WEDNESDAY, MARCH 09, 2016 |
Posted by: Don Saas
George Martin, former head of Parlophone Records and producer/arranger for the Beatles (earning him the moniker of being the "fifth Beatle"), passed away yesterday evening at the age of 90.
I can't remember where I was when I first heard "Eleanor Rigby." The Beatles greatest hit compilation, 1, came out in 2000 when I was 11, but I don't really remember getting into the Beatles until I was a freshman in high school (and had to vociferously defend my adoration of Paul McCartney to my John Lennon loving friends). But when I think about those early years of falling in love with the Beatles...of hearing Revolver for the first time, of the slow dawning realization that George Harrison was the beating heart of the band...I think of my first listens to "Eleanor Rigby."
Every time I listen to "Eleanor Rigby," I'm shocked when I remember that it's only 2:08 seconds long. The definitive Paul McCartney ballad, "Eleanor Rigby" holds a lifetime of regret, desperation, and heartache in just over two minutes. And when I was 14, I found myself moved by Paul's lyricism but I would be a liar if I said that was what initially drew me into the song. I had never heard a "rock" song with a full string section before. It was like classical music. It was like nothing I'd ever listened to before. And those strings were primarily the work of George Martin.
In movies, there's this thing called "auteur theory." It's the idea that great directors should be the guiding creative force of the films they work on (even more than the screenwriters or actors). It's a...problematic theory but it's also an explanation of how people want to look at contemporary art. They want to find one person (or a small group of people) that's responsible for the art they love. And it's the same in music. We praise the bands or artists without thinking about all of the other producers/session musicians/writers who are responsible for the records we love. George Martin was living proof that so many of our greatest acts wouldn't exist without a little help from their friends (yes, that pun was intended).
It wasn't simply the fact that Brian Martin was responsible for plucking the Beatles out of the relative obscurity of the Hamburg night clubs they were playing at in Germany before "Love Me Do" turned them into international megastars. He produced and arranged virtually all of their records. He brought Ringo into the band. He also produced for Jeff Beck, America, Elton John, Celine Dion, Cheap Trick, and a host of other major artists over the last 50 years. Alongside Phil Spector, it's difficult to name a more influential producer and music industry insider in the modern music industry.
The lush, psychedelic theatre of "Strawberry Fields Forever" is also primarily a result of the arrangements of George Martin (and studio engineer Geoff Emerick). If you're like the tens of millions of people who have fallen in love with the Beatles over the last 50 years (and they're my favorite band of all time; maybe it's a cliche choice but fuck it. They're the god damn Beatles), George Martin was as integral to that sound as Paul and John and George and Ringo. And the next time you have an album and a band that you really love, think about all of the producers out there who made that music possible.