Although disc jockey Murray the K dubbed himself the “Fifth Beatle,” that title properly belongs to producer George Martin.
With the exception of Phil Spector’s post-production on Let It Be, every Beatlesrecording-from the first single ("Love Me Do") to the last album (Abbey Road)-was produced by Martin. He also gave them their first recording contract, signing the fledgling foursome (with Pete Best still on drums) after an audition at Abbey Road studio on June 6th, 1962, at manager Brian Epstein’s request. Martin’s expertise as a producer and arranger, coupled with the personal rapport he developed (despite being 14 years older than the eldest Beatle) made him indispensable in the studio. The Beatles’ recorded output, by the group members’ own admission, owes much to Martin’s input as producer, arranger and musician.
George Martin was born in London in 1926. When he was six years old, his family got its first piano, and he started taking lessons when he was eight. Then, in 1943, when he was 17 years old, Martin enlisted in the Royal Navy. He served in the Navy until 1947. After leaving, he studied piano and oboe at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He then began working in the classical-music department of the BBC. In 1950, he moved on to EMI Records, working for the company’s Parlophone label. He recorded jazz (John Dankworth, Humphrey Lyttelton), cabaret music (Michael Flanders, Donald Swann), Scottish dance music (Jimmy Shand) and ballad singers (Matt Monro and Shirley Bassey). But his primary focus was on comedy and novelty records. He got his first hit in 1952 with Peter Ustinov’s “Mock Mozart.” He also produced records by Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, Dudley Moore, Stan Getz, Judy Garland, Tommy Steele, Cleo Laine and others.
As head of A&R for Parlophone, Martin was interested in bringing rock and roll to the label. Then one day a friend contacted him and told him about Brian Epstein, the manager of the Beatles. Though the group had been turned down by Decca, Pye, Phillips and EMI itself, Martin’s friend thought he might like the band. Martin contacted Epstein, and they met on February 13, 1962. They had another meeting on May 9 at Abbey Road Studios and then, on June 6, the Beatles auditioned for the label at Abbey Road. Martin wound up signing the band.
The Beatles’ first recording for the label was a version of “How Do You Do It,” which later became a hit for Gerry and the Pacemakers. Then, on September 11, 1962, they recorded “Love Me Do.” The song made it to Number 17 on the British charts. They followed that with “Please Please Me,” which made it to Number Two in early 1963, and “From Me to You,” which reached Number One. Martin went on to produce all of the group’s recordings up to the Abbey Road album.
In many ways, Martin’s most important contributions to the Beatles’ music were his lavish arrangements, which included strings, brass and other instruments, like harpsichord, that were not common in rock and roll. He contributed soundtrack music to A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, and recorded instrumental albums of Beatles tunes, including Off the Beatle Track (which reached Number 111 in the U.S.) and The Beatle Girls, with the George Martin Orchestra.
With the success of the Beatles, Martin began recording other Merseybeat acts, including Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas and Cilla Black. In 1965, he left EMI to set up his own production company, Associated Independent Recording (AIR), though he continued to work with the Beatles. In the late Sixties, he oversaw the design and construction of AIR Studios in London, one of the most successful studios in the world. In the Seventies and Eighties, Martin worked prolifically as a producer of albums by the Mahavishnu Orchestra, America (seven albums), Jeff Beck (two albums), Gary Brooker (of Procol Harum), Neil Sedaka, Jimmy Webb, UFO, Cheap Trick, Ultravox, Kenny Rogers and Paul McCartney (Tug of War and Pipes of Peace).
In 1979, Martin opened AIR Studios Montserrat, a state-of-the-art facility on a Caribbean island. Although it was destroyed by a hurricane in 1989, Martin and his partners broke ground on a new AIR studio complex in England in the early Nineties. Martin has also written an autobiography (All You Need Is Ears) and edited a how-to book (Making Music). In his introduction to the latter, he wrote, “Of all the arts, music is the most sublime, and touches the heart of every human being....I believe it is a powerful force.”
In the mid-Nineties, Martin returned to the vaults and to his familiar role as Beatles producer, unearthing and preparing previously unreleased Beatles tracks for the three-volume Anthology series. And in 2006, he and his son, Giles Martin, remixed much of the Beatles’ music for the Cirque du Soleil production of Love.
He was knighted “Sir George Martin” in 1996. A year later, Martin produced his 30th Number One hit in the U.K., Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind 1997,” a charity single recorded shortly after Princess Diana’s untimely death. It became the best-selling single of all time and, in Martin’s words, “probably my last single. It’s not a bad one to go out on.” After five decades in the music industry, Martin formally bowed out of record production with a final project, In My Life, a collection of Beatles songs recorded by actors and musicians.
As a result of his work with the Beatles, George Martin played a major role in changing the face of rock and roll. He was responsible for much of the group’s sound, and he introduced many musical elements that were new to rock and roll. He also had tremendous commercial success: he is responsible for 30 Number One singles in the U.K. and 23 Number One singles in the U.S.
Inductee: George Martin (producer; born January 3, 1926)