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The Fifth Beatle: Sir George Martin (1926-2016)


Like them or loathe them, The Beatles are the bedrock of popular culture. No other band has exerted the kind of influence and hold over music, and as avatars of cultural change in the decade where everything changed, they led the charge.

But would any of it have happened if it wasn’t for Sir George Martin? Unlikely.

The Fab Four had the talent, the ideas, and the drive, but it was George Martin who honed them into the force they became. Think of him as like a sculptor, with Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr as the raw material from which the art was created. 

George Martin was an old-school producer, from an age where producers wore a suit and tie, and were as much scientists as they were creatives. Cutting his teeth on a wide spectrum of music and comedy records, it was Martin who was given The Beatles and told to make them a success.

And he did, with a confidence and imagination that is still startling.

If you listen back to those records, they have a clarity and force of presence that is unlike anything else from that era. Breaking the four young men into their constituent elements, he reshaped them as A Band, taking the raw songwriting talent of Lennon and McCartney, and the hard graft spent playing nightclubs in Hamburg, and turned it into something fresh and original. In many respects, The Beatles broke the mould, and it was George Martin who made it happen.

As the sixties progressed, the songs got more complex, and the band’s decision to leave the stage behind to concentrate on the studio was in no small part down to the relationship they had with their producer. He was more than just an anonymous face stuck in the studio by the record label, he was a vital part of the band. 

Using primitive technology, he captured rock and roll’s progression from black and white into technicolor. And in doing so, set the standard that all pop music is still judged by.

As such things go, eventually the band felt they’d outgrown him, and this partnership was for asunder in the final years of the band. The merits of Phil Spector’s work with The Beatles is another story, but one thing is certain: something profound had changed. By the end of the decade, the world’s greatest pop band were no more. 

George Martin would continue to work with many other bands over the rest of his career, but never again matched that creative partnership he forged with The Beatles. And after the split, the solo albums made by the former Fab Four never quite approached the genre defying imagination of their work with George Martin.

It’s easy to take all this for granted, and to wonder why any of it still matters now. But one listen to something like ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ or ‘I am the Walrus’, or even that euphoric first rush of ‘Love Me Do’, and it all comes rushing back. The sound of an architect crafting a future for all of us to enjoy. Something timeless. Steven Rainey

Stream our ten-track playlist of Beatles songs in which Martin’s input proved instrumental below.

is a writer and broadcaster who has spent his entire life being an elderly version of himself. He believes in the power of True Rock, and discovered heavy metal at the age of 30. He has never married, but has been divorced twice.