George Martin Produced More Than The Beatles

It’s highly doubtful that “The Fifth Beatle” will appear as a category on Jeopardy because there isn’t a definitive answer.  Millions would say the fifth was keyboardist extraordinaire Billy Preston.  George Harrison said there were two “fifth Beatles;” namely Neil Aspinall, their road manager and chief executive of Apple, and Derek Taylor, the group’s PR manager.  But it’s hard to argue with Paul McCartney in his belief that George Martin was the definitive fifth Beatle.

After learning of Martin’s death on March 9, 2016, at the age of 90, Paul stated “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.”

Indeed, Martin’s contributions to the group’s sound made him more like the “4½ Beatle.” He not only created magical musical passages in their songs, like arranging and composing the cello and trumpets arrangement in “Strawberry Fields,” the staccato string riffs in “Yesterday” and the strings and horns in “I Am the Walrus,” but he and engineer Geoff Emerick were like mad sound scientists. Martin recalled recording himself playing the piano into a tape that ran at half speed and then replaying it at full speed. The piano then sounded like a harpsichord on “In My Life.”

Martin’s vast success didn’t stop with the Mop Tops. After the Beatles broke up, Martin produced eleven tunes that became number-one hits in America, starting with McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” in 1973 and ending in 1997 with a rendition of “Candle in the Wind,” a 1973 Elton John song about Marilyn Monroe rewritten to honor the late Princess Diana.

But before his hit streak, Martin struck out with his first post-Beatles-producing effort in 1970 for a group named Seatrain. John Lennon sarcastically wrote to Paul in 1971: “When people ask me questions about ‘What did George Martin really do for you?’ I have only one answer, ‘What does he do now?’ Just look at the world charts and, by the way, I hope Seatrain is a good substitute for the Beatles.”

Unfortunately, not many record buyers were all aboard for the short ride of Seatrain which folded after four albums.  But the “fifth Beatle” soon found success as the “Fourth American” with the three original members of America being Dewey Bunnell, Gerry Beckley, and Dan Peek.  Bunnell recalled how, in 1974, the band first met Martin.

“George later told us that he was considering retiring right before this project (America’s album Holiday). This was like a turning point for him because at that time he wasn’t doing anybody else. So the big meeting was finally arranged. He came in and made himself comfortable. He took his shoes off and said, ‘Oh! It’s so hot here in your country, but I’m having a great time. Lovely to meet you lads.’”

Martin’s production work on seven America albums produced the Top Ten hits “Tin Man, (#4 in 1974)” “Lonely People (#5 in 1974”), and “Sister Golden Hair (#1 in 1975).”  Bunnell noted that the 12-string guitar opening to “Sister Golden Hair,”  was heavily influenced by George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord.”

Martin went on to produce hits for artists ranging from Celine Dion to Neil Sedaka.  But of all his clients, none were more grateful for his helpful hand than Jeff Beck.  Beck recalled: “I wouldn’t say he completely comprehended what I was doing, but then I didn’t either. It was nice to work with somebody who knows a G flat from an A minor. George Martin gave me a career.”  Their collaboration resulted in the excellent Blow by Blow, which went to #4 in the charts in 1975.

But of all the musicians that Martin and his sidekick Emerick befriended, both held a special fondness for Cheap Trick who they worked with on their 1980 album, All Shook Up.  Emerick stated: “It is one of my all-time favorite albums.”  Martin added: “Cheap Trick were charming people, great fun and good musicians.”  Cheap Trick guitarist, Rick Nielsen fulfilled his wildest Beatle dream by working with Lennon on “I’m Losing You”; his fretwork caused John to gush to producer Jack Douglas, “God, I wish I’d had Rick on ‘Cold Turkey.’ Clapton choked up.’”

And even though Martin never produced a solo Lennon effort, Martin stated on a 1995 BBC “Desert Islands Disc” segment, “Once the Beatles finished, I made far more money because people seem to think I had something to offer them.”

When asked if he should have asked the Beatles for one percent of their publishing when they first met, George graciously replied:
“I’ve been awfully lucky. I’ve had a wonderful life. I’ve met the most wonderful people and worked with the greatest of artists. I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve got no gripes at all.”

-Mark Daponte

Photo: George Martin (Getty)

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Mark Daponte is a copy/blog writer for an advertising company and has published/sold four short stories, three full length screenplays, nine short screenplays (including two animation scripts) and punches up screenplays—because they don’t punch back. He has had six short comedic plays performed by various theater companies, including one in Los Angeles, (Sacred Fools) and Sacramento, CA (Sacramento Actors Theater Company). When he isn’t sinking down to a thirteen-year-old’s level to make his teenaged sons laugh, he can be found seeking signs of intelligent life in his hometown of Brooklyn, NY.

10 comments on “George Martin Produced More Than The Beatles

  1. Mark Hudson

    A real gent. By the way, people should check out “The man in the bowler hat” by Stackridge, which George produced. A whimsical and quintessentially English prog/pop band with more than a hint of influence from the Fabs.

    • Ditto. It stumps me that Stackridge is consistently and criminally overlooked in most GM production discussions I come across. Their album PINAFORE DAYS is a marvelous bridge between The Beatles and America. George even composed “God Speed the Plough,” an instrumental Neo-classical track for the PINAFORE album. Stackridge deserves their own CultureSona article. They are still around in some form, mostly as a regional concert act in the UK.

  2. Simply stated, Lennon was jealous of Martin’s brilliance and influence in the Beatles’s success.
    By the way, the two Seatrain albums that Martin produced are excellent!

  3. George Martin also created the staccato strings in Eleanor Rigby. He was definitely the 5th Beatle for all the composing, arranging and playing he did on many Beatles songs!

  4. IMO, George Martin was the fifth Beatle.
    His classical music background, knowledge of EMI’s studios, and connection with the Beatles themselves were a magical bond.

  5. Eric C Gray

    Nice piece. That second Seatrain album with Song of Job and Willin’ is terrific. I always wondered if Harrison did the solo on Sister Golden Hair, since it sounds so much like his work, and Martin produced it, but as I checked before reading the article, he did not.

    As did the Beatles, Martin changed the course of music. A well-deserving member of the HoF

  6. Les Fender

    Pre-Beatles, Martin produced albums for a number of British comedy artists.

  7. Barry Baddams

    George Martin was a brilliant producer and arranger and the Beatles were fortunate to have him but, despite what McCartney says, the notion of George (or anybody else who was never in the band) being the “5th Beatle” is nothing more than a sentimental honorific beloved of Beatles fans and journalists. Neil Aspinall, who was frequently listed as another “5th Beatle” summed it up very well in a rare interview: Even George Martin describes you as the 5th Beatle. How do you feel about that? “Oh, I keep trying to lay that on George! There is no 5th Beatle. I think if there was such a thing, it would be Stu Sutcliffe or Pete Best, not some outsider who was never in the band. A ridiculous suggestion.” For the record, it’s chronologically Pete Best, who played hundreds of gigs and thousands of hours during the hectic formative 1960-62 period that set them on the path that led to their brilliant working partnership with non-Beatle George Martin. One George in the band was enough anyway!

  8. Tom Payne

    “Staccato string riffs in ‘Yesterday'” (??). Sure you aren’t thinking about “Eleanor Rigby?”

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