George Martin: 20 Great Non-Beatles Productions - Rolling Stone
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George Martin: 20 Great Non-Beatles Productions

Cheap Trick, Elton John, James Bond and more

George Martin

George Martin sits next to a sound board in the Eighties.

Martyn Goddard/Corbis

The tirelessly experimental, gorgeously grandiose production of George Martin is synonymous with the Beatles — and understandably so. His studio stewardship of the group for most of their existence went far beyond the traditional producer role and, together, they pushed the limits of what pop music could sound like. But Martin’s career predated the Fab Four and would continue long after they broke up. He lent his formidable, innovative production and arranging talents to a variety of pop, novelty and soundtrack sessions in the early days; and his work with a panoply of top-name rock artists from the Fifties through the Nineties solidified a legacy that didn’t even need it.

“That’s part of my background, the catholic world of music that has no limits, no blinkers.” Martin told Mojo in 2007. “And when you achieve something that you know hasn’t been done before, and know that people will love it, it’s an enormous feeling of elation, to have done something really worthwhile.”

From passing along Beatles rejects to Gerry and the Pacemakers to fostering Seventies jazz fusion with Mahavishnu Orchestra to helping Elton John’s tribute to Princess Diana became the second best-selling single of all time, here are some examples of why Martin was so much more than the Fifth Beatle.

George Martin; Non-Beatle Songs; List

Stackridge, “Fundamentally Yours” (1974)

Formed in the psychedelic late Sixties, Bristol's Stackridge Lemon dropped the latter part of their name by the time they began releasing albums in the Seventies. George Martin produced Stackridge's third and most successful album, 1974's The Man in the Bowler Hat (issued in the U.S. under the title Pinafore Days), and played piano on the track "Humiliation." Much of the album is proggy and baroque chamber pop dominated by lush string arrangements, but the opener "Fundamentally Yours" is a dynamic harpsichord-driven rocker featuring snappy drumming by Billy "Sparkle" Bent, who later became Martin's personal assistant. A.S.

George Martin; Non-Beatle Songs; List

Jeff Beck, “Diamond Dust” (1975)

"A successful record has to be a real expression of everyone's talent," wrote Martin in All You Need Is Ears. "That was true when I recorded Ella Fitzgerald and it is true when I work with Jimmy Webb. And it is true when I made successful recordings with Jeff Beck." On paper, the team-up between Martin and Beck seemed unlikely; the former Beatles producer was known for his symphonic finesse and the former Yardbirds guitarist was known for his bluesy edge. But by the mid-Seventies, Beck had disbanded his celebrated power trio and began exploring more ambitious musical vistas, which led to enlisting Martin for Blow by Blow. On it, Beck and Martin find space to spotlight everything from Stevie Wonder's clavinet to lavish string arrangements – the latter appearing on the record's jazzy, eight-and-a-half-minute closer, "Diamond Dust," a cinematic sprawl and synergistic triumph. J.H.

George Martin

Jimmy Webb, “The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress” (1977)

"The Moon's a Harsh Mistress" had already been recorded by Glen Campbell, Judy Collins and Joe Cocker by the time the songwriter himself got around to it. Webb was inspired by the Robert Heinlein novel's title that he said "haunted" him for years. "It's a song to jump out the window by," Collins said of Webb's emotionally devastating ballad. The cold, stony effect of his own version is due in large part to arranger George Martin, the first outside producer Webb had ever used. "We came down to the point where we felt we were going to do some string overdubs," Webb told Record Collector. "Well, I wanted him to do the arrangements. I'm no fool — I'm sitting there with George Martin! I wanted to hear what George was going to do more than what I was going to do." R.G.

George Martin; Non-Beatle Songs; List

Gary Brooker, “No More Fear of Flying” (1979)

A decade after singing the timeless "A Whiter Shade of Pale" with Procol Harum, Gary Brooker went solo following their breakup. The first of his three solo albums, 1979's No More Fear of Flying, was produced by Martin, whose magic touch is evident from the opening title track and lead single. Stacked with saxophones and trombones recalling Martin's busy brass arrangement on "Good Morning Good Morning" by the Beatles, "No More Fear of Flying" builds a driving groove around Brooker's wistful voice and electric piano. A.S.

George Martin; Non-Beatle Songs; List

Cheap Trick, “World’s Greatest Lover” (1980)

For 1980's All Shook Up, Cheap Trick set aside longtime producer Tom Werman to work with the producer who had guided the band's biggest influence. The Fab Four's impact on Cheap Trick had never been a secret, but Martin teased out a particularly Beatles-like majesty on album track "World's Greatest Lover." It's a sumptuous ballad stuffed with strategically deployed orchestral flourishes and languid, melancholy acoustic guitar. What really pops is Robin Zander's rich, resonant, thoroughly Lennon-esque vocal delivery, which is too close to its source material to be anything other than a loving pastiche. The album came out at the end of October in 1980; within weeks, John Lennon would be dead. Presciently, "World's Greatest Lover" wound up being a breathtaking tribute. J.H.

George Martin; Non-Beatle Songs; List

Ultravox, “Hymn” (1982)

"It was George Martin who smoothed everything over," recalled Ultravox singer Midge Ure in his autobiography If I Was…. During the recording of the band's 1982 album Quartet, the producer kept a musical disagreement between band members from reaching meltdown proportions. But "smoothed everything over" might as well have applied to the album itself — and in particular its hit single "Hymn." Ultravox had begun years earlier as a spiky, glam-and-punk-influenced outfit, but by '82 they had morphed into a synth-pop frontrunner. "Hymn" was the apex, a bombastic, elegantly frictionless anthem that made Ultravox's rivals sound like they were playing Speak & Spells. Twenty years after turning the edgy sound of rock into something manicured and mainstream, Martin did the same with synth-pop. J.H.

George Martin; Non-Beatle Songs; List

Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson, “Say Say Say” (1983)

Martin produced the entirety of Paul McCartney's 1983 Pipes of Peace album, and recording that LP's biggest hit in 1982 would provide his first encounter with Michael Jackson — just before the release of the record-breaking Thriller. Sir George was impressed. "He actually does radiate an aura when he comes into the studio, there's no question about it," the producer said of the superstar. "He's not a musician in the sense that Paul is, but he does know what he wants in music and he has very firm ideas." The song became Jackson's third Number One single that year. K.H.

George Martin; Non-Beatle Songs; List

Kate Bush & Larry Adler, “The Man I Love” (1994)

In 1994, Martin produced The Glory of Gershwin, a tribute album celebrating the 80th birthday of Gershwin's friend, harmonica virtuoso Larry Adler. Adler joined guests like Peter Gabriel, Elton John and Cher. Said Martin, "Of course Larry was a compulsive name dropper but he really did know the greatest of people, and for me it was wonderful to work with such a legend." One of the highlights was Kate Bush's "The Man I Love," which proved Martin had lost no step in the orchestral work he was known for before the Beatles. P.D.

George Martin; Non-Beatle Songs; List

Elton John, “Candle in the Wind 1997” (1997)

The best-selling single George Martin ever produced wasn't a Beatles song. Immediately following Princess Diana's death, Elton John quickly reworked his 1973 song "Candle in the Wind," initially a tribute to Marilyn Monroe, to mourn the late royal. The recording would sell more than 33 million copies worldwide, topping the Billboard Hot 100 for 14 weeks. Though John might not have anticipated such massive sales, the single would clearly be a major pop event, so he contacted Martin to lend the precise air of gravitas he desired. They'd worked together just two years earlier on a track for John's Made in England album, which was recorded at Martin's AIR Studios in London. The elderly Martin arranged a string quartet for "Candle in the Wind 1997" and added an oboe as well. It would be the last hit Martin produced. K.H.

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