George Martin’s role in The Beatles is impossible to underplay, and together they proved to be a perfect match. Before Brian Epstein recommended him to work with ‘The Fab Four’, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, Martin wasn’t necessarily perceived as an elite producer, and their reputations soared in tandem.
The Beatles were far from the global behemoths they’d soon evolve into when their paths first crossed. In fact, Martin took a chance on the group by showing a willingness to work with them at EMI as they’d just been rejected by Decca Records, and nobody apart from Epstein could have guessed that their future was so bright.
Martin’s musical career started initially with the BBC, in their classical music department, but he’d find his true home at EMI in 1950. Five years later, he’d become the head of their subsidiary, Parlophone, and he helped re-establish the label with an impetus on comedy.
While the label wasn’t dominating the charts nor the airwaves, Martin had carved out a prolific niche for himself and helped elevate Parlophone back into relevancy. However, the opportunity that would present itself to work with The Beatles would change the trajectory of the producer’s life, and he’d also earn his position as the ‘Fifth Beatle’.
5 reasons George Martin was the Fifth Beatle
The initial gamble
Without this decision by Martin, who knows what the future could have been like for The Beatles. While they had a wealth of talent at their disposal, the producer didn’t know whether the band would succeed when he invited them to EMI Studios, and he only had their demo recorded at Decca to judge them from. Still, the strength of the vocals convinced him enough to give them a chance.
It was a decision that would define Martin’s legacy, and he signed the group to a recording contract prior to meeting them or seeing them play live. He could sniff out the potential for something special to occur, and Martin even broke the EMI contract rules to sign the band by giving them twice the proceeds that a standard group would receive.
Not trying to repackage the group
It would have been easy for Martin to mould The Beatles into being whatever he believed would sell the most records. However, instead, he let them be free and redesigned the model of what a pop group should and could be.
Before The Beatles, it seemed farcical to have two singers who shared vocal duties and not build the band around a singular person. Yet, that’s how they operated, and any other presentation of the group would have been inauthentic. Rather than trying to chase success, Martin simply used his experience to guide The Beatles, and it was their unwavering creativity that asserted them into greatness.
Doing their “dirty work”
When The Beatles signed to EMI, three out of the four members in the group weren’t content with the other fixture in the band, and it was clear to Martin they wanted Pete Best to depart from his role as drummer. However, they didn’t have the guts to tell him face-to-face, and instead, it was down to the producer to inform him his services were no longer required.
“He never joined in with the others,” Martin told Melody Maker in 1971. “He was always a bit quiet, almost surly. But the basic thing was that I didn’t like his drumming, it wasn’t solid and he didn’t bind the group together. … The boys had been thinking of getting rid of him anyway, but they wanted someone to do the dirty work for them.”
‘Love Me Do’
‘Love Me Do’ was The Beatles’ first single, and the pressure was on for the group to race out of the traps with a hit but, Martin knew that more important than short-term success was for ‘The Fab Four’ to establish a robust reputation.
Initially, they were scheduled to release their recording of ‘How Do You Do It’. However, the song was written by Mitch Murray, and Martin thought it would be best to introduce the band with a wholly original piece of music. Instead, he gave the track to Gerry and The Pacemakers for their debut, and they reached number one with the release. Conversely, ‘Love Me Do’ only landed at 17, but, in the long-term, Martin’s decision would be proved the correct move.
As an arranger, Martin brought expertise to The Beatles, which elevated their sound and dragged the group into uncomfortable but fruitful creative territory. Often, he’d have to use his authority to convince the group to listen to his changes, and on ‘Yesterday’, the producer wasn’t taking no for an answer from Paul McCartney.
“Writing a song out with George Martin was nearly always the same process,” For ‘Yesterday’ he had said, ‘Look, why don’t you come round to my house tomorrow? I’ve got a piano, and I’ve got the manuscript paper. We’ll sit down for an hour or so, and you can let me know what you’re looking for’
“He would say, ‘This is the way to do the harmony, technically.’ And I’d often try to go against that. I’d think, ‘Well, why should there be a proper way to do it?'”
McCartney added,” ‘Yesterday’ was typical. I remember suggesting the 7th that appears on the cello. George said, ‘You definitely wouldn’t have that in there. That would be very un-string-quartet. I said, ‘Well? Whack it in, George. I’ve got to have it.'”