Sir George Martin, The 'Fifth Beatle,' Dies At 90 | KUOW News and Information

Sir George Martin, The 'Fifth Beatle,' Dies At 90

Mar 8, 2016
Originally published on March 9, 2016 12:40 pm

Sir George Martin, the music producer who signed the Beatles to a recording contract in 1962 and was their intimate collaborator as they together transformed popular music, died Tuesday at the age of 90.

Martin's death was confirmed by Adam Sharp, his manager in the U.K. In a statement, Sharp said:

Sir George Martin passed away peacefully at home yesterday evening, Tuesday March 8th. The family would like to thank everyone for their thoughts, prayers and messages of support.

Martin was often referred to as the "Fifth Beatle." He scoffed, but the band wouldn't have been the Beatles we know without him.

Martin's 1979 memoir (co-authored with Jeremy Hornsby) was titled All You Need Is Ears -- but his ears, and his instincts as a music producer, were extraordinary.

A classically trained composer, George Martin began to work for the British record label EMI's imprint Parlophone Records in 1950, overseeing classical recordings as well as comedy records by the likes of Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Bernard Cribbins.

By 1962, when Cribbins' song "Right Said Fred" became a hit in the U.K., George Martin was running Parlophone Records and looking to sign up a rock 'n' roll band. The Beatles auditioned for him in June of 1962.

In a 2011 BBC interview, Martin said: "They had this wonderful charisma. They made you feel good to be with them. And I thought their music was rubbish."

Martin signed the Beatles anyway, and came to love their songs. For the rest of the 1960s, he was their closest collaborator, producing almost all of the band's music, playing piano with them, writing their orchestral arrangements and figuring out how to turn John Lennon and Paul McCartney's wilder ideas into records.

In 2011, Martin described how he'd produced one of Lennon's signature songs:

"There was one time on 'Rain' when I decided to play around with tapes, and I took John's voice off as a separate item and put it on a quarter-inch tape and turned it back to front and slid it around a bit and then put it in on the end of the song. And I played it to John when he came back and he said, 'That's gear! What is it?' And I said, 'It's you!' And I explained to him what I'd done. And from that moment he wanted everything backward."

When he wasn't in the studio with the Beatles, George Martin produced records by British pop acts like Cilla Black, Gerry and the Pacemakers and Shirley Bassey.

In 1977, while visiting the West Indies, Martin fell in love with the island of Montserrat. He built a recording complex for his company AIR Studios there with the money he'd made producing post-Beatles hits like the band America's "Sister Golden Hair."

AIR Studios Montserrat was destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, and Martin gradually retired from recording as hearing loss robbed him of his golden ears. His final hit song was the best-selling single of all time: a year after being knighted by Queen Elizabeth II, he produced Elton John's "Candle in the Wind 1997."

"As a whole, I've had a wonderful life," Martin told the BBC in 1995. "I've met the most wonderful people, worked with the greatest of artists. I'm very fortunate. I've got no gripes at all."

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Paul McCartney shared a memory this morning. He brought a song called "Yesterday" into the studio in 1965. His fellow Beatles thought it would be lovely with McCartney solo - just him and a guitar.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Beatles producer George Martin had a different suggestion. He said to try the song with a string quartet.

GREENE: As McCartney recalled, he told the producer, oh no, George, we are a rock 'n roll band. I don't think that's a good idea.

INSKEEP: Martin persuaded him to try it anyway and the result was a massive hit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YESTERDAY")

PAUL MCCARTNEY: (Singing) Suddenly I'm not half the man I used to be.

GREENE: Paul McCartney shared this story this morning after learning of George Martin's death.

INSKEEP: Martin was 90 years old. And Douglas Wolk has this remembrance.

DOUGLAS WOLK, BYLINE: Sir George Martin scoffed when people called him the fifth Beatle. But they wouldn't have been the Beatles we know without him.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) Love, love, love.

WOLK: His biography was called "All You Need Is Ears." But his ears and his instincts as a music producer were extraordinary. A classically trained composer, George Martin began to work for Parlophone records in 1950, overseeing classical recordings as well as comedy records by the likes of Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Bernard Cribbins.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RIGHT SAID FRED")

BERNARD CRIBBINS: (Singing) Right, said Fred. Both of us together. One each end and steady as we go. Tried to shift it, couldn't even lift it. We was getting nowhere. And so we had a cup of tea. And right, said Fred.

WOLK: By 1962, when Cribbins' "Right Said Fred" became a hit in the U.K., George Martin was running Parlophone records and looking to sign up a rock 'n roll band. The Beatles auditioned for him in June of that year. Here's what Martin told the BBC program "Arena" in 2011 about that first meeting.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ARENA")

GEORGE MARTIN: They had this wonderful charisma. They made you feel good to be with them. And I thought their music was rubbish.

WOLK: George Martin signed the Beatles anyway and came to love their songs. For the rest of the 1960s, he was their closest collaborator, producing almost all of the Beatles' music, playing piano with them, writing their orchestral arrangements and figuring out how to turn John Lennon and Paul McCartney's wilder ideas into records. For Lennon's song, "Rain," Martin had an idea of his own.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RAIN")

JOHN LENNON: (Singing) If the rain comes, they run and hide their heads.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ARENA")

MARTIN: There was one time on "Rain" where I decided to play around with tapes.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yeah.

MARTIN: And I took John's voice off as a separate item and put it on a quarter-inch tape and turned it back to front and slid it around a bit and then put it in on the end of the song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RAIN")

LENNON: (Singing, unintelligible).

MARTIN: And I played it to John when he came back. He said, that's gear.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RAIN")

LENNON: (Singing, unintelligible).

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ARENA")

MARTIN: What is it? And I said, it's you. And I explained to him what I had done. And from that moment he wanted everything backward.

WOLK: When he wasn't in the studio with the Beatles, Martin also produced records by British pop acts like Cilla Black, Gerry and the Pacemakers and Shirley Bassey.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOLDFINGER")

SHIRLEY BASSEY: (Singing) Goldfinger. Pretty girl, beware of his heart of gold.

WOLK: In 1977, while visiting the West Indies, George Martin fell in love with the island of Montserrat. He built a recording complex for his company AIR Studios there with the money he'd made producing post-Beatles hits like America's "Sister Golden Hair."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SISTER GOLDEN HAIR")

AMERICA: (Singing) Will you meet me in the middle? Will you meet me in the air?

WOLK: AIR Studios Montserrat was destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. And George Martin gradually retired from recording as hearing loss robbed him of his golden ears. His final hit song was the best-selling single of all time. A year after being knighted by Queen Elizabeth II, he produced Elton John's "Candle In The Wind" in 1997.

(SOUNDBITE OF BBC BROADCAST)

MARTIN: As a whole, I've had a wonderful life.

WOLK: That's Martin talking to the BBC in 1995.

MARTIN: I've met the most wonderful people, worked with the greatest of artists. I've been very fortunate. I've got no gripes at all.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE END")

WOLK: For NPR News, I'm Douglas Wolk. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.