George Martin was best known for his incredible work with The Beatles. In fact, if it hadn’t been for Martin, The Beatles would have never become what we know them as today.
He was born on January 3rd in 1926 and grew up during tough times without the comforts of luxury. When listening to interviews he has done throughout the years, it is easy to forget that he came from humble beginnings as he exuded so much elegance, sophistication and an upper-class sensibility; on the contrary, he is one of those rare breeds that has elevated himself through an art form, raising himself on pure merit and talent, and also those who were around him.
Martin was a classically trained musician and composer and, around the age of 15-16, he had his own band and earned enough money to get himself music lessons. While his parents were loving, none of them had ever considered music as a career.
“It wasn’t just a matter of not being able to afford it. My parents never thought that music could be a career,” George Martin told Sue Lawley on the famed BBC’s Sounds’ Desert Island Discs. “They both wanted me to have a safe job. I never considered music as a career. I actually wanted to be an aircraft designer and music was a great hobby and I had my own band which I used to earn money when I was 15-16. I earned enough money to pay for music lessons and so on.”
The guests of the show are invited to talk about their lives and choose eight songs that they could not live without. “Rock ‘n’ Roll has the same function as classical music: to make sounds that are appealing to a mass of people and are of some worth,” Martin stated with clarity.
In the early ’60s, George Martin began working as a producer for EMI. “I had a hit record with Jim Dale,” he explained. “We had a number two record with a song called ‘Be My Girl’ and I had a previous number one but not with a rock group, called the Temperance Seven.”
In the same way that The Beatles were hugely influenced by early rock legends like Cliff Richards, Martin had envied Richards’ producer, Norrie Paramor: “It seemed much easier to make a record with a rock ‘n’ roll artist than with comedy people,” he explained. Prior to The Beatles, George Martin had been working with comedians such as the likes of Peter Sellers for whom he recorded all of his comedy skits. “With a rock ‘n’ roll star, it almost seemed – this is an exaggeration and not true – it seemed you give them ‘God Save The Queen’ and you would make a hit record.”
Martin’s desert disc selections are largely classical compositions which would make sense as Martin is first and foremost a classical composer. His first song choice is Maurice Ravel’s ‘Daphne and Chloe’.
“I’ve chosen this because he could conjure up sounds from the orchestra better than anybody from his time,” he explained. “He was an impressionist of music, he painted a wonderful picture. If you listen to ‘Daphne and Chloe’, you can shut your eyes and you can see a picture and it’s very beautiful.”
Having started in the 1960s, being a working classical composer as well as a producer were very different things at the time. To create orchestral sounds, one needed an actual orchestra back then. “I think technology has made things worse. It’s a bit too easy to make sounds.” Martin was commenting on the phenomenon that technology has had on the music industry. He added, “I use synthesizers and computers as well as everybody else and at home on a very small apparatus, I can make orchestral sounds. I think that’s terribly unfair, I don’t think you should.”
Martin’s second choice is his very own production masterpiece which saw the Liverpool Fab Four take the first spot on the US charts. Interviewer, Sue Lawley, asked Martin, “Did you know in that moment when you met them and you heard them and you put the whole thing together – ‘This could be the start of something?'”
Of course, Lawley is referring to the day that The Beatles entered Studio 3 at EMI records to audition for a record contract. Martin had asked the lads for an original composition, and after looking through their catalogue at that point, all they found was ‘Love Me Do’. While ‘Love Me Do’ wasn’t a number one hit record, it did reach number 12, which is precisely what George Martin had predicted.
“No, I didn’t think they had the potential to make a hit record,” he said. “We looked among the songs they had, and the best we could do was ‘Love Me Do’.”
Martin’s choice and the fab four’s first number one in the states was of course, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’. “Monty Python and Faulty Towers supplanted Peter Sellers. Comedy records are bound to die,” George Martin said, referring to the advent of visual comedy and how viewing comedy films and such replaced recorded comedy audio, much in the same as how the internet has taken over radio and even television.
In addition to composition, Martin studied the oboe at the Guild school of music. “Of course, it wasn’t my main subject, I studied composition and conducting and orchestration at the college and I took up the oboe really, to earn a bit of a living. I didn’t earn a great one.”
“My fourth choice is an oboe piece and this is the oboe quartet by Mozart, it’s one of my favourite pieces – it’s the first movement from it,” George Martin said when selecting his fourth desert island disc, which was played by the National Sound.
Martin’s sixth choice is one of his own compositions, called ‘Old Boston’. “I’m being a little bit cheeky. I admire enormously the people who are playing it. Here we have a chap who was, well, the best guitar player in the world, I think. From a classical point of view – John Williams.” The maestro seems to exhibit no signs of arrogance – as a humble composer, Martin simply admires the musicians who are playing on the record.
“It has three pieces. It was my attempt to paint a picture of America.”
George Martin was a standup kind of guy, a gentleman and a scholar who in his selfless charm contributed to the world an enduring body of work. His favourite book is How to Build a Boat, ironically. In a subtly sly manner, Martin also mentions that the luxury item he would bring to the island is an electronic keyboard, contradicting his hidden resentment towards how technology has put classical musicians out of work.
You can find the full list, below.
George Martin’s 8 favourite songs:
- Maurice Ravel – ‘Daphne and Chloe’
- The Beatles – ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’
- Peter Cook & Jonathan Miller – ‘Aftermyth of War’
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – ‘Oboe Quartet in F major’
- Benjamin Britten – ‘Foggy, Foggy Dew’
- George Martin – ‘Old Boston’
- George Gershwin – ‘Bess, You Is My Woman Now’
- Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – ‘Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture’