The Beatles opened a door in my soul. They grabbed the ears first obviously. I knew She Loves You because I grew up in the 60s, but without a record player at home until 1972, it was Slade, T. Rex and Donny Osmond records that first caught my eleven year old attention. Then at my first Ballymena Academy Christmas Party the prefects, with seven extra years radio listening and a maturer taste played I Should Have Known Better and Can’t Buy Me Love. The Red and Blue Beatles collections were just out. It was three more years until I bought and then swapped my way into a Beatles collection but something was birthed.
In 1976 Parlophone re-released all the Beatles’ singles and added some not originally released in the UK. Yesterday was the first of those and on the b-side that song from my first year Christmas Party - I Should Have Known Better. This was a sound I wanted more of. I was 15 by then and starting to ask the big questions. We weren’t Church goers and so John, Paul, George and Ringo started to give me a bigger picture of life.
Eventually I would decide that they were asking the right question but not giving me fulfilling answers. When someone gave me an album by a long haired Christian rock star called Larry Norman I heard him sing “The Beatles said all you need is love/And then they broke up.” That expressed how I was feeling about the need to build on the thoughts The Beatles had made ricochet around my mind. Jesus with his “I have come to bring life and life in all its fulness” took my soul higher, wider and deeper. BUT… The Beatles were very important and I am still a fan, my life richer and my faith stimulated by their work.
So, this morning as I woke up to Beatles’ song after Beatles’ song on the Chris Evans Show I should have known something was wrong. My wife who just a few weeks ago broke the Bowie news to me says, “did you here… the fifth Beatle died.” “Pete Best.” I answered a little confused before quickly adding, “George Martin?”
George Martin was indeed the fifth Beatle but his humility wouldn’t allow him to take the title. He even played on a good few of the songs, though never credited. He was their sounding board, their adviser, their mentor. He was the one who got them to speed up Please Please Me that gave them their first big hit. He was the one brought a string quartet to Yesterday and began to shift the sonic ideas that the band had been using.
There is a wonderful piece at the beginning of Geoff Emerick’s memoir Here, There and Everywhere. Emerick was the young teenager that Martin brought into to work with The Beatles as recording engineer in 1966. It was the beginning of the Revolver sessions and as Emerick shares his tricky introduction to the inner circle you get the almost pastoral side of George Martin - “a producer with a bedside manner” Paul McCartney calls it in his tribute this morning. The fab four have been used to another engineer and you see in this scene how Martin deals with every member of the band’s personalities and response to the change. You also get a sense that perhaps he and McCartney have been in cahoots about bringing a younger more adventurous Emerick in at a time they were beginning to really explore.
The first song to be looked at was the most experimentally outrageous, Tomorrow Never Knows. This is the track where the experimenting really went wild. Lennon wants it to sound “like a group of Tibetan monks, on the top of the mountain, and for him to sound like the Dalai Lama in the distance.” McCartney has been influenced by the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen and has created tape loops at home. How can they be used? These are all the sounds in Beatles’ heads that George Martin had the genius to be able to realise and put onto the grooves of vinyl discs.
Would The Beatles have been the biggest and most influential rock band ever without George Martin? It is hard it imagine. They had a unique synergy of genius in their foursome. However, we can never underestimate that fifth piece of synergy. From Love Me Do to Tomorrow Never Knows in four years is almost unbelievable to imagine. Rock music would never be the same again.
George Martin was vital to the soundtrack of my life and the off shoot in spiritual discovery that that Beatles’ soundtrack sparked and continues to spark. I put on Revolver in the car this morning and, when that strident beat of Taxman kicked in, I let out a little yelp. I still loved it and it lights up my day. Thank you George Martin. You might be gone but your influence lives on in my life.