By Ernest Barteldes
Like most Beatles fans, I got to recognize George Martin’s name by looking at the credit printed on the back of every one of the band’s albums except Let It Be (ironically, the first Fab Four album I have ever heard), which was Phil Spector’s one shot at salvaging a train wreck of a record that would probably have tarnished the reputation of one of the greatest groups ever.
As I grew up, though, I realized that Martin was way more than this – over the years, I discovered many fantastic recordings he had been involved with, including Jeff Beck’s “Beck-Ola” and the soundtrack of the infamous Peter Frampton-Bee Gees soundtrack of “Sgt. Pepper’s” movie (the picture sucked but the music was pretty amazing). As I researched music, I realized that Martin was beyond being the “Fifth Beatle” – he was an amazingly special musical personality, and if it were not for him, those four guys might not have gotten far.
The proof goes by listening to the material they recorded before Martin came into the picture. Anyone with half a brain that has heard “The Decca Tapes” realizes that the Beatles were little more than a garage band, and that the guy who rejected them was right – I mean, without someone with a vision behind the controls, they might have turned out to be just another guitar band on the way out.
I will not elaborate much about Martin’s career because every single obituary has said the same. Instead, allow me to bring to light one of the best pieces of music he ever created, the underrated “In My Life,” a record that he created to mark his retirement (that didn’t really happen – he did work on a handful of albums after that), in which he re-created some of the gems he had worked with the Beatles with a plethora of guests that included many of the greatest music and screen stars of the time.
The idea was to end his illustrious career by inviting some of his favorite artists to do some Beatles music from more of a symphonic point of view – and then some. The tunes he chose were least obvious one – for instance, he avoided big hits like “Yesterday,” opting instead for tunes like “Here, There and Everywhere,” “Come Together” and “I Am the Walrus” instead – hearing these tunes in a new light convinced me his talent was intact.
“A Hard Day’s Night” was performed by actress Goldie Hawn with a big band, using a slower tempo that made it more like a blues, while Robin Williams and Bobby McFerrin took on “Come Together.” McFerrin did the famous bass line with his voice, and also sang co-lead with Williams. Celine Dion took ownership of “Here, There and Everywhere” by delivering what was arguably her best studio performance to date.
Among my personal favorites on that disc is the spoken-word version of “In My Life” with backing of Martin’s piano and the trademark voice of Sean Connery, who speaks the lyrics with the feeling of someone who has experienced much in life (never mind the song was written by a 25-year-old John Lennon). Also marvelous is Jeff Beck’s instrumental take on “A Day in the Life” with the backing of a full orchestra – the version is so perfect that it was ultimately re-released on the soundtrack of the movie “Across The Universe.”
Although this was planned to be Martin’s final opus, full retirement ultimately (and fortunately for his fans) eluded him. After the disc was released, he still produced Elton John’s remake of “Candle In the Wind” in tribute to Princess Diana and worked on the Cirque du Soleil’s “Love” mash-up with his son Giles. He was a force of nature in his own right – who happened to be at the right place at the right time when The Beatles auditioned to him.