The World Without George Martin
In the America song, “Tin Man,” folk rhythms sweep into jazz harmonies and arpeggiated piano riffs. Listening to that recording is like riding in a convertible sportscar on a late spring day: it generates its own wind to carry us away. How about the images of barstools conjured by the whiskey-drenched piano intro to the Little River Band’s ballad, “Take It Easy On Me“? Or the bubbling counterpoint beneath the kooky minor-key synthesizer solo in Ultravox’s “Hymn“? What of Cilla Black singing “Alfie” while Burt Bacharach plays a baby grand and simultaneously conducts a 48-piece orchestra in Abbey Road studios? The bombast of Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger;” the melancholy oboe in Gerry and the Pacemakers’ “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying;” and Dudley’s Moore’s earliest trio recordings? These are all magical moments in sound created by George Martin.
We knew him as the tall, elegant father figure to The Beatles who spliced tape together so Paul, John, George and Ringo could flip guitar solos and funny phrases backwards. We remember Martin, too, as the erudite music arranger who added strings to “Yesterday” and helmed the love-and-chaos sessions of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Later, he produced McCartney’s Pipes of Peace, Tug of War and Give My Regards to Broad Street. Yet, the scattering of Sir George’s pixie dust cuts a swath so vast, we’re just beginning to scratch the surface of his catalog. Add Ella Fitzgerald, The King’s Singers, Kenny Rogers, Cheap Trick and Celine Dion to the aforementioned artists and you’ve got a producer who fashioned an entire cosmos of wildly disparate sounds with the same sparkling sheen. Let’s also not forget he was the purveyor of AIR studios in London and Montserrat, where Jimmy Buffett, The Police, Luther Vandross, Dire Straits and Elton John made some of their biggest hits.
Martin’s death on March 8, 2016 at age 90 wasn’t shocking, but his decades of work overlapped the most productive era in the history of Western music. So, it hurts a whole lot right now to lose him. Along with the exit of this super producer goes the human touch and the thoughtful assemblage of songs that ultimately became the soundtrack to the lives of three generations. He was a great craftsman, master of technology and an artist in his own right. He listened so we could hear.
Thank you for the music, George Martin.
George Martin in the studio with Paul McCartney