In 1963, after a successful stint as a trumpeter and record label executive, legendary hitmaker Quincy Jones produced Lesley Gore’s Number One song “It’s My Party,” the first of numerous successful collaborations with the teenage singer. While on tour with Gore and pop singer Trini Lopez, Jones met George Martin, the influential Beatles producer who died Tuesday at the age of 90.
“We had common interests and like minds,” Jones tells Rolling Stone of that first meeting. “That’s what friends are all about. We liked the same food, same wine, same women. Anybody that’s involved in orchestration knows each other’s language already. It’s another language. Frank Gehry always said, ‘If architecture is frozen music, then music must be liquid architecture,’ and in a way, it is.”
That meeting would start a friendship that lasted more than 50 years, with the two producers always remaining close friends more than rival competitors. “We thought on the same path,” Jones says. “Producers come from many places; from singers to songwriters to engineers. But everyone has a different kind of discipline. But oh hells no, we weren’t competitive. Not even close, man. Not even close. When you’re friends, you don’t go through that shit, man. He is who he is and I am who I am so we didn’t have anything to prove.” In the liner notes to Michael Jackson’s Jones-produced album Thriller, Martin, who worked on “The Girl Is Mine,” is affectionately credited as “George ‘Be Natural’ Martin.”
But decades before Thriller, Jones was marveling at Martin’s technical ability and classical influence; skills that would dramatically affect countless Beatles recordings. “I thought [the Beatles] were the most incredible songwriters that ever lived. It had nothing to do with rock & roll. They’re classic songs,” Jones says. “But George added everything. Everything, man. Do you think it was their idea to come up with a string quartet on ‘Eleanor Rigby’ or a symphony orchestra on ‘A Day in the Life’? I don’t think so. That’s very forward-thinking stuff. And that could have only come from an orchestrator like George. He provided that canvas and that’s why he’s the ‘Fifth Beatle.'”
Popular on Rolling Stone
“George added everything [to the Beatles]. Everything, man.”
The two producers last saw each other at the 2006 premiere of the Beatles’ Cirque du Soleil show Love — “It was wonderful. It was the most time we’ve spent together in a long time,” he says. But Jones recalled his 80th birthday party in Las Vegas in 2013 as a poignant harbinger. “Michael Caine and I are celestial twins; born in the same year, month, day and hour,” Jones says. “On our 80th birthday, he said, ‘Quincy, we have to be careful because God is bowling in our alley now.’ It’s true, man. Every day, man. It’s just frightening. It just tore my heart out [when I heard about Martin’s death].
“George could handle anything,” adds Jones. “What’s the cat’s name that’s in jail now? [Phil] Spector? An orchestrator really knows what the Wall of Sound is all about. That was just an expression they used back then, but orchestrators and arrangers [like George] know what’s that about and know how to create it.”
Asked where he would rank Martin among contemporary music producers, Jones’ answer is swift and resolute: “Number One. The top. He was an amazing guy.”