10 Great Beatles Moments We Owe to George Martin - Rolling Stone
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10 Great Beatles Moments We Owe to George Martin

Producer’s key contributions to Fab Four canon, from Baroque “In My Life” solo to radical “Strawberry Fields Forever” edit

The identity of the true “fifth Beatle” has been hotly debated for half a century, but the strongest case can be made for Sir George Martin. The band’s trusted and loyal producer, Martin served as expert and conspirator, taskmaster and mad scientist, friend and father figure throughout the band’s studio life. He shaped their songs in ways that are seldom appreciated but impossible to forget.

Unlike most producers of his era, his creative daring fostered an environment where it was acceptable to explore and expand the realm of the possible. He played with the Beatles, in every sense of the word — by picking up an instrument, or merely indulging their curiosity and translating their abstract musical fantasies into reality. “He was always there for us to interpret our strangeness,” recalled George Harrison. It’s difficult, and frightening, to imagine the Beatles’ artistic trajectory had they been paired with anyone else. His role as a confidant, advocate and realizer cannot be overstated.

As we mourn his death at age 90, we remember his life and the incredible work he did with “the boys.” These are 10 of our favorite moments in the Beatles’ catalog that we owe to George Martin.

George Martin; Beatles; Song List

SPECIAL PRICE. RCOD 214-59 (36696-02) John Lennon and George Martin Obligatory Credit - CAMERA PRESS/ Frank Hermann / Globe Photos 1967. Beatle John Lennon and producer, George Martin in the Abbey Road studios in 1967. Special Fees Apply

Frank Hermann/Globe Photos/Camera Press/Redux

“Strawberry Fields Forever” (1967)

The Beatles had lavished more studio time on Lennon's hallucinatory new song than nearly any track to date, recording take after take and eating up 55 hours worth of tape. Ultimately, the decision came down to two distinct versions — a faster one backed by George Martin's bombastic orchestral arrangements, and a gentle, dreamier run-through. Lennon was torn — he liked the quiet beginning of the latter and the raucous end of the former.

"He said, 'Why don't you join the beginning of the first one to the end of the second one?'" Martin explained. "'There are two things against it,' I replied. 'They are in different keys and different tempos.'" While easy to fix today, this was a serious problem in the analog age. But the technologically illiterate Lennon wasn't fazed. "'Well,' he said, 'you can fix it!'"

Armed with little more than two tape machines and a pair of scissors, Martin and his star engineer Geoff Emerick performed a minor mechanical miracle by adjusting the speed on both takes and literally cutting the two tapes together at the 60-second mark. It's become one of the most famous edits in rock history.

George Martin; Beatles; Song List

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Alan Messer/REX/Shutterstock (507840e) GEORGE MARTIN AND SIMON DEE VARIOUS - 1967

Alan Messer/REX/Shutterstock

“All You Need Is Love” (1967)

The Beatles recorded this Summer of Love anthem live on a worldwide television special broadcast by satellite. For the fade out, Martin composed what could be considered an orchestral proto-mashup, with fragments of "Greensleeves," Bach's Invention No. 8 in F Major and the big-band swing classic "In the Mood" all weaving in and out. But it was the last title that nearly got Martin in trouble for copyright infringement.

"EMI came to me and said, 'You put this in the arrangement, so now you've got to indemnify us against any action that might be taken.' I said, 'You must be joking. I got 15 pounds for doing that arrangement!' They saw the joke." The label thankfully didn't make Martin pay and compensated the "In the Mood" publishers.

George Martin; Beatles; Song List

Mandatory Credit: Photo by DAVID MAGNUS/REX/Shutterstock (10678e) George Martin George Martin

David Magnus/REX/Shutterstock

“Happiness Is a Warm Gun” (1968)

The strangest title in the Beatles canon this side of "Octopus's Garden," this White Album track owes its name to George Martin, who brought a magazine into the studio one day. "He showed me a cover of a magazine that said 'Happiness Is a Warm Gun,'" Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1970. "It was a gun magazine. I just thought it was a fantastic, insane thing to say. A warm gun means you just shot something."

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