Sir George Henry Martin, the ‘Fifth Beatle’ who produced and guided the core catalog of Beatles’ works, has now died at 90.
Martin, who passed away in the early morning hours of Wednesday, is being celebrated after a six-decade career that produced 30 number one songs in the UK and 23 in the United States, among other chart-smashing accomplishments and innumerable accolades. In 1996, the producer, arranger, composer, and pop visionary was knighted for his contributions to music, popular society, and charitable causes.
Martin first encountered the young Beatles in early 1962 through a meeting with group manager Brian Epstein, and subsequently signed the group to EMI months later. The rest, as they say is history, though that history started quickly with two critical hits: ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘Please Please Me,’ the first in a long string of classics that thrived in a singles-focused era. Eventually, Martin and the Beatles were at the vanguard of a deeper, album-oriented progression, with opuses like ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ cementing the Beatles as a cultural, commercial, and critical success.
Martin has been indelibly dubbed the ‘Fifth Beatle’ for his deep involvement with the group, and Paul McCartney further cemented that title. “If anyone earned the title of the fifth Beatle it was George,” McCartney recently stated, though the ‘first Beatle,’ John Lennon, was annoyed by the idea that Martin molded or created the group. “When people ask me questions about ‘What did George Martin really do for you?,’ I have only one answer, ‘What does he do now?’” Lennon wrote McCartney in a published letter during 1971. “I noticed you had no answer for that! It’s not a putdown, it’s the truth.”
Lennon later recanted those comments, and Martin himself continually downplayed the inherited title. Others outside of the Fab Four were undoubtedly pivotal in the development of the group, though without Martin, the Beatles would have been a different group (if they existed in our historical consciousness at all).
And Martin’s hit-making, pop-friendly sensibilities extended to other artists, including Gerry & the Pacemakers, America, Shirley Bassey, The Who, and the now defamed Gary Glitter. Fittingly, one of Martin’s last collaborations involved Elton John, whose ‘Candle In the Wind’ was released shortly after the producer was knighted.
Martin clearly lived a long, healthy life, though his death marks another important loss from a critical era. That includes the recent death of David Bowie, with other greats like Lemmy Kilmister and Glenn Frey also passing in recent months.
Top image: cover of ‘Produced by George Martin,’ released 2001.