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George Martin

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Sir George Martin
George Martin - backstage at LOVE.jpg
Martin backstage at the Beatles' Love show, Las Vegas, c. 2006
Background information
Birth name George Henry Martin
Born (1926-01-03) 3 January 1926 (age 93)
Origin Highbury, London, England
Genres Rock, pop, classical
Occupation(s) Record producer, arranger, composer, musician, conductor
Instruments Oboe, piano, keyboards, guitar
Years active 1950–2006
Labels EMI, Parlophone, Apple
Associated acts The Beatles, Wings, America, Cilla Black, Jeff Beck, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Paul McCartney

Sir George Henry Martin CBE (born 3 January 1926) is an English record producer, arranger, composer, conductor, audio engineer, and musician. He is sometimes referred to as "the Fifth Beatle" in reference to his extensive involvement on each of the Beatles' original albums.[1] He is considered one of the greatest record producers of all time, with 30 number-one hit singles in the United Kingdom and 23 number-one hits in the United States.

Martin was influenced by a range of musical styles, encompassing Cole Porter and John Dankworth. He attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama from 1947 to 1950, studying piano and oboe. Following his graduation, he worked for the BBC's classical music department, then joined EMI in 1950. Martin produced comedy and novelty records in the early 1950s, working with Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan, among others.

Martin's career has spanned more than six decades, and he has worked in music, film, television, and live performance. He has also held a number of senior executive roles at media companies and contributes 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.

Early years

When he was six, Martin's family acquired a piano that sparked his interest in music.[2] At eight years of age, Martin persuaded his parents that he should take piano lessons, but those ended after only eight lessons because of a disagreement between his mother and the teacher. After that, Martin explained that he had just picked it up by himself.[3] As a child he attended several schools, including a "convent school in Holloway", St. Joseph's elementary school in Highgate, and St Ignatius' College in Stamford Hill, to which he won a scholarship.[4] When war 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.[4]

Despite Martin's continued interest in music, and "fantasies about being the next Rachmaninov", he did not initially choose music as a career.[6] He worked briefly as a quantity surveyor and then for the War Office as a Temporary Clerk (Grade Three) which meant filing paperwork and making tea.[7] In 1943, when he was seventeen, 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.[8] 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 Rachmaninov and Ravel, as well as Porter and Dankworth. Martin's oboe teacher was Margaret Eliot (the mother of Jane Asher, who would later have a relationship with Paul McCartney).[9][10][11] On 3 January 1948—while still at the Academy—Martin married Sheena Chisholm, with whom he had 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.[12]


The Beatles' first LP—produced by 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 seen as a joke and only used for EMI's insignificant acts.[9][13] After taking over Parlophone when Preuss retired in 1955, Martin spent his first years with the record label recording classical and Baroque music, original cast recordings of hit plays, and regional music from around Britain and Ireland.[14][15]

Martin also produced numerous comedy and novelty records. Martin scored his first hit for Parlophone in 1952 with the Peter Ustinov single "Mock Mozart" – a record reluctantly released by EMI only after Preuss insisted they give his young assistant, Martin, a chance. Later that decade Martin worked with Peter Sellers on several hits and thus 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."[16] 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 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 album included Milligan, Sellers, Jonathan Miller and Peter Cook, playing various characters.[17][18]

Other comedians Martin worked with included Bernard Cribbins, Charlie Drake, Terry Scott, Bruce Forsyth, Michael Bentine, Dudley Moore, Rolf Harris, Flanders and Swann, Lance Percival, Joan Sims, Bill Oddie, Ian Wallace, The Alberts, and The Master Singers. 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—in much the same style as the Doctor Who theme tune. As Martin wanted to add rock and roll to Parlophone's repertoire, he struggled to find a "fireproof" hit-making pop artist or group.[19]

As a producer Martin recorded the two-man show featuring Michael Flanders and Donald Swann called 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.[20]

The Beatles

Martin working with the Beatles in Studio during Beatles for Sale sessions, 1964

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, among other major British labels. 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.[21] 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.[22]

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.[23] 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.[24] 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".[25]

The Beatles auditioned for Martin on 6 June 1962, in studio three at the Abbey Road studios.[26] 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.[23] 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.[27]

The Beatles' first recording session with Martin was on 4 September, when they recorded "How Do You Do It", 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.[28] 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. Starr was asked to play tambourine and maracas, and although he complied, he was definitely "not pleased". Due to an EMI library error, 4 September version with Starr playing drums was issued on the single; afterwards, the tape was destroyed and 11 September recording with Andy White on drums was used for all subsequent releases.[29] Martin would later praise Starr's drumming, calling him "probably ... the finest rock drummer in the world today".[30] "Love Me Do" peaked at number 17 in the British charts, so on 26 November 1962 Martin recorded "Please Please Me", which he only did 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".[31][32] 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.[33]

As an arranger

Abbey Road Studios, where Martin recorded Parlophone's artists

Martin's deeper musical expertise helped fill the gaps between the Beatles' unrefined talent and the sound that distinguished them from other groups and eventually made them successful. Most of the Beatles' orchestral arrangements and instrumentation (as well as frequent keyboard parts on the early records) were written or performed by Martin in collaboration with the less musically experienced band.[34] It was Martin's idea to put a string quartet on "Yesterday", against McCartney's initial reluctance.[34][35] Martin played the song in the style of Bach to show McCartney the voicings that were available.[36] Another example is the song "Penny Lane", which featured a piccolo trumpet solo. McCartney hummed the melody he wanted, and Martin notated it for David Mason, the classically trained trumpeter.[37]

Martin's distinctive arranging work appears on 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 his "Eleanor Rigby" score was influenced by Herrmann's score for the Alfred Hitchcock thriller, Psycho.[38] 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.[39] For "I Am the Walrus", he provided a quirky and original arrangement for brass, violins, cellos, and the Mike Sammes Singers vocal ensemble.[40][41][42] On "In My Life", he played a speeded-up baroque piano solo.[43] He worked with McCartney to implement the orchestral 'climax' in "A Day in the Life" and he and McCartney shared conducting duties the day it was recorded.[44]

He contributed less noted but integral parts to other songs, including the piano in "Lovely Rita",[45] the harpsichord in "Fixing a Hole", the organs and tape loop arrangement that create the Pablo Fanque circus atmosphere that Lennon requested on "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" (both Martin and Lennon played organ parts for this song), and the orchestration in "Good Night".[46][47][48] 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.[49] 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.[50]

Martin arranged the score for the Beatles' film Yellow Submarine[51] and the James Bond film Live and Let Die, for which Paul McCartney wrote and sang the title song.[52] He also helped arrange Paul and Linda McCartney's American Number 1 single "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey".

Paul McCartney once commended Martin by saying: "George Martin [was] quite experimental for who he was, a grown-up."[53]

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.[54]

Martin has 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 Awards 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).

He also composed the David Frost theme "By George", "Eary-Feary" (the theme from the 1970 LWT horror series Tales of Unease), "Theme One" for BBC Radio 1, "Adagietto for Harmonica & Strings" for Tommy Reilly, and "Magic Carpet" for the Dakotas.

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.[55] 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.[56] 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.[57]

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 ELO fame.[58][59]

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.[60] A soundtrack album from the show was released that same year.[61]

Public image

Martin's contribution to the Beatles' work has received regular critical acclaim and has led to him being described as the "Fifth Beatle".[62] However, he has distanced himself from this claim, stating that assistant and roadie Neil Aspinall would be more deserving of that title.[63]

Despite Martin's experience in working with many different artists, he has been criticised for being perceived as putting too much attention on the Beatles. Howard Stern publicly criticised Martin for receiving too much credit for the group's success, though this was quickly disputed by others as "ill-judged".[64] Beatles author Sean Egan thinks his "Fifth Beatle" image has been "overplayed by some".[65] Comedian Kevin Eldon has satirised Martin's public image in several television series, including Big Train[66] and It's Kevin.[67][68]

John Lennon trivialised Martin's importance to the Beatles' music. In his 1970 interview with Jann Wenner, Lennon said, "[Dick James 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."[69] 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."[70] 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." [70]

Other artists

Martin in 2007.

Martin has 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,[71] guitarists Jeff Beck and John Williams, sixties duo Edwards Hand, Gary Brooker, Neil Sedaka, Ultravox, country singer Kenny Rogers, Cheap Trick, Elton John, Celine Dion and Yoshiki Hayashi of X Japan.[72][73]

Martin also worked with the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Gary Glitter. He worked with Glitter before he was famous, and recorded several songs with him in the 1960s under the name of "Paul Raven". He also produced the 1974 album The Man in the Bowler Hat for the eccentric British folk-rock group Stackridge.[74] 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.[75] 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.[76]

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 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 Elton's Diana, Princess of Wales tribute "Candle in the Wind 1997" which topped the charts in September 1997.

Associated Independent Recording (AIR)

Within the recording industry, Martin is noted for going independent at a time when many producers were still salaried staff—which he was until The Beatles' success gave him the leverage to start, in 1965, Associated Independent Recording, and hire out his own services to artists who requested him. This arrangement not only demonstrated how important Martin's talents were considered to be by his artists, but it allowed him a share in record royalties on his hits.[77] Today, Martin's Associated Independent Recording (AIR) remains one of the world's pre-eminent recording studios.[78] Martin later opened a studio on the Caribbean island of Montserrat, in 1979.[12] This studio was destroyed by Hurricane Hugo ten years later.[79]

Music from James Bond series

Martin has 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.[80]

Martin also produced two of the best-known James Bond themes. The first was "Goldfinger" by Shirley Bassey in 1964.[81] 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.[82]

Books and audio retrospective

In 1979, he published a memoir, All You Need is Ears (co-written with Jeremy Hornsby), that described his work with the Beatles and other artists (including Peter Sellers, Sophia Loren, Shirley Bassey, Flanders and Swann, Matt Monro, and Dudley Moore), and gave an informal introduction to the art and science of sound recording. In 1993 Martin published Summer of Love: The Making of Sgt Pepper (published in the US as With a Little Help from My Friends: The Making of Sgt Pepper, co-authored with William Pearson),[83][84] which also included interview quotations from a 1992 South Bank Show episode discussing the album. Martin also edited a 1983 book called Making Music: The Guide to Writing, Performing and Recording.

In 2001, Martin released Produced by George Martin: 50 Years in Recording, a six-CD retrospective of his entire studio career, and in 2002, Martin launched Playback, his limited-edition illustrated autobiography, published by Genesis Publications.[85]


"The Rhythm Of Life"

In 1997–98, Martin hosted a three-part BBC co-produced documentary series titled "The Rhythm of Life" in which he discussed various aspects of musical composition with professional musicians and singers, among them Brian Wilson, Billy Joel and Celine Dion. The series aired on the Ovation television network in the United States.[86][87][88]

"Produced by George Martin"

On 25 April 2011 a 90-minute documentary feature film co-produced by the BBC Arena team, Produced by George Martin, aired to critical acclaim for the first time in the UK. It combines rare archive footage and new interviews with, among others, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Jeff Beck, Cilla Black and Giles Martin and tells the life story of George Martin from schoolboy growing up in the Depression to legendary music producer. The film, with over 50 minutes of extra footage, including interviews from Rick Rubin, T-Bone Burnett and Ken Scott, was released world-wide by Eagle Rock Entertainment on DVD and Blu-ray on 10 September 2012.

Awards and recognition

Martin is one of a handful of producers to have number one records in three or more consecutive decades (1960s, 70s, 80s, and 90s). Others in this group include Phil Spector (1950s, 60s and 70s), Quincy Jones (1960s, 70s and 80s), Michael Omartian (1970s, 80s and 90s), and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (1980s, 90s, and 2000s).[100][101]

Selected non-Beatles hit records produced or co-produced by George Martin

Records produced by Martin have achieved 30 number one singles and 16 number one albums in the UK—plus 23 number one singles and 19 number one albums in North America.[102]


Selected discography (as producer)


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External links

Preceded by
John Barry
James Bond film score composer
Succeeded by
John Barry