Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Sir George Henry Martin CBE (3 January 1926 – 8 March 2016)

There's so much that could and should be said about George Martin and this tribute will only scratch the surface but my desire to do justice to important subjects often means I end up writing nothing at all. So here goes.

The Beatles didn't change the music business. They invented it. They did a lot of other things too. But without a few people the Beatles don't happen. Obviously John, Paul, George and Ringo. The Beatles' booking agent, Allan Williams, sends them to their first residency in Hamburg where they get their '10,000 hours'. Then Brian Epstein who keeps them working, smartens them up enough to meet the public halfway and gets them a record deal. And George Martin.

George's contribution is immeasurable. The greatest contribution the Beatles made to society are their songs and recordings, neither of which existed before George got involved. They had a few, but Love Me Do was about the most advanced composition they had on hand and that was even rawer than the version we all know. The stories about them having a back catalogue of 100 songs were just that - stories.

Lennon and McCartney did not start writing in earnest till they had reasons, positive and negative. The positive was a record contract. The negative was the threat of having to record cheesy covers if they couldn't come up with anything better.

George Martin signed the greatest songwriters in the world – before they'd written any great songs. Why? Gut instinct. He felt they had a spark, some magic ingredient.

George then allowed them to be what they needed to be. He resisted cultural norms and hoped something new would fill the vacuum. He resisted the temptation to make Paul or John 'the leader' and the rest a backing band. He allowed them to write their own material. As they grew, he continued to allow them space to 'break the rules'. Again and again and again and again. Perhaps his greatest gift was his inability to say “no” to a musical idea.

George used his skills to fill in gaps in their abilities. At first, he arranged songs, produced (obviously) and played piano. Later, starting with Yesterday, he used his skills as an arranger not only to put dots on manuscript but to translate and bridge the chasm between pop and classical music. He used his experience in comedy, using sound effects and 'samples' from the Abbey Road archives to spice up tracks like Yellow Submarine and Sgt Pepper.

He provided a safe space to create away from the 'suits' in what was an incredibly stuffy and rigid studio system, doing the same for his engineers too – arguing successfully that the Sgt Pepper Grammy belong to Geoff Emerick not EMI studios.

George kept Lennon and McCartney to a rigorous release schedule – a new record every three month, insisting album tracks should not be recycled as single, which kept them writing, denying them time for naval gazing and second guessing and meant they were always developing and improving. Similarly he ran a tight ship ensuring that no matter how crazy the band became the studio was treated as a workplace, free from fans and hangers-on, where songs were recorded properly.

Lastly he imparted, almost subconsciously, many ideas from classical composition, development and harmony which John, Paul and George continued to use well into their solo careers. You can hear his influence in the harmonies of That Boy and Because, the intros to Can't Buy Me Love and Help and the wonderful arrangements of Eleanor Rigby and I Am The Walrus and many, many others.

Rest In Peace, George.

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Guardian Obituary


  1. Well said, thanks. It says a lot that he remained on good terms with all four after the split.

  2. Amen to that, Matt. They say that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. The Beatles were thirsty for ways to improve, and George Martin was the well they went to, again and again. My life has been enriched by contributions The Beatles and the production team lead by Sir George have made to music and philosophy, and I am diminished by the passing of each one. Thank you, Sir George, and rest in peace.

  3. a great tribute and thank you so much..

  4. well said indeed, thank you, Matt.
    and thank you Sir George Martin, may you make music yet

  5. There have been multiple points in my studies of The Beatles in which it struck me just how influential and important George Martin was to them, and you've just reminded me of all of the reasons I thought that. Thank you for this tribute to him.

  6. Really nice post Matt!

    It raises for me the nagging question of who should get credit for songwriting! I would guess it is quite common for a songwriter to bring a partially finished song into the studio and then the producer and maybe some top-notch session musicians, help turn that into a masterpiece! Clearly this was the case with George Martin; it seems a very good case could be made that without him The Beatles would never have happened (at least not with anywhere near the level of success and influence they had!)

    So, why wouldn't someone like him receive songwriting credit which, of course, would have translated to far more financial benefit for him. He probably lived quite well anyway but I always wonder why the business was set up this way!

    1. Thanks ColdDawg - I think you'd like this post on the Beatles uncredited co-writers

      "Why wouldn't he receive credit?" - he should. But the music biz is very unfair. Especially when giving 'credit' means someone has to give that person money.

      And as for "living quite well" Martin got screwed in a major way by EMI as a producer too. No royalties from records only a flat fee (even though one year Martin-produced EMI records were no 1 for 6 months of the year) and he was also tied into a contract where if his records made LESS than £2 mill he would end up OWING EMI money.