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

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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