When the Beatles debuted in the United States on the Ed Sullivan Show February 9th 1964, they triggered a movement in the States that would inspire thousands of American kids to also pick up musical instruments and pursue their own musical aspirations.
Yet had it not been for an unassuming classical music producer at EMI UK’s record division, it is safe to say that Beatlemania might never have taken flight.
With the passing of Martin at the age of 90, it is a part of musical history lore how he was handed the job of auditioning four green young musicians from Liverpool; John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr who had previously failed a similar audition with Decca Records.
Martin, whose previous recording experience had been with classical recordings and comedy novelty artists like Peter Sellers and The Goons, took on the project when EMI decided they might be candidates for EMI’s sub label, Parlaphone.
The reality had been that The Beatles’ audition for Decca had not been good and Martin himself was underwhelmed by their initial audition at Abbey Road on June 6th 1962, suggesting that they replace original drummer Pete Best. Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein complied by replacing Best with Ringo Starr and the band was back in the studio later that August 1962. He asked them to record a song titled “How Do You Do It”, but the Beatles, wanting to record a composition of their own, supposedly deliberately tanked the session, asking Martin to consider one of their own songs, “Love Me Do”. Reportedly, Martin didn’t like the song but did like Lennon’s harmonica solo and thought there was value in Lennon and McCartney’s vocals, so he agreed, with some trepidation to sign them to a basic contract which only initially gave them one penny per recording (to be split between the four of them!).
Martin also fell in love with the band’s brand of Scouse humour. When he asked if there was anything the band didn’t like about their first session, Harrison reportedly snapped back “I don’t like your tie for a start.”
Sure enough, “How Do You Do It”, recorded by another Liverpool group, Gerry And The Pacemakers, went to No 1 while “Love Me Do” stalled at No 17. Still the Beatles begged Martin to give them a second chance and the future success of “Please Please Me” and “From Me To You” helped spark a relation between The Beatles and Martin (now tagged The Fifth Beatle) which resulted in 13 albums and 22 hit singles in a period between 1962 and 1970.
Martin not only produced the bulk of the Beatles music but also contributed many innovations and production techniques marked by brilliant collaborations on musical masterpieces like Sg Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Revolver, Abbey Road and groundbreaking recordings like “Hey Jude” and “Strawberry Fields Forever”.
Martin would later be involved in re-releasing Beatles Anthologies and in 2006 joined forces with his son Giles to produce the music for Cirque du Soleil’s Las Vegas production of Love which even won over a doubting Yoko Ono.
During a year in which the music world has already lost David Bowie and The Eagles’ Glenn Frey, the lost of George Martin is just as significant, the world also mourns the loss of a great musical innovator.