The late Sir George Martin, who died this past Tuesday at age 90, is best-known for steering the Beatles’ music throughout the course of the group’s prolific recording career. If that had been all he accomplished in his more than 60 years of active involvement in the music industry, it would have been more than enough to ensure his legendary status. He was, after all, the man who helped navigate their signing to EMI, insisted that they should replace original drummer Pete Best with Ringo Starr, and helped the band realize the ambitious and oftentimes eccentric ideas that were conceived by the members’ imaginations but limited by their abilities to put them into practice.
An elegant and urbane individual whose dashing image seemed at odds with the reckless, rebellious nature of the music-making hipsters who inhabited London in the mid- and late-‘60s, he added the sophistication and polish that elevated the Beatles’ music and ensured the crowning graces that it inevitably achieved.
Unlike other notable producers of that era — Phil Spector specifically comes to mind — Sir George was not a wild personality in his own right. He did, however, have an authority that asserted itself in every sense. Paul McCartney was recently quoted as saying he thought of Martin, 15 years his senior, as a second father. Martin himself idolized Nelson Riddle, the arranger behind the Frank Sinatra classics of his most gilded age, and so it was little wonder that having Sir George behind the boards for your album meant more than simply emulating the Beatles brand. Martin was a humble genius. Notably, he’s one of only a handful of producers who could claim number-one records in three or more consecutive decades (’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s).
George Martin’s efforts didn’t stop there, of course. He took on a remarkably varied tableau, including projects with Jeff Beck, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Little River Band, and Kenny Rogers. Though he was best-known for his work with the Beatles, it’s also important to remember that the scope of his efforts was exceeded only by his creativity and counsel.
In honor of his passing, we've compiled a list of Sir George’s most memorable recordings of all time.
10. Bridge on the River Wye, The Goons
Early on in his career, Martin was known chiefly for recording classical music, stage musicals, and traditional tunes gathered from around the British Isles. However, he made his mark early on by recording comedy records with such bright lights of the day as Peter Ustinov, Peter Sellers, and Peter Cook. His work with the Goon Show, a comedy troupe that prefigured Monty Python and became heroes to the early individual Beatles, made him something of a star. The album Bridge on the River Wye was intended as a spoof of the then-hugely successful The Bridge on the River Kwai, and indeed, at first it bore the same name. When the film producers threatened legal action, Martin had to go back through the recording and edit out every ‘K’ in Kwai whenever the word was spoken.
9. All Shook Up, Cheap Trick
Unabashed Beatles devotees, Cheap Trick jumped at the chance to enlist Sir George when the opportunity arose. (Notably, they were the band that backed up John Lennon on the initial sessions for his final album, Double Fantasy.) While All Shook Up had a negligible effect on Cheap Trick’s continuing legacy, it is an album of sturdy, unimpeded rock ’n’ roll, honed with a certain savvy and sophistication that only Sir George could bring to the table.
8. The Man in the Bowler Hat, Stackridge Stackridge was one of the more quirky but creative British bands to make its mark in the mid-’70s, so it was little surprise that it recruited George Martin as producer for this particular project. Although the band's fame didn’t extend to the United States, this album still stands as a high mark in its career.
7. “Candle in the Wind, 1997,” Elton John Elton John’s reworked take on his earlier “Candle in the Wind” took on special meaning after the tragic death of the much-beloved Princess Diana. With Sir George’s assistance, a grieving Elton was able to convey the sense of tragedy and despair the world felt at her passing.
6. “Live and Let Die,” Paul McCartney and Wings Just because the Beatles broke up wasn’t any reason for Sir Paul to desert his former mentor. Indeed, Martin had a hand in several of Macca’s solo efforts, among them such songs as “Ebony and Ivory,” “Say Say Say,” and “No More Lonely Nights,” as well as the albums Tug of War,Pipes of Peace, and Give My Regards to Broad Street. Notably too, he returned to his old role as overseer and adviser when it came time to assemble the Beatles Anthology albums in the early ’90s and, later, the Cirque de Soleil production Love in the mid-’00s.
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