Sir George Martin’s serendipitous partnership with the Beatles altered the course of popular music and will forever be his greatest call to fame. We shouldn’t forget, however, that Martin was a successful producer well before he hooked up with the lads from Liverpool, and he remained in demand long after they’d broken up. By the time he formally ended his 48-year producing career in 1998—a year before his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—his contributions were undeniable. Here’s a non-exhaustive look at some of the highlights from Martin’s post-Beatles career:
Live and Let Die, 1973
Martin’s first big post-Beatles success—the soundtrack to the eighth James Bond film Live and Let Die—wasn’t technically Beatle-free. When producers Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli asked Paul McCartney to write the film’s theme song, McCartney requested that his old friend Martin be brought in to produce. The resulting song, also titled “Live and Let Die,” is built around McCartney’s deft songwriting, vocals, and piano parts, but it owes most of its Bondian urgency to Martin’s theatrical orchestral arrangement: strings that surge and trill, flutes that anxiously pierce throughout, and a brass section whose deep, forceful blares arguably foretell Inception’s now-famous (and much-imitated) BRAAAMs. Credited to Paul McCartney and Wings, the song played over the film’s opening credits and masterfully set the tone—not just for the film at hand but for years of action-suspense soundtracks to come. Indeed, the filmmakers were so pleased with it that they asked Martin to arrange music for the entire film.
Holiday by America, 1974
On the heels of his work within the exciting world of James Bond, Martin found a decidedly calmer gig producing ’70s folk rock trio America. The fruitful collaboration began with 1974’s Holiday and spanned five albums in as many years. When America first enlisted Martin’s help, it was just a couple of years removed from massive success, and his first act as producer was to bring the band to his London recording studio, Associated Independent Recording (AIR). There, he reinvigorated America’s acoustic folk-pop with a spacious vibe, diverse instrumentation, and, on Holiday’s opening track, “Miniature – Instrumental,” some beautiful orchestral work. Holiday and its follow-up, Hearts, were particularly well-received and yielded numerous successful singles, from the lightly jaunty “Tin Man” to the harmony-rich “Lonely People” (an optimistic response to “Eleanor Rigby”) to “Sister Golden Hair.” That latter song’s electric guitar lead added a slightly more modern touch, while its opening acoustic guitar strums sound like a sedate forerunner to the strums that would open The Smiths’ “Bigmouth Strikes Again” more than a decade later.
Blow by Blow by Jeff Beck, 1975
Soon after hooking up with America, Martin was recruited by Beck to produce the legendary guitarist and former Yardbird’s second solo effort and first instrumental album, Blow by Blow. The album kept one foot in the blues-rock world for which Beck had been known, but also proved a showcase for Beck’s surprising prowess with jazz-fusion and funk. As producer, Martin added string arrangements—typical for Martin, fairly radical for Beck—but eschewed studio wizardry, preferring to simply sharpen and help execute Beck’s best ideas: “I think that the sounds that you get are 99 percent of what you get in the studio rather than what you get in the control room,” said Martin in a 1978 interview. “ … I said this to [Beck] at the outset, I said, ‘I’m not gonna give you any magic if you’re thinking of that; I’m not gonna give you sounds that you’ve never had before.’ I said, ‘The sounds are gonna have to come from your guitar and you’re gonna have to work on ’em.’ And we worked on ’em together, you know.” The album proved to be one of Beck’s crowning artistic achievements, and the two collaborated once again on his follow-up album, Wired.
The Later Years
In the years that followed, Martin managed to collaborate with a diverse cast of characters. He produced Cheap Trick’s 1980 album All Shook Up and Kenny Rogers’ 1985 album Heart of the Matter. In 1993, he produced the Broadway cast recording of Pete Townshend’s rock musical (based on The Who’s classic rock opera album) Tommy. Then, with his 1994 George Gershwin tribute album The Glory of Gershwin, Martin got the chance to work with an impressive roster of artists that included Kate Bush, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Elvis Costello, Sinéad O’Connor, Meatloaf, and more. The project’s highlight, however, may have been Martin’s own cover, together with famed harmonica player Larry Adler, of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”
How did Martin follow that? By producing the most successful single in UK chart history: Elton John’s 1997 update of his classic “Candle in the Wind.” John first recorded the song in 1973 as an elegy for the late Marilyn Monroe, and when his close friend Princess Diana died in a 1997 Paris car crash, he decided that the best way to cope, and to bring a grieving nation together, would be through music. He asked his longtime songwriting partner Bernie Taupin to update the song’s lyrics, and he contacted George Martin to produce the track. In the retooled version, John sings the first verse and chorus accompanied only by his own piano. But as the second verse begins, Martin’s string quartet and woodwinds suddenly enter the mix, adding subtle depth and drama. The instruments swell together as the song reaches its climax, and play their final notes together at its plaintive end.
When Martin decided soon thereafter to bid farewell to producing, he chose a fitting final project, returning to the music that had touched his and so many other lives: that of The Beatles. And so, for his 1998 album In My Life, Martin recruited his heroes and friends to put their own distinctive spin on Beatles classics. The group was eclectic, to say the least: Celine Dion on “Here, There and Everywhere,” John Williams on “Here Comes the Sun,” Sean Connery on “In My Life,” and Jim Carrey on “I Am the Walrus,” to name a few. But the best moment comes from old friend Jeff Beck’s sublime instrumental rendition of “A Day In the Life.” In his hands, the epic Sgt. Pepper’s closer reaches a new level of majesty. There couldn’t be a more fitting coda to such a legendary career.