Not just for the sake of being different, but mainly because it’s an another excuse to showcase two lesser-known songs I love, here’s my non-Beatles tribute to the great Sir George Martin. The man so frequently referred to as “the 5th Beatle” has died aged 90. As a producer it was Martin who suggested to John Lennon that Please Please Me needed to sound less like Roy Orbison and have a faster tempo. It was Martin who told Paul McCartney to at least listen to how Yesterday might sound with strings and if he didn’t like it then not to use them. They used them.
All told Sir George Martin produced 30 singles to hit UK #1 and 23 in the States. Most of these were through the Beatles, but they were by no means the only outlets for his frequently grand and famously tactful hand as producer.
Martin also worked with Shirley Bassey, the Bee Gees, Gerry And The Pacemakers, Elton John and countless others. Two of those “others” are below.
As a solo artist, Paul McCartney would sometimes turn to his former mentor and it was Martin who helmed the acclaimed Tug Of War album in the early 80s. Written in the aftermath of Lennon’s death, the title track is up there with Bluebird, Mull Of Kintyre, Put It There and Let Me Roll It as my favourite post-Beatles McCartney songs. It’s a tale about conflict and the state of the world, but so too McCartney’s relationship with Lennon. Beautiful song, beautifully produced.
The other song is by a band who Martin produced no-less than half a dozen albums for, though arguably with more commercial success than critical. America were never critical darlings, seemingly (and unfairly) dismissed as some kind of poor man’s Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. And yet as much as I’d say C, S, N & Y had the greater musical chops, it’s probably by a ratio of 10:1 to America who I find myself listening to.
Best known for 70s soft-rock hits like Horse With No Name, Sister Golden Hair and Ventura Highway, it’s America’s early album tracks that really draw me in. The Albums Holiday, Hat Trick, America, Hearts and Homecoming in particular are full of genuinely gorgeous, acoustic-driven melodies. If you like big hooks and harmonies, seek out tracks like Three Roses, Saturn Nights, Rainbow Song, Political Poachers, Another Try, Submarine Ladies, Wind Wave and Old Man Took. Not all these albums featured Martin’s production, but have a listen to that last song, Old Man Took, to hear Martin work his orchestral magic on a lovely piece of music barely anyone knows.
In closing, RIP to a man who genuinely changed popular music and – to a not to be underestimated extent – popular culture in the 20th century too.