I have never wished that I was one of the Beatles. OK, I’d love to be able to write like John or Paul could, and maybe to see for a while what life in your twenties as a Beatle would have been like, but if I could choose, I’d far rather be George Martin.
I read a lot and listen to a lot about great sporting coaches and managers. And the one attribute that they seem to have in common is their ability to man-manage. A knowledge of tactics, coaching drills, strength/conditioning, analysis of the opposition – sure – all important to get you to the top table. Once you get there however, what separates the great from the good is their ability to get the best out of their players. Be it Alex Ferguson, Jim McGuinness, Jose Mourinho or Billy Walsh, none would have had the success they had without their ability to get the best out of their players.
And this is what George Martin did for the Beatles. For years.
A trained classical musician, he apparently shared his peers’ general detestation of rock ‘n’ roll when it emerged in the late 50’s/early ‘60s. He was also 15 years older and at a very different stage of life than the 4 lads who made him famous. However, he put all of this aside to firstly win their trust and respect, and then to collaborate on some of the best music the world has ever known.
He knew what they needed – at the beginning he was the stern, schoolmaster-like figure who told them what was and wasn’t good enough. As they grew as musicians and songwriters, he knew to sit back more and let them do their thing, gently nudging them in the direction of a particular sound perhaps. At other times, all he could do was sit back and marvel, knowing that he was in the presence of genius.
That being said, his musicianship, arranging skills, and creativity must be acknowledged too. I can’t imagine the piccolo trumpet solo on Penny Lane or the french horn solo on For No One happening without his influence. The strings arrangement on Eleanor Rigby also stands out for me. And what about the ‘hurdy-gurdy’ sound effects on Mr. Kite, and the fact that the majority of their songs were recorded on an (even then) antiquated 4-track recording machine?
I also love the story of him facing a 41-piece symphony orchestra and telling them that what they were about to perform would have no written score. All he told them were the highest and lowest notes to play. In between they could do what they wanted. That became the finale to many people’s choice as the Beatles’ masterpiece – A Day in the Life.
McCartney summed him up quite well once – saying ‘George Martin was quite experimental for who he was – a grown-up’!
For his family and friends, the man they know is so much more than the years he spent working with the Beatles – less than 10% of his life in fact.
For the rest of us around the world who were affected by his many talents, that’s all we have to go on. And in that regard, all I can say is - a job very well done sir – thankyou.