Sunday, March 13, 2016

R.I.P. George Martin (1926-2016)

George Martin
On March 8, 2016, George Martin died in his sleep at the age of 90 in Wiltshire, England. While he had a prolific career working behind the scenes in music, he is easily best remembered for his work with The Beatles - of whom he was a frequent collaborator. At one point he was so popular that he was considered to be "The Fifth Beatle" thanks to his occasional input on how to orchestrate songs, such as adding an orchestra to "Yesterday." Beyond this, he helped to compose music for dozens of performers as well as composed the theme songs for several James Bond films. His work is likely so popular that you have already heard it once today on the radio. His work continues to live on, even if the status of how much involvement he had with crafting the hits seems to be suspected by his collaborators.

Martin was born on January 6, 1926 in London, England. By age six, he had acquired a piano and became a devoted fan of music, even believing that he would be the next Rachmaninov. In 1943, he worked with the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy. While he didn't see any combat, he used his pay to attend school to better understand the craft. He formed a love of classical music and would begin working at Parlophone Records by 1950, where he did comedy records for artists such as Peter Sellers and Anthony Hopkins. He was responsible for helping to get the business from a sad little company to a fully fledged business by 1963. Among his contributions was attempting to add rock music and surefire hits to the line-up.

This included The Beatles, of whom he first worked with in 1962. While he initially believed that they weren't promising, he found something exciting about their energy. He worked on their early work, including "From Me to You." He helped to increase royalty rate and was present for almost every studio record that they released, including "Help!," "Yellow Submarine," and "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Hand." The last album named has since gone on to be considered one of the all time greatest rock albums in history thanks to its high concept structure and ambitious musicality that even got the band to praise his work. He helped to compose many of the band's hits, though there would become dilemmas as time went on. John Lennon would claim that Martin's status as "The Fifth Beatle" was unearned, as Lennon had done more work than him.

Martin also worked with other musicians such as Elton John, America, and Michael Jackson. In the world of film, he was responsible for several James Bond theme songs, including one with The Beatles' Paul McCartney on Live and Let Die. He also has claimed to have composed the score for that film. However, his only Oscar nomination is in thanks of The Beatles. He earned a Best Original Score nomination for his work on A Hard Day's Night. He did not win, but it was a reflection of his talent as a producer. Even if he never had a collaborator as fruitful as The Beatles, his 30 international radio hits was a pretty big honor - not to mention dozens of other honors regarding his music legacy, of which there are too many to properly name.

If one measures the success of a musician by how well his songs are remembered, then there are few producers with as much clout as George Martin. With an enviable catalog just on The Beatles alone, he has produced music that has changed the landscape of pop culture and made the medium into its own artful grounds where everyone from Top 40 hit artists to experimental independent rockers in some way owe debt to him. Even if you don't know the name, you'll know his work. While this may sound like hyperbole, it is definitely true if you so much as have listened to music in the past 50 years. His legacy is too impressive to ignore, and for that he will be impossible to top whether now or in another 50 years.

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