LONDON (AP) – George Martin, the Beatles’ urbane producer who guided, assisted and stood aside through the band’s swift, historic transformation from rowdy club act to musical and cultural revolutionaries, has died, his management said Wednesday. He was 90.
“We can confirm that Sir George Martin passed away peacefully at home yesterday evening,” Adam Sharp, a founder of CA Management, said Wednesday in an email.
Too modest to call himself the “Fifth Beatle,” a title many felt he deserved, the tall, elegant Londoner produced some of the most popular and influential albums of modern times – “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” ”Revolver,” ”Rubber Soul,” ”Abbey Road” – elevating rock LPs from ways to cash in on hit singles to art forms, “concepts.” He won six Grammys and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in 1999. Three years earlier, he was knighted.
Martin both witnessed and enabled the extraordinary changes of the Beatles and of the 1960s. From a raw first album in 1962 that took just a day to make, to the months-long production of “Sgt. Pepper,” the Beatles advanced by quantum steps as songwriters and sonic explorers. They not only composed dozens of classics, from “She Loves You” to “Hey Jude,” but turned the studio into a wonderland of tape loops, multi-tracking, unpredictable tempos, unfathomable segues and kaleidoscopic montages. Never again would rock music be defined by two-minute love songs or guitar-bass-drums arrangements. Lyrically and musically, anything became possible.
“Once we got beyond the bubblegum stage, the early recordings, and they wanted to do something more adventurous, they were saying, ‘What can you give us?'” Martin told The Associated Press in 2002. “And I said, ‘I can give you anything you like.'”
Besides the Beatles, Martin worked with Jeff Beck, Elton John, Celine Dion and on several solo albums by Paul McCartney. In the 1960s, Martin produced hits by Cilla Black, Gerry and the Pacemakers, and Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas and for 37 straight weeks in 1963 a Martin recording topped the British charts.
But his legacy was defined by the Beatles, for the contributions he made, and for those he didn’t.
When he first took on the Liverpool group, Martin was very much in charge, choosing “Love Me Do” as their first single and initially confining the newly-hired Ringo Starr to tambourine (a slight the drummer never quite got over). But during a time when the young were displacing the old, Martin would find his own role upstaged.
Before the Beatles, producers such as Phil Spector and Berry Gordy controlled the recording process, choosing the arrangements and musicians; picking, and sometimes writing the songs (or claiming credit for them). The Beatles, led by the songwriting team of McCartney and John Lennon, became their own bosses, relying on Martin not for his vision, but for what he could do for theirs. They were among the first rock groups to compose their own material and, inspired by native genius, a world’s tour of musical influences and all the latest stimulants, they demanded new sounds.
Martin was endlessly called on to perform the impossible, and often succeeded, splicing recordings at different speeds for “Strawberry Fields Forever” or, for “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” simulating a calliope with keyboards, harmonica and a harmonium that the producer himself played with such intensity he passed out on the floor. Martin would have several good turns on the keyboards, performing a lively music hall solo on McCartney’s “Lovely Rita” and a speeded-up Baroque reverie on Lennon’s “In My Life.”