You may not recognize his name, but you recognize George Martin’s sound. The man who brought the world the Beatles revolutionized modern music in more ways than we realize.
As producer Mark Ronson tweeted, “We will never stop living in the world you helped create.”
Here are five contributions from Martin’s 90-year life:
His most obvious, lasting accomplishment (though not the only musicians he managed). He signed John, Paul, George and Ringo in the early 1960s and transformed them into the legendary Fab Four. Their albums became art forms, reaching listeners on all continents and exploring new recording techniques. Their relationship, too, broke new ground: The performers gradually took the upper hand over their producer, composing their own material in an era when that was rare, while he translated their vision into top-selling hits.
With the multitude — or cacophony — of musical possibilities today, it’s hard to imagine a time when music was recorded on single tracks. Martin used emerging multiple-track technology to experiment with the Beatles, producing a new kind of music that could only be made in a studio. Different sounds and instruments could be layered, each one adjusted and cleaned up, accelerated or reversed. From the two-track “Please Please Me” in 1963 to the eight-track “Hey Jude,” that expanded what was expected from recorded music.
Martin helped bring smiles to living rooms around the English-speaking world by pioneering the comedy album in the 1950s, working with Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and others. He told BBC radio in 1982 that as a young producer at Parlophone, “because we had no American imports, I had to find my own way of making hit records. (Comedy) was my way of getting in between the cracks.”
CLASSICAL INFLUENCE ON ROCK
A man forever associated with pop music had a classical core — he mastered Chopin by ear as a youth and was trained at London’s Guildhall School of Music. Martin broke down the classical-pop barrier of the time by bringing his background to some Beatles records. The most recognizable example: the string quartet on “Yesterday.” Paul McCartney initially scoffed at the idea and later reveled at the result — and described it Wednesday as one of his fondest Martin memories.
JAMES BOND MUSIC
Action films didn’t enjoy chart-topping theme songs until the 1960s. Martin helped produce Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger” in 1964 and later scored McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” in 1971. Superstars from Duran Duran to Adele have since followed in their footsteps.