Friday, Sept. 21, 2012

George Martin’s Life in Music

DVD Documents the Beatles’ Producer

By David Luhrssen
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 Without George Martin, the Beatles might never have been heard beyond seaport clubs in northern Europe and without his hand in the studio, many of their classic recordings might have been a bit less classic. Some of the funny stories in the BBC documentary “Produced by George Martin” are already familiar to Beatles fans. The self-deprecating producer recalls being unimpressed by the demo tape Brian Epstein played for him. Even after the indefatigable manager brought the band to Abbey Road, Martin thought their music was “rubbish” but was won over by their charisma. And yes, Martin insisted on replacing Ringo Starr with a more on-the-beat studio drummer for their first session.


The fun part of the documentary is getting to know Martin before he met the Beatles. After serving as a naval aviator during World War II, Martin enrolled at a conservatory where, he’s happy to report, he wasn’t “over educated in music.” He dreamed of becoming a classical composer in the Rachmaninoff mode, but accepted a job in 1950 from Britain’s biggest record label, EMI; while working at the company’s Abbey Road studio, he met Judy, the secretary who remains his wife 60 years later. During the ‘50s and early ‘60s he recorded and arranged jazz, classical, novelty and comedy records, making his greatest impression with discs by Peter Sellers and Peter Ustinov. The Beatles were fans before they met him.


“They were eternally curious,” he says of the Beatles. Their imagination and his scope were the ingredients for an ideal collaboration. Martin was also a sensitive listener. Some arrangers would have smothered “Yesterday” under an orchestra but Martin kept the strings as simple and bare as the lyric. He realized that recording technology, especially with the advent of magnetic tape, could achieve more than merely documenting a performance. “Let’s paint instead of making photographs,” he says, drawing an analogy to the visual arts.


Although his post-Beatles career will always be heard as anti-climactic, Martin produced such diverse artists as the Mahavishnu Orchestra, America and Jimmy Webb in the ‘70s and in the ‘80s, his Air Studios on Monteserrat was a popular recording getaway for the Police, Elton John and Duran Duran.


“Produced by George Martin” includes a wealth of archival footage and interviews with Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Jeff Beck and others who worked with him. It’s out on Blu-ray and DVD.

 

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