George Martin passed away a year ago today, aged 90. I remember being incredibly shocked and saddened by the news. Only the day before, I’d been talking to a friend about my admiration for him and how lucky we were to still have him around. The next day, he was gone. It was one of those horrible coincidences that sometimes happens.
Everyone knows that 2016 was a bad year for celebrity deaths. George Martin’s loss was one that hit me particularly hard, along with David Bowie and Alan Rickman. I loved him as a Beatles fan, but also as a fan of music and sound in general. George Martin was one of the key people who inspired me to start working with audio. He introduced me to its endless possibilities by continually pushing the boundaries in his work.
The ‘Fifth Beatle’ question is still being debated to this day, but I’ve always felt that George Martin deserves that title for his contributions to the band’s sound. Under his guidance they became more experimental, and he helped them do things that had previously seemed impossible. They were a match made in heaven.
John Lennon said, “George Martin made us what we were in the studio. He helped us develop a language to talk to other musicians.” When The Beatles first met him in 1962, they knew practically nothing about recording. By the time they’d stopped touring and focused all their energies on making albums, this had completely changed, and it was thanks to George Martin that they each developed the confidence to self-produce their music in their later careers. They learned it all from him.
One of my favourite stories is about the recording of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’. John Lennon was unable to decide between the two separate versions of the song they’d recorded, and he trusted Martin to come up with a solution — which he did. They were in different keys, so he sped up one version, slowed down the other and combined them. An absolute work of genius. The fact that John simply said, “You can fix it, George” showed just how much the band trusted him.
A few years ago, Martin remarked that people would still be listening to The Beatles in a hundred years’ time — but said that while they would still be around, he wouldn’t be. Of course, he meant that their music would outlive him, and indeed all of us. But if The Beatles are still around, then George Martin will be too. He’s earned his place in history just as much as they have.