The fifth Beatle
5 March 2021-
At a time when music production evolves towards online platforms, with Timbaland announcing the launch of his own beat marketplace, we figured it would be interesting to take a moment and remember how the most important producer in modern music history did his thing... that would be Sir George Martin.
There are perhaps too many things to unpack here. First, yes, the futur of music production (at least a large part of it) will likely be centered around the making and selling of beats. However, that does not mean in the slightest that the producers’ work will be over after that: on the contrary, beat making is only the starting point of modern producing, with all the rest firmly at the hands of said producers, from arranging vocals, mixing instruments, tweaking and/or meshing beats… It’s a whole new world out there and we can’t wait to see what comes out…
Second, that “fifth Beatle” claim. Famously disputed, it could (in our humble opinion) only really be used in reference to two musical icons: the Beatles’ original manager, Brian Epstein, who was instrumental in having the band sign with EMI (among other things); and George Martin, the producer who actually had the band signed at EMI. Of course, this is not EMI per se we are talking about here, but its Parlophone sublabel: in perhaps the most spectacular lack of foresight in recorded music history, the mothership had failed to pick up the Liverpudlian bunch…
Anyway, back to Mr Martin. Before taking a gamble on the Beatles, the man was a classically trained musician who had been making a living producing novelty acts. His thing was recorded comedy, before Rock n’ Roll in general and Lennon and McCartney in particular came along. Recognizing the raw talent of the pair (as well as Starr and Harrison, lest we forget), but equally aware of their limited technical knowledge, he took it upon himself to help these artists forge their (now) celebrated sound. Details of these gentlemen’s work together would make for several books — and they have — so there is no way we could condense that in one short post here. But we’ll still try.
Martin is the one who suggested the lads speed up “Please please me” from a ballad into one of the standards of Rock n’ Roll. Martin is the one who convinced them to have “Yesterday” play out with violins only, with the guys hesitant to even put it out as a Beatles record, creating a timeless classic in the process. Martin is the one who shaped “A day in the life” from 2 songs written by McCartney and Lennon separately, complete with a 40-piece orchestra, thus concluding the most important album in modern musical history (that would be Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, for the ones not listening in the back). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg…
There is an anecdote Martin told once that reflects both his unique genius — and that of Lennon and McCartney. Reflecting on the pair’s different approaches to music, he remembered how both would come to him with questions during recording session. While McCartney would typically ask if there could more strings on a particular section of a particular song, Lennon meanwhile asked if “For the benefit of Mr. Kite” could sound more “like an orange” (sic)… While this says a great deal about these guys’ vision, it also says loads about Martin’s superhuman ability to combine these wildly different talents and allowing them to work together for the better part of a decade, creating music that is very much still being listened to so many decades later.
And that, my friends, is why a beat is only the beginning of a producer’s job.