Why ‘Fifth Beatle’ Doesn’t Do George Martin Justice
McCartney rolled out of bed one morning with the melody for “Yesterday” in his head, and went around for weeks humming it to people, incredulous that he’d come up with it himself, but it was Martin who ever so gingerly — for the Beatles still viewed themselves as rough-and-ready Northern rockers, only in suits now — that a string quartet might be just the thing.
He could find the band irksome, childish. He was by no means a “free love and let’s-take-a-handful-of-these-pills” kind of person, as they were becoming, but he met their spirit in terms of what one might call not giving a fuck in terms of what had been done before, what the rules were, what the rules for everyone else, maybe, were. The Beatles always had a certain emotional avant-gardism, and so did Martin, going back to his work with the Goons, which immediately got him on John Lennon’s side.
Martin was awed as he sat on his high stool and listened to Lennon first play him “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Just as he was dubious — for a time — when Lennon, unable to decide if he wanted to use the slower, emotionally tugging, dreamy version of the song, or the incessant, loud, sonically intense iteration, simply told Martin to splice half of each version together. He didn’t understand — nor care — that they were in different keys, there’d be a horrible, audible glitch instead of an undetectable seam. Not his problem. He’d done his part. And now Martin, of course, would do his.
And he did. The result is no less than one of the handful of greatest studio creations of its decade, and if McCartney played the bass, Lennon rhythm guitar, Harrison lead and Starr drums, you might say that Martin played the studio, or helped the Beatles to, anyway.
The term Fifth Beatle, and its associations, would practically belittle the man. For just as the four Beatles possessed a oneness between them, so their producer had his own formidable autonomy. When the one was brought to bear on the other, you have genius shepherded by brilliance. And something infinite. Or something well past mere notions of four and five.Beatles producer George Martin died on March 9th, 2016. Watch his remembrance here.
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