produce the accompanying soundtrack album for David Frost’s satirical BBC TV show That Was the Week That Was in 1963. Martin’s work transformed the profile of Parlophone from a “sad little company” to a very profitable business.
Martin was contacted by Sid Coleman of Ardmore & Beechwood, who told him about Brian Epstein, the manager of a band whom he had met. He thought Martin might be interested in the group, even though they had been turned down by Decca Records. Until that time, although he had had considerable success with the comedy records, and a number 1 hit with the Temperance Seven, Martin had only minor success with pop music, such as “Who Could Be Bluer” by Jerry Lordan, and singles with Shane Fenton and Matt Monro. After the telephone call by Coleman, Martin arranged a meeting on 13 February 1962 with Brian Epstein. Martin listened to a tape recorded at Decca, and thought that Epstein’s group was “rather unpromising”, but liked the sound of Lennon’s and McCartney’s vocals.
After another meeting with Epstein on 9 May at the Abbey Road studios, Martin was impressed by Epstein’s enthusiasm and agreed to sign the unknown Beatles to a recording contract, without having met them or seen them play live. The contract was not what it seemed, however, as Martin would not sign it himself until he had heard an audition, and later said that EMI had “nothing to lose,” as it offered one penny for each record sold, which was split among the four members. Martin suggested to EMI (after the release of “From Me to You”) that the royalty rate should be doubled without asking for anything in return, which led to Martin being thought of as a “traitor in EMI”.
The Beatles auditioned for Martin on 6 June 1962, in studio three at the Abbey Road studios. Ron Richards and his engineer Norman Smith recorded four songs, which Martin (who was not present during the recording) listened to at the end of the session. The verdict was not promising, however, as Richards complained about Pete Best’s drumming, and Martin thought their original songs were simply not good enough. Martin asked the individual Beatles if there was anything they personally did not like, to which George Harrison replied, “Well, there’s your tie, for a start.” That was the turning point, according to Smith, as John Lennon and Paul McCartney joined in with jokes and comic wordplay, that made Martin think that he should sign them to a contract for their wit alone.
The Beatles’ second recording session with Martin was on 4 September 1962, when they recorded “How Do You Do It”, heavily modified by The Beatles which Martin thought was a sure-fire hit, even though Lennon and McCartney did not want to release it, not being one of their own compositions or style. Martin was correct: Gerry & the Pacemakers’ version, which Martin produced, spent three weeks at No. 1 in April 1963, before being displaced by “From Me to You”. On 11 September 1962, the Beatles re-recorded “Love Me Do” with session player Andy White playing drums. Ringo Starr was asked to play tambourine and maracas, and although he complied, he was definitely “not pleased”. Due to an EMI library error, a 4 September version with Starr playing drums was issued on the British single release; afterwards, the tape was destroyed, and the 11 September recording with Andy White on drums was used for all subsequent releases. Martin would later praise Starr’s drumming, calling him “probably … the finest rock drummer in the world today”. As “Love Me Do” peaked at number 17 in the British charts, on 26 November 1962 Martin recorded “Please Please Me”, which he did only after Lennon and McCartney had almost begged him to record another of their original songs. Martin’s crucial contribution to the song was to tell them to speed up what was initially a slow ballad. After the recording Martin looked over the mixing desk and said, “Gentlemen, you have just made your first number one record”. Martin directed Epstein to find a good publisher, as Ardmore & Beechwood had done nothing to promote “Love Me Do”, informing Epstein of three publishers who, in Martin’s opinion, would be fair and honest, which led them to Dick James.
As an arranger
Martin’s more formal musical expertise helped fill the gaps between the Beatles’ unrefined talent and the sound which distinguished them from other groups, which eventually made them successful. Most of the Beatles’ orchestral arrangements and instrumentation were written or performed by Martin, as well as frequent keyboard parts on the early records, in collaboration with the less musically experienced band. It was Martin’s idea to score a string quartet accompaniment for “Yesterday” against McCartney’s initial reluctance. Martin played the song in the style of Bach to show McCartney the voicings that were available. Another example is the song “Penny Lane”, which featured a piccolo trumpet solo that was requested by McCartney after hearing the instrument on a BBC broadcast. McCartney hummed the melody that he wanted, and Martin notated it for David Mason, the classically trained trumpeter.
Martin’s work as an arranger was used for many Beatles recordings. For “Eleanor Rigby,” he scored and conducted a strings-only accompaniment inspired by Bernard Herrmann. On a Canadian speaking tour in 2007, Martin said that his “Eleanor Rigby” score was influenced by Herrmann’s score for the Alfred Hitchcock thriller Psycho. For “Strawberry Fields Forever”, he and recording engineer Geoff Emerick turned two very different takes into a single master through careful use of vari-speed and editing. For “I Am the Walrus”, he provided a quirky and original arrangement for brass, violins, cellos, and the Mike Sammes Singers vocal ensemble. On “In My Life”, he played a speeded-up baroque piano solo. He worked with McCartney to implement the orchestral climax in “A Day in the Life”, and he and McCartney shared conducting duties the day that it was recorded.
Martin contributed integral parts to other songs, including the piano in “Lovely Rita”, the harpsichord in “Fixing a Hole”, the old steam organ and tape loop arrangement that created the Pablo Fanque circus atmosphere that Lennon requested on “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” (both Martin and Lennon played steam organ parts for this song), and the orchestration in “Good Night”. The first song that Martin did not arrange was “She’s Leaving Home”, as he had a prior engagement to produce a Cilla Black session, so McCartney contacted arranger Mike Leander to do it. Martin was reportedly hurt by this, but still produced the recording and conducted the orchestra himself. Martin was in demand as an independent arranger and producer by the time of The White Album, so the Beatles were left to produce various tracks by themselves.
Martin composed and arranged the score for the Beatles’ film Yellow Submarine and the James Bond film Live and Let Die, for which Paul McCartney wrote and sang the title song. He helped arrange Paul and Linda McCartney’s American Number 1 single “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”.
Paul McCartney once commended Martin by saying: “George Martin quite experimental for who he was, a grown-up.”
Film and composing work
Beginning in the late 1950s, Martin began to supplement his producer income by publishing music and having his artists record it. He used the pseudonyms Lezlo Anales and John Chisholm, before settling on Graham Fisher as his primary pseudonym.
Martin composed, arranged, and produced film scores since the early 1960s, including the instrumental scores of the films A Hard Day’s Night (1964, for which he won an Academy Award Nomination), Ferry Cross the Mersey (1965), Yellow Submarine (1968), and Live and Let Die (1973). Other notable movie scores include Crooks Anonymous (1962), The Family Way (1966), Pulp (1972, starring Michael Caine and Mickey Rooney), the Peter Sellers film The Optimists of Nine Elms (1973), and the John Schlesinger directed Honky Tonk Freeway (1981).
Martin was also commissioned to write an official opening theme for BBC Radio 1’s launch in September 1967. Entitled Theme One, it was the first music heard on Radio 1 (not The Move’s Flowers in the Rain, which was the first record played in full on the station).
In Nov 2017 the Craig Leon produced album George Martin – Film Scores and Original Orchestral Music was released. The album of new recordings collected a selection of Martin’s compositions together for the first time, including previously unheard pieces Belle Etoile and sketches from the feature film The Mission (1986) which weren’t used in the original soundtrack.
The Beatles Anthology
Martin oversaw post-production on The Beatles Anthology (which was originally entitled The Long and Winding Road) in 1994 and 1995, working again with Geoff Emerick. Martin decided to use an old 8-track analogue deck – which EMI learned an engineer still had – to mix the songs for the project, instead of a modern digital deck. He explained this by saying that the old deck created a completely different sound, which a new deck could not accurately reproduce. He also said he found the whole project a strange experience (and McCartney agreed), as they had to listen to themselves chatting in the studio, 25–30 years previously.
Martin stepped down when it came to producing the two new singles reuniting McCartney, Harrison, and Starr, who wanted to overdub two old Lennon demos. Martin had suffered a hearing loss, so he left the work to writer/producer Jeff Lynne of the Electric Light Orchestra.
Cirque du Soleil and Love
In 2006, Martin and his son, Giles Martin, remixed 80 minutes of Beatles music for the Las Vegas stage performance Love, a joint venture between Cirque du Soleil and the Beatles’ Apple Corps Ltd. A soundtrack album from the show was released that same year.
Martin’s contribution to the Beatles’ work received regular critical acclaim, and led to him being described as the “Fifth Beatle” (in 2016, Paul McCartney wrote that “If anyone earned the title of the fifth Beatle it was George”). However, he distanced himself from this claim, stating that assistant and roadie Neil Aspinall would be more deserving of that title.
In the immediate aftermath of the Beatles’ break-up, a time when he made many angry utterances, John Lennon trivialised Martin’s importance to the Beatles’ music. In his 1970 interview with Jann Wenner, Lennon said, ” is another one of those people, who think they made us. They didn’t. I’d like to hear Dick James’ music and I’d like to hear George Martin’s music, please, just play me some.”
In a 1971 letter to Paul McCartney, Lennon wrote, “When people ask me questions about ‘What did George Martin really do for you?,’ I have only one answer, ‘What does he do now?’ I noticed you had no answer for that! It’s not a putdown, it’s the truth.” Lennon wrote that Martin took too much credit for the Beatles’ music. Commenting specifically on “Revolution 9”, Lennon said with ironic authority, “For Martin to state that he was ‘painting a sound picture’ is pure hallucination. Ask any of the other people involved. The final editing Yoko and I did alone.”
Lennon later retracted many of the comments he made in that era, attributing them to his anger. He subsequently spoke with great affection and fondness for Martin. In 1971 he said: “George Martin made us what we were in the studio. He helped us develop a language to talk to other musicians.”
According to Alan Parsons, he had “great ears” and “rightfully earned the title of “Fifth Beatle”. Julian Lennon called Martin “The Fifth Beatle, without question”.
Martin produced recordings for many other artists, including contemporaries of the Beatles, such as Matt Monro, Cilla Black, Gerry & The Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas, The Fourmost, David and Jonathan, and The Action, as well as The King’s Singers, the band America, guitarists Jeff Beck, John McLaughlin and John Williams, sixties duo Edwards Hand, Gary Brooker, Neil Sedaka, Ultravox, country singer Kenny Rogers, UFO, Cheap Trick, Elton John, Little River Band, Celine Dion and Yoshiki Hayashi of X Japan.
Martin worked with Paul Winter on his (1972) Icarus album, which was recorded in a rented house by the sea in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Winter said that Martin taught him “how to use the studio as a tool”, and allowed him to record the album in a relaxed atmosphere, which was different from the pressurised control in a professional studio. In 1979 he worked with Ron Goodwin to produce the album containing The Beatles Concerto, written by John Rutter. In 2010, Martin was the executive producer of the hard rock debut of Arms of the Sun, an all-star project featuring Rex Brown (Pantera, Down), John Luke Hebert (King Diamond), Lance Harvill and Ben Bunker.
In 1991, Martin contributed the string arrangement and conducted the orchestra for the song “Ticket To Heaven” on the last Dire Straits studio album On Every Street. In 1992, Martin worked with Pete Townshend on the musical stage production of The Who’s Tommy. The play opened on Broadway in 1993, with the original cast album being released that summer. Martin won the Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album in 1993, as the producer of that album.
In 1995, he contributed the horn and string arrangement for the song “Latitude” on the Elton John Made in England album, which was recorded at Martin’s AIR Studios London. He also produced “Candle in the Wind 1997”, Elton’s tribute single to the late Diana, Princess of Wales, which topped charts around the world in September 1997.
Music from the James Bond series
Martin also directly and indirectly contributed to the main themes of three films in the James Bond series. Although Martin did not produce the theme for the second Bond film, From Russia with Love, he was responsible for the signing of Matt Monro to EMI, just months prior to his recording of the song of the same title.
Martin also produced two of the best-known James Bond themes. The first was “Goldfinger” by Shirley Bassey in 1964. The second, in 1973, was “Live and Let Die” by Paul McCartney and Wings for the film of the same name. He also composed and produced the film’s score.
Martin died in his sleep on the night of 8 March 2016 at his home in Wiltshire, England, at the age of 90. His death was announced by Ringo Starr on his Twitter account. A spokesperson for the Universal Music Group confirmed his death. The cause of his death has not been announced. He is survived by his wife of nearly fifty years, Judy Lockhart Smith, and his four children.
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