George Martin, the brilliant producer for much of the Beatles’ classic catalog, has died. The cause of death has not yet been released. He was 90. “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.” There’s no doubt The Beatles wouldn’t be The Beatles without Martin.
Here are fun facts about the man they call “The Fifth Beatle.”
1. In his early 20s, Martin’s oboe teacher was Margaret Eliot, the mother of Jane Asher, who would later become involved with Paul McCartney.
2. Following his graduation, he worked for the BBC’s classical music department, then joined EMI in 1950, as an assistant to Oscar Preuss, the head of EMI’s Parlophone Records from 1950 to 1955. Although having been regarded by EMI as a vital German imprint in the past, it was then not taken seriously and only used for EMI’s insignificant acts.
3. Beginning in the late 1950s, Martin began to supplement his producer income by publishing music and having his artists record it. He used the pseudonyms Lezlo Anales and John Chisholm before settling on Graham Fisher as his primary pseudonym.
4. Martin also produced numerous comedy and novelty records. His first hit for Parlophone in 1952 with the Peter Ustinov single “Mock Mozart” – a record reluctantly released by EMI only after another producer insisted they give Martin a chance. Later that decade Martin worked with Peter Sellers on two very popular comedy LPs.
5. 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.”
6. In The Beatles’ first audition for Martin, he asked the individual Beatles if there was anything they personally did not like, to which George Harrison replied, “Well, there’s your tie, for a start.” That was the turning point as John Lennon and Paul McCartney joined in with jokes and comic wordplay that made Martin think that he should sign them to a contract for their wit alone.
7. He was great at predicting hits. The Beatles’ first recording session with Martin was on September 4th, 1962, when they recorded “How Do You Do It”, which Martin thought was a sure-fire hit even though Lennon and McCartney did not want to release it, not being one of their own compositions. Martin was correct: Gerry & the Pacemakers’ version, which Martin produced, spent three weeks at No. 1 in April 1963 before being displaced by “From Me to You”.
8. Even he doesn’t even know how The Beatles managed to write their hits. “There seemed to be a bottomless well of songs,” Martin once said. “And people asked me where that well was dug. Who knows?”
9. His classical music background came in handy. “My approach to the strings on ‘Eleanor Rigby’ was greatly influenced by Bernard Herrmann and his film score for Psycho,” Martin said in a 2012 interview. “He had a way of making violins sound fierce. That inspired me to have the strings play short notes forcefully, giving the song a nice punch. If you listen to the two, you’ll hear the connection.”
10. Craft doesn’t even begin to describe him. Martin also played on some Beatles songs, including the piano on “In My Life.” “I couldn’t play the piano at the speed it needed to be played, the way I’d written the part,” he said in another 2012 interview. “I wasn’t that good a pianist, but if you had had a really good pianist, he could do it. I couldn’t get all the notes in. One night I was by myself and played the notes at half speed but an octave lower on the piano, recording at 15 inches per second. When I ran the tape back at 30 inches per second, the notes were at the right speed and in the correct octave.”
11. Martin’s age and his lack of interest in drugs became an advantage as their music became increasingly psychedelic. “Drugs certainly affected the music. But it didn’t affect the record production because I was producing. I saw the music growing, but I rather saw it like Salvador Dalí’s paintings. I didn’t think the reason for it was drugs. I thought it was because they wanted to go into an impressionistic way.”
12. Martin loves Ringo Starr’s drumming, calling him “probably … the finest rock drummer in the world today”.
13. Martin was just as creative as The Beatles. For “Strawberry Fields Forever”, he and recording engineer Geoff Emerick turned two very different takes into a single master through careful use of vari-speed and editing. For “I Am the Walrus”, he provided a quirky and original arrangement for brass, violins, cellos, and the Mike Sammes Singers vocal ensemble. On “In My Life”, he played a speeded-up baroque piano solo. He worked with McCartney to implement the orchestral ‘climax’ in “A Day in the Life” and he and McCartney shared conducting duties the day it was recorded.
14. He was adamant The Beatles should never reform after their split in 1970. “It would be a terrible mistake for them ever to go into the studio together,” he said in 1976. “The Beatles existed years ago; they don’t exist today. And if the four men came back together, it wouldn’t be the Beatles.”
15. Oh, he never made much money from The Beatles until later on. Much later. Within the recording industry, Martin is known for having become independent at a time when many producers were still salaried staff—which he was until The Beatles’ success gave him the leverage to start, in 1965, Associated Independent Recording, and hire out his own services to artists who requested him. Until this arrangement, he never shared in the record royalties on his hits.
16. He would be one of the greats even if you didn’t mention The Beatles. He also produced Gerry and the Pacemakers, Kenny Rogers, Cheap Trick, Jeff Beck and Celine Dion. In 1997, he produced Elton John’s new version of “Candle in the Wind” to honor the late Princess Diana. It became one of the best-selling singles of all time.
17. He even worked with another hearing-impaired musician – Pete Townshend. In 1992,the duo helped create the musical stage production of The Who’s Tommy. The play opened on Broadway in 1993, with the original cast album being released that summer. Martin won the Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album in 1993, as the producer of that album.
18. He’s no stranger to mixing family with business. In 2006, Martin and his son, Giles Martin, remixed 80 minutes of Beatles music for the Las Vegas stage performance Love, a joint venture between Cirque du Soleil and the Beatles’ Apple Corps Ltd.
19. He thinks The Beatles will be remembered in the next century, but he won’t be. “They’re just great musicians and great writers, like Gershwin or Rodgers and Hammerstein. They are there in history, and the Beatles are there in history, too. They’ll be there in 100 years, too. But I won’t be.”
20. He’s wrong.