Ringo Starr reported the news on Twitter. “God bless George Martin,” he wrote late Tuesday night. “Peace and love to Judy and his family, love Ringo and Barbara. George will be missed.” In another post, accompanied by a photo of Martin with the Beatles, Starr wrote, “Thank you for all your love and kindness.”
Over the decades, many people have claimed to be the “fifth Beatle.” But the only person who can credibly hold that title was Martin. The producer not only signed the Beatles to their first record contract in 1962 but went on to work extensively with them on the vast majority of music they recorded over the next eight years, from “Love Me Do” to the majestic suite that wrapped up Abbey Road.
“George Martin made us what we were in the studio,” John Lennon said in 1971. “He helped us develop a language to talk to other musicians.”
Martin was born January 3rd, 1926 in Highbury, London. He began playing piano at a young age, and in 1943 he joined the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy. After World War II, he worked in the BBC’s Classical Music Department and then moved on to EMI. Much of his time was spent producing records for British comedians like Peter Sellers, Dudley Moore and Bernard Cribbins.
Martin met the Beatles in early 1962. At the time, they had a cult following in parts of England, but little success in landing a recording deal. The group’s manager, Brian Epstein, approached the producer, who worked for EMI records, and got him to agree to give their demo tape a listen.
“The recording, to put it kindly, was by no means a knockout,” Martin wrote in his 1979 memoir, All You Need Is Ears. “I could well understand that people had turned it down. But there was an unusual quality of sound, a certain roughness that I hadn’t encountered before. There was also the fact that more than one person was singing.”
He called the Beatles into Abbey Road Studios on June 6th, 1962 for a test session. The band was overjoyed to have a chance to record their material, which at the time already included “Love Me Do” and “P.S. I Love You.” There was a clear cultural gap between the clean-cut, older Martin and the scruffy lads. When Martin asked the Beatles if they had any problems with the session, George Harrison shot back, “Well, there’s your tie, for a start.” But they nevertheless respected Martin. When he suggested that drummer Pete Best wasn’t cutting it, they agreed to fire him.
Weeks later, Martin offered the Beatles their first recording contract. When they returned with new drummer Ringo Starr to cut “Love Me Do,” Martin didn’t feel like taking chances and insisted the new drummer play tambourine while session ace Andy White sat behind the kit. When it was clear Ringo was extremely hurt, he let him play on another take of the song. Both versions were eventually released.
When “Love Me Do” became a hit, Martin felt pressure to record an entire record with the band quickly, and from that point on he became their go-to producer. “There seemed to be a bottomless well of songs,” Martin once said. “And people asked me where that well was dug. Who knows?”