George Martin – Being for the Benefit of Popular Music This essay will present the argument that George Martin’s production techniques and approaches, specifically of the Beatles catalogue of material from 1967 onwards, have made a significant impact upon the development of popular music. This impact has principally been in the areas of technical innovation, instrumentation and historical importance. Moreover, this contribution is magnified in its significance due to the immense success of the Beatles. Sir George Martin was born January 3, 1926. His producing career spanned forty eight years from 1950 to 1998.
Prior to this his main activity had been as EMI’s comedy producer. Martin signed the Beatles to a contract in 1962 and from there would fill the gap between their natural talent and the high quality productions they wanted to achieve. He guided what was a good rock and roll group into what would arguably be the most extraordinary popular music ensemble of their era. One of the invaluable contributions George Martin made to popular music was that of his technical innovation. When George Martin first started recording the Beatles in nineteen sixty-two, he was recording their music on two track ‘multi-track’ recording machines.
Multi-track recording is a method of sound recording that allows for the recording of multiple sound sources simultaneously or at different times and was introduced in nineteen forty nine, yet the boundaries of this technology were rapidly being pushed. Martin’s producing was the first to make a mark with these early recordings, capturing a clean ‘live’ sound which was to be iconic of the early British invasion of the pop music scene which had been dominated by the heavily produced sounds of the Brill Building and Phil Spector’s ‘Wall of Sound’.
Spector’s ‘Wall of Sound’ was achieved by combining many instruments not usually used in recording, many orchestrated parts and multiples of instruments often playing in unison. These dozens of musicians and instruments would be recorded in one relatively small studio with the resonance off the walls contributing to the full sound (Nation Master Encyclopaedia, 2005) Eight track recording machines were released commercially in the United States in nineteen sixty-eight, one year after the Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) album was released.
These 8-track recording machines had however been available for US artists many years prior (Answers, 2005). By the time of recording Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, Martin was fluent with the 4 track machines, which for Abbey Road recording studios was the state of the art, yet would now be considered primitive. In order to create the synthesis of sounds for which the Beatles asked, Martin had to ‘bounce down’, that is record multiple tracks from one four track machine to a single track of another four track machine, a process for which Martin’s work would become a monument (Olsen et al, 1999).
Ironically, Martin had probably greater success with the more primitive four-track equipment than his contemporaries who were using more sophisticated equipment. Martin began recording with the Beatles in 2 track mono in 1962 (Olsen et al, 1999). By 1965 the Beatles and Martin had honed their studio techniques and were pushing the limits of studio experimentation. Martin was, for instance, the first producer to deliberately record feedback (Song Facts, 2005) for the Beatles for Sale (1964) album on the track I Feel Fine (1964), a process which most producers would actively avoid.
This track did not make it onto the album and was released at a later date as a single, where it reached number one in the United Kingdom and stayed there for five weeks, later being re-released on the US album Beatles ’65 (1964). Some of the technical innovations were changes to existing techniques, and some were ground-breaking. The overall package of technical innovation, however, was what made Martin’s production of the Beatles a landmark for popular music.
Martin’s genius in his use of the studio as a tool for creation of new music was evident from even small things such as the fade in guitar riff in the track Eight Days a Week (1964) to ‘flanging’. ‘Flange’, a joke term coined by Martin when asked to explain the process of artificial double tracking to John Lennon (who had a limited understanding of technical procedures and a short attention span) was invented as an innovative way to get the effect of double tracked vocals without enduring the laborious process to do so.
It involves taking a recorded track and rerecording it onto a separate machine at a modified speed. This caused the tape speed to vary slightly up and down; in turn this adjusted signal was then fed back into the first machine and combined with the original signal. The resulting effect imitated that of a double-tracked vocal but was much more efficient (Biersach, 2005). This term “flanging”, once a joke between George Martin and John Lennon, remains a technical term used within the music industry to this very day.
This adds further strength to the longstanding originality and influence of George Martin’s techniques. Another recording technique pioneered by Martin was the use of ‘vary speeding’, which was first introduced on the track Strawberry Fields Forever (1967) as a solution to the problem of trying to join together two different recordings of the song – one slow version and one fast version, both in different keys and tempos. This dilemma was solved by speeding up one version and slowing down the other to get the pitch and tempo the same on a variable control tape machine.
Martin also used this technique on the solo in Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite. To achieve the rollicking carnival feel of the solo, Lennon was to play the basic tune and Martin was to add the accents. Unfortunately, Martin found he could not achieve the necessary speed so to combat this problem they both played their parts an octave lower with Lennon playing his part twice as slow. Using the variable control tape machine they were able to then double the tape speed to achieve the desired affect.
Although this technique didn’t make the final cut of the song, it still provided a solution and was still a landmark technique in popular music. Working with creative and original musicians such as the Beatles was very demanding as they were always pushing the limits of popular music. As a result, they would often ask Martin to achieve the seemingly impossible, leading him to be equally as creative in solving their requests, such as when Lennon requested that his voice sound like a Buddhist monk shouting from a mountain top in Tomorrow Never Knows.
Martin accomplished this bizarre request with yet another unique technique. He played the recording of Lennon’s through the Leslie loudspeaker of their Hammond organ and rerecorded the sound it made. As the Leslie loudspeaker rotates inside the cabinet of the organ, the result was the pulsating, far away yet still audible sound of the voice which Lennon wished for. Over the years, Martin would go to many lengths to create the right atmosphere for each song, which of course involved much experimentation.
For instance, he fabricated nautical sounds and mixed them with EMI’s existing sound libraries (Beatles Songs, 2005) on Yellow Submarine (1966), a technique he had experimented with earlier in his career by taking outside theatrical elements and merging them with studio recordings while working on the track Shadows in the Grass (1959) with Peter Sellers. Yellow Submarine (1966) saw another ambitious experiment by Martin – that of recording with a microphone under water to try and achieve the nautical feel of the song.
Although the only result of this experiment was the destruction of an expensive studio microphone, it was nonetheless an important step in pushing for new and exciting recording techniques. In the song A Day in the Life (1967), Martin was able to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary by adding an extended forty second long piano chord at the end of the song. He achieved this dramatic effect by having four pianos playing the chord in unison while. As the chord began to fade out, he turned up the levels to drag out the sound, creating a memorable, atmospheric ending.
Another unique technique on this track was the addition of a 20 kHz sound, inaudible to the human ear but able to be heard by dogs. Although Martin did not actually come up with the idea to add this quirky technique, it was his willingness to push the boundaries by doing things that would have been quickly dismissed by any other record producer that made his work so innovative. One of the most interesting sounds on Sgt. Peppers (1967) was actually created by pure luck. The sound of the chicken clucking at the end of Good Morning Good Morning (1967) conveniently merged into that of a guitar tuning at the start of Sgt. Peppers Reprise (1967).
Due to the fact that Martin had agreement to remove ‘banding’ (the blank space between each track) from this album, such techniques were able to shine through, helping to create the allusion of concert with this imaginary band. This is one the many arguments used when describing Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) as the very first concept album. During the recording of Revolver (1966) the experimentation with their music became so ambitious that at one stage the entire Abbey Road studios were booked out to use all the tape loop machines in the studios to create the peculiar sounds heard as sections of Tomorrow Never Knows.
This extravagant experimentation was unprecedented but allowed technology of the time to be pushed to extremes, which would test the very limitations of what was considered popular music. Within early recordings of the Beatles, where the ‘live’ sound was important it was Martin who would introduced a range of other techniques such as hand claps, brassy harmonica and syncopated percussion which would fill out and enhance the song. George Martin elevated orchestral arrangement to mainstream popular music, though he was far from the first to use the technique.
Other producers such as Leiber-Stoller and Phil Spector had already used this technique. Previously the use of orchestral instruments in popular music was either to fill in empty frequencies or as light accompaniment. It was not until Martin would seek out specific instruments which would feature in the Beatles songs which would set them apart. The overwhelming success of the Beatles, however, pushed this technique into the limelight, and it became a Martin signature.
Early examples of the success of this technique are seen in Yesterday (1966), in which classical accompaniment by string quartet appeared for the first time in this genre of music (Hamm, 1979). In Eleanor Rigby (1966), Martin alone scored a (double) string quartet. This track especially poignant as the strings formed the entire accompaniment and was scored with such classical finesse never before seen in popular music (UWGB, 2005). This technique was used effectively, and adds to the sense of ‘coldness’ and austerity’ (in contrast to its use on Yesterday) and would arguably the success of the track. Particular use of feature instruments are seen in tracks such as Penny Lane (1967) a Piccolo Trumpet and the combination of 4 clarinets (2 bass) in the track When I’m Sixty-Four (1967) where its it these features that would certainly make the sounds in the tracks which would separate the Beatles from their contemporaries. Martin would guide the musicians, introducing these instruments to popular music instructing techniques for which classical players would never have been directed before (Martin, 1979).
However, Martin was also able to use alternative instruments to create a unique sound. For instance, while recording Lovely Rita (1967) it was decided that there would be a mock brass section. To achieve this, Martin recorded the Beatles all blowing through combs covered with toilet paper to create a wacky kazoo-like sound (Martin, 1994). These simple ideas created a distinctive instrumental sound unparalleled by other recording artists at that time.
George martin is often referred to as the ‘Fifth Beatle’ (Rolling Stone, 2005) and rightly so, as during the Beatles time in the studio, it was Martin who was equally as responsible for creative input as the members of the band. Martin would often choose the instrument to accompany the Beetles and would score the music for the parts. Martin was also often elected by the Beatles to perform certain parts on their tracks such as the iconic baroque style piano solo on the track In My Life from the album Rubber Soul (1965).
It was in these elements that Beatles music became known for pushing the edges of their contemporary pop and in fact forever changing such a classification (MTV, 2005) George Martin reached the pinnacle of fame in his career at a time when music was becoming more expressive and being taken as more of and art form, in this way Martin has been described as an “audio Picasso” (Larkin, 1998) a driving force behind “A landmark of successful and influential experimentation: spawns innumerable (largely unsuccessful) concept albums and a great deal of experimentation with electronic and tape collage ffects” (UWGB, 2005) Martin was a leading producer, changing what previously was a role of overseeing the session of musicians, arrangers and technicians into a more direct role in the musical process, including arranging, engineering the recording, and even writing the material, defining the function of the contemporary record producer. Martin and the nature of his work with the Beatles opened the way for Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, and similar artists each to take a page from their book, both in the way they made music and in the way they recorded it (MTV, 2005)
In past years many producers have taken the opportunity to model their work on that of George Martins, including Roy Baker (Queen) and Ken Scott (David Bowie, Elton John) and in turn have also had success. In 1969, George Martin left EMI to start up Associated Independent Recordings (AIR) which would sever the trend of producers being signed to exclusive (and often detrimental) contracts with chief labels and began the era of independent producers who would sell their efforts to the top bidder, ultimately receiving the recognition and royalties for their work (Larkin, 1998).
In 1996 following his admission to the Order of the British Empire Martins was bestowed with the with the title Knight of the British Empire for his contributions, an accomplishment for which he is yet to be joined by any other music producer. George Martin’s production techniques and approaches in collaboration with the Beatles overwhelming success in the popular music industry made a significant impact upon the development of popular music.
In the areas of technical innovation, instrumentation and historical importance, it is no exaggeration to say that this collaboration was a landmark in the history of popular music. Bibliography Olsen, E et al (1999) Encyclopaedia of Record Producers, New York: Watson Guptil Hamm, N (1979) Popular Song in America, New York: Norton Martin, G (1994) The Making of Sgt Pepper, London: Macmillan Martin, G (1979) All You Need Is Ears, New York: St Martins Press Thomson, H (1996) Dancing In the Street, London: BBC Video
Clarke, D (1990) The Penguin Encyclopaedia of Popular Music, London: Penguin Larkin, C (1998) The Encyclopaedia of Popular Music, London: MUZE UK Taylor, P (1985) Popular Music Since 1955: A Critical Guide to the Literature, London: Mansell Publishing Rolling Stone (1987), ‘The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, Rolling Stone #507, August Answers (2005) ‘Pet Sounds’ MTV (2005) ‘George Martin Bio’ 13/09/2005 Nation Master Encyclopaedia (2005) ‘Encyclopaedia – Phil Spector’ 08/09/2005 Rolling Stone (2005) ‘Bio The Beatles’ 13/09/2005 Songfacts (2005) ‘I Feel Fine by The Beatles’
University of Wisconsin – Green Bay ‘The Beatles’ Wikipedia (2005) ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ 05/09/2005 Discography The Beatles (1964) Beatles for Sale London: Parlophone The Beatles (1966) EP Yesterday London: Parlophone The Beatles (1966) Single Yellow Submarine/Eleanor Rigby London: Parlophone The Beatles (1967) Single Strawberry Fields / Penny Lane London: Parlophone The Beatles (1967) Album Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band London: Parlophone The Beatles (1964) Album Beatles ’65 New York: Capitol Peter Sellers (1959) Album Songs for Swinging Sellers London: Parlophone