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Friday, 11 March 2016

SIR GEORGE MARTIN, AURAL GENIUS: THE MASTER'S CHOICE

THE IDEA OF THE STUDIO AS THE PRODUCER'S INSTRUMENT
50 years ago, in 1966, the most important person in the world of pop culture was 40-year-old, thin, patrician-looking smart-suited George Martin, the Abbey Road, then AIR, music producer who was the Beatles' main ally (the '5th Beatle' of lore) from 1962 to their end; and fifty years later, he still is.

For as The Guardian reports today, in interviews with various pop, alt, indie and rock producers, no one has ever come close to bettering what he first imagined, first achieved - not even the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson (who came close).  Nor were Martin's ideas lofty stale things - but the truly best of British - a working-class London East End* mesh and mash of comedy recordings, sentimental string arrangements, melody, harmony, and virtuosic (and stoic) professionalism - he was Sterling when it was Gold standard. As Stuart Price suggests, Martin took the idea of the studio as instrument and made perfection from it.

Martin's idea of perfection, and the studio as instrument, were in the air - pianist and eccentric genius Glenn Gould, for instance, conceived the same idea for radio and for Bach recordings; Sinatra's Tin Pan Alley arrangers like Nelson Riddle came close to the same notion; and Orson Welles actually did invent the idea of turning recording and radio broadcast and film studios into events - instruments of a group creative dynamic - mirrored in the mad zaniness of The Goons - which brings us full circle to Martin, who worked with them.

POSSIBLY THE MOST BRITISH PICTURE EVER - TEA AND THE BEATLES

Other media heroes might include Delia Derbyshire - curiously advances in radio and sound recording of the past half century have mostly been Anglo-Saxon and Commonwealth touchstones, likely because of the BBC, CBC, and NFB antecedents. We digress.  Welles, for all his greatness, did not invent the producer role to craft rock albums as works of seamless art (Wagner maybe had a hand in that Gesamtkunstwerk approach); and the others were theorists or twiddled knobs in relative obscurity.

Martin had the fortune and nous to meet, transform, guide, and completely redefine, the sound of the four greatest pop songwriter/ stars of the modern era, until the bitter end. Along the way he produced the best Bond themes ever ('Goldfinger' and 'To Live and Let Die'), and Peter Sellers albums - a triumvirate of dapper oddness which sums up the best of the British 60s - still resonant today.

It is impossible to listen to a current R & B, Pop, Rap or Rock track on the hit parade or Spotify and not notice its crafted, creatively produced nature.  Overproduced, arguably - but Martin was there first, leaner, though, as others have said before me - was there ever a quirkier, funnier, more ludic mainstream artist? Hard to think of many.

We recently lost David Bowie - whose very albums were impossible without the Martin catalogue - and we also recently lost Sir Ken Adams, who gave us the look of the filmic 60s, from Kubrick to Bond - but these titans of modern pop culture are not gone; they are pillars of what we have and do now.  Gratefully, yours.

* Martin was born into a working-class East End family, not the aristocracy, as is often assumed, because he looked like a Lord and had bearing; instead his parents were a carpenter and cleaning lady - and he always sought to build carefully and achieve a clean sound.
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