'Fifth Beatle' was no fifth wheel His career encompasses far more than his stint as the Fab Four's prolific producer. But Sir George Martin has returned to their songbook for his latest - and final - record.


November 08, 1998|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

All George Martin wanted to do was find a day job that would let him make music in the evenings. What he ended up doing was helping revolutionize the world of popular music.

From 1962 to 1970, George Martin was the "fifth Beatle," the producer who saw to it that the genius of John, Paul, George and Ringo made it onto vinyl for all the world to hear. His crisp production, not to mention his careful shepherding of the group's talent and energy, played a huge role in creating the second great revolution in rock and roll.

But the Beatles took up only a small part of George Martin's 48-year career. Before them, he was one of England's foremost producers of jazz and comedy records. Since the group's breakup, he's continued working with the best of rock, including Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel and Elvis Costello.

Last month, MCA released what the 72-year-old Sir George promises will be his last album as producer. "In My Life" is a 12-track compilation of Beatles songs featuring some decidedly offbeat voices - Goldie Hawn cooing "Hard Day's Night," Jim Carrey roaring through "I Am the Walrus," Robin Williams wrestling "Come Together" to the ground - as well as more traditional singers like Phil Collins on "Golden Slumbers" and Celine Dion caressing "Here, There and Everywhere."

Thursday, Bravo airs a two-hour documentary on the making of "In My Life." So Sir George consented to a chore he really doesn't relish - talking about his career.

In that precise, melodious British accent Beatles fans have come to savor, he spoke about his nearly five decades in recording, life with the Beatles, and why he's chosen now to call it a career:

* On roads not traveled: In choosing to make a final production, my first thought was to say, "OK, I think I'll do an album of my own stuff - I've done quite a lot, and I can write some more stuff and do a personal album." And then I said to myself, "You idiot, what do you want to do that for? No one is going to listen to it. ... So forget that one."

* On choosing the lineup for "In My Life": I was working on a television program called "The Rhythm of Life" ... a fairly serious look at music, and one of the people I met was Celine Dion. ... We spent a morning together, and I got on very well with her.

She asked me what I was doing, and I said I was making my last record. And I thought, wait a minute, I don't know you very well but, would you like to do a track? A bit cheeky, but she said, "I'd love to." And that was super.

Then I thought of all those people I really admire. I've always admired Robin Williams immensely, and Goldie Hawn and Jim Carrey too. ... And actually doing the casting bit became fun - who could I get to do so and so.

* On the results: It was a good, fun thing to do. In approaching this album, I'm not looking to break new barriers here, it's not painting the Sistine Chapel, you know what I mean? ... If you're going to go out, let's go out on an album which I shall remember with affection.

* On breaking into the biz in 1950: I hadn't long been out of music college. I'd been playing in an orchestra - I used to play the oboe - and I took on a job with the EMI people purely as a stopgap. ... Of course, then I got hooked.

I was hired by the fellow who ran Parlophone Records. ... It was a pretty small label, but it had a good jazz repertoire, English jazz anyway.

But it did have a small classical repertoire, too. The man who was running it was a one-man band, and he was getting old and he needed an assistant ... which was me.

* On life before the Beatles: I already had a No. 1 record under my belt, a bizarre record, as you would expect from me, with a group called the Temperance Seven. It was a jazz record, they were fairly authentic 1920s players. ... I remember we had a sousaphone bass, for example, and the singer sang through a megaphone. It was good fun.

At [that] time I was recording a group of four young men ... who I thought were terrific. And I made an album with them. And the four young men were Jonathan Miller, Alan Bennett, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, and the show was "Beyond the Fringe." I recorded it before it ever came to London.

* On his first impression of the Beatles: The kind of songs they offered me weren't brilliant, they were bubble-gummy-type things like "P.S., I Love You" and "One After 909." There was no great song amongst their repertoire. I was convinced I had to try and find a song from somewhere else if I was going to make a hit out of it. But even in the early days, they were still very great characters. It was their nature and their style that attracted me. ... Of course, I didn't realize I'd still be talking about them 36 years later.

* On people who think his career was just the Beatles: It was a bit irritating at the time. ... In retrospect, of course, I'm very grateful for having taken part in that. It's been very lucky that I had the good sense to sign them, and that I got on so well with them, and maintained that contact until they died a death as a group.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.