Before The Beatles were signed to a record deal, their manager Brian Epstein had all but exhausted every possible option, starting with Decca (the first label to turn them down), and a parade of other major labels that just didn’t seem interested in the four lads from Liverpool. All they needed was that one break, as Epstein believed they would be “bigger than Elvis”, but with no record company seemed willing to them that chance. In the beginning of 1962, they were nothing more than what would today be termed a “garage band”, relegated to playing clubs and bars in both Liverpool, England and Hamburg, Germany.
At the same time, George Martin was the head of Parlophone, a subsidiary of E.M.I. records. Up to that point, Parlophone had produced a string of successful comedy records with Peter Sellers as well as other British comedians, but was (in his own words), “Was close to desperation to find an act from the pop world”.
Some speculate that Parlophone was Epstien’s last hope, and likely would have given up had George Martin not agreed to listen to some tapes, and arrange a meeting with The Beatles (John, Paul, George and Pete Best, the original drummer). In his autobiography All You Need Is Ears, Martin claims it was love at first sight. Not so much with their music, but with their charisma. He decided to give them a shot, and shortly after that initial meeting, The Beatles were signed to Parlophone. The rest is history.
Although Martin is credited with giving The Beatles their big break, there is a great deal more to the story. It wasn’t like he signed them and passed them along, George was record producer, sound engineer, and often times – quite often actually – collaborated on the compositions that we know as Beatles music. He had immense input into their evolution from “straight rock” as John Lennon would call it, into the ground breaking psychedelia that was Strawberry Fields, Sergeant Peppers, and with that, helped to change rock music forever.
Reading All You Need Is Ears was quite an eye opener for me. As a DJ, I was fascinated my what others might deem industry techno-babble. Reflective ceilings, microphone placement for optimal recording and how each track was overlaid, merged, and in some cases spliced and sped up or slowed down to create music and sound in a way it had never been done before. His communication with The Beatles was unique in that none of them could read music, so as Martin explains in his book that often times ideas would be communicated to him in terms of colors, or overall concepts, and it was left to Sir George to figure out the means to the end. Like the symbiotic relationship of Walt and Roy Disney, The Beatles musical ideas were made into reality by George Martin.
All You Need Is Ears is a great book, and as far as autobiographies go, it gave a very strong sense of the genius of Sir George Martin, A&R man turned record producer. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I found many other great resources that give a glimpse of the man who scored and produced all but a handful of what we know as The Beatles library. One other is All Together Now, a film about the making of LOVE, The Beatles Cirque show. It gives a very intimate look into the passion Sir George still holds for his craft, while letting you hear the words of the maestro at work. He is precise, exacting, and a true perfectionist, and the role he played in the success of The Beatles is as significant if not more in some ways than that of The Beatles themselves.
Photo courtesy of Barry Brecheisen – used with permission