Martin signed the Beatles to Parlophone records when others had turned them down and produced all but one of their albums. He became and remained one of the most influential producers in popular music history and was often described as the “fifth Beatle”. His reputation stretched well beyond his 23 US and 30 UK No 1 singles.
The news first emerged in a tweet from Ringo Starr and was later confirmed to the Hollywood Reporter by Universal Music Group and by Martin’s management.
Adam Sharp, who represented both Martin and his son Giles, said in a statement: “We can confirm that Sir George Martin passed away peacefully at home yesterday evening, Tuesday 8 March. The family would like to thank everyone for their thoughts, prayers and messages of support …
“In a career that spanned seven decades he was recognised globally as one of music’s most creative talents and a gentleman to the end. The family ask that their privacy be respected at this time.”
Martin signed the Beatles in 1962 to his Parlophone label, where he had earned a reputation for comedy records by Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and a young Peter Cook and Jonathan Miller. The Goons connection quickly endeared him to the Beatles.
The Beatles had been turned down by several record labels including Decca when Martin invited them for an audience at Abbey Road in June 1962. While Martin was initially sceptical about their ability as musicians and songwriters, he took to their humour and personalities immediately. Memorably George Harrison told him: “I don’t like your tie for a start” when Martin asked him if they disliked anything about the set up.
Starr joined the band after Martin let it be known that he believed the Beatles’ then drummer, Pete Best, was not up to scratch. When Starr arrived at Abbey Road for the recording of the Beatles’ first single, Love Me Do in September 1962, Martin already had another session drummer, Andy White, in place and relegated Starr to playing the tambourine and maracas.
In November 1962, the band recorded Please Please Me, with Martin suggesting they speed the song up. As they finished, Martin told them from the control room: “Gentleman you have just made your first No 1 record” – which became true in the New Musical Express chart (although it was No 2 in the Record Retailer chart which became the official UK chart).
While others including the Beatles’ schoolfriend and road manager Neil Aspinall would have been given the (almost certainly unwanted) title of fifth Beatle, Martin arguably had more claim than any other, because of the influence on their sound and the innovation in their production. This ran throughout their recording career, conspicuously so on songs as diverse as She Loves You, Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever. His classical-influenced training embellished and enhanced the raw genius of Lennon and McCartney’s songwriting.
Martin occasionally played piano on the Beatles’ records, including the sped-up piano break on In My Life on Rubber Soul. The relationship between Martin, whose (somewhat) patrician voice belied his relatively poor background and the band matured and prospered through the peaks of Revolver and Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The collaboration survived fame, fortune and the band’s drugtaking, which the older producer turned a blind eye to at Abbey Road provided it was kept out of studio 2. It was not only because of the fractious environment around the breakup of the band that the Phil Spector-produced Let It Be album – the Beatles’ second last studio album and the last to be released – is often regarded as the most disappointing.
Lennon riled at Martin after the band’s break-up, complaining privately to McCartney in 1971 that his influence was over-stated. The consensus was warmer than that. Martin wrote in 1979: “Without my instruments and scoring, very many of the records would not have sounded as they do. Whether they would have been any better, I cannot say. They might have been. That is not modesty on my part; it is an attempt to give a factual picture of the relationship.”
Martin went on to produce many other acts that defined the sound of the early and mid-1960s, including the Beatles’ fellow Liverpudlians and Parlophone stablemates Cilla Black and Gerry and the Pacemakers, as he became one of the most in-demand producers in the world. Gerry and the Pacemakers made a hit of How Do You Do It?, a cover version Martin had pressed the Beatles to record as their first single but they refused.
Later he went on to produce artists including Elton John, Celine Dion, Kenny Rogers, Jeff Beck and Neil Sedaka. He also produced two James Bond themes: Goldfinger by Shirley Bassey and Paul McCartney and Wings’s Live and Let Die.
Starr’s tribute was quickly followed by Sean Ono Lennon, son of John and Yoko Ono, who said: “R.I.P. George Martin. I’m so gutted I don’t have many words. Thinking of Judy and Giles and family. Love Always, Sean.”
Paying tribute, Nigel Godrich, producer of onetime Parlophone act Radiohead, called Martin “my hero”: “The definitive record producer.. such a gentleman and was so kind to me. He did it all first … and best.”
Mark Ronson, producer and performer, said: “We will never stop living in the world you helped create.”
Journalist and author David Simon, the creator/showrunner of US TV series the Wire, said, “If the rest of us could all have such a shepherd for our works, the world might just make sense.”
Tributes from other artists came in from Brian Eno, Lenny Kravitz, Liam Gallagher of Oasis, Flea of Red Hot Chilli Peppers and singer-songwriter Josh Groban, who said, “What an ear, what a life, what a legacy.”
Martin’s Air studios, first in Oxford Street and then Hampstead in London, and for much of the 1970s and 1980s in Montserrat in the Caribbean, became a favoured venue for established acts including the Police.
Martin was born in Highbury, north London, went to several schools in north London and Welwyn Garden City, and joined the Royal Navy in 1943, serving until 1947 without being involved in combat. He attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, studying the piano and oboe, and worked in the BBC’s classical music department and then EMI before taking over Parlophone from Oscar Preuss in 1955.
In 1948 he married Sheena Chisholm, with whom he had two children, Alexis and Gregory Paul Martin, the writer and screen producer. In 1966 he married Parlophone secretary Judy Lockhart-Smith, who survives him. They had two children, Lucie and Giles. George and Giles collaborated on the Beatles’ Love album, the LP of a Las Vegas musical by Cirque de Soleil celebrating the Beatles songs.
He was knighted in 1996, a year before Paul McCartney.
David Cameron, the British prime minister, tweeted: “Sir George Martin was a giant of music - working with the Fab Four to create the world’s most enduring pop music.”
This article was written by Will Woodward, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 9th March 2016 06.20 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010