Happy Birthday, George Martin!
When the Beatles first met George Martin, no one could have been a more unlikely candidate to produce their records. At 36, he was nearly twice their ages. From his patrician upbringing to his choice of neckties, the Parlophone Records producer and talent scout had a style and stature that was diametrically opposed to the young Liverpudlian upstarts. But Martin and the erstwhile super group (especially John Lennon) clicked, partly because of a shared passion for the lunacy of the BBC’s The Goon Show.
Martin’s involvement with the Goons wasn’t just as a fan and a devotee; he’d actually produced records for the Goons, including their classic album The Bridge on the River Wye, which spoofed the Academy Award-winning movie The Bridge on the River Kwai. Martin was a friend of Spike Milligan, the show’s creative voice, who he met through Peter Sellers (whose early Parlophone albums Martin also produced). The breakout single from Sellers’ second album was a parody of Lonnie Donegan’s recording of “Puttin’ on the Style,” a nineteenth-century pop song that was in the early repertoire of the skiffle-mad Quarrymen. Later on, Sellers did one of the first covers of “A Hard Day’s Night,” performed in the style of Sir Laurence Olivier as Richard III.
The half-hour wacky weekly Goon Show had been a staple in sophisticated British households since its immaculate conception in 1951 and was a forerunner to an entire new wave of British comedy, inspiring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore to go Beyond the Fringe. (Martin produced their album as well in 1961.)
The affliction with the Goons immediately endeared Martin to John Lennon, who was just entering adolescence at the time the Goons took to the airwaves, and whose view of reality was inalterably shaped by their mind-expanding programs. The myriad sounds rattling around inside Spike Milligan’s mind were accomplished through the insidious use of ingenious sound effects, engineered through a mastery of echo, reverb, multiple edits, and playing with recording tape speeds, all of which would become hallmarks of the Beatles’ studio repertoire, and especially, John Lennon’s mad, unspooling, and acid-soaked creative vision. To be a Goon Show freak turned out to be an absolute requirement for producing the Beatles, as the group grew and changed, and as their studio techniques (and minds) expanded.
Ever since he came to Parlophone, George Martin had been cutting his teeth on comedy records. His earliest credits include Peter Ustinov’s 1955 LP Mock Mozart, which involved fooling around with tape effects and overdubs. In addition to Beyond the Fringe, Martin recorded David Frost’s satirical TV show That Was the Week That Was. He also directed shows at Peter Cook’s trailblazing nightclub, the Establishment, where Australian jet-setter Dame Edna Everage (Barry Humphries) was known to perform alongside visiting U.S. personages like Lenny Bruce. Martin worked with satirists Michael Flanders and Donald Swann, who took on any and all subjects for their comedy songs (much as the droll, Harvard-educated Tom Lehrer did in the U.S.), producing their albums At the Drop of a Hat and its follow up, At the Drop of Another Hat. A rabid fan of the cinema, Martin worked with actress-singer Joan Sims, a regular in twenty-four Carry On films, and produced her two best-known singles: “Hurry Up Gran / Oh Not Again Ken” and “Spring Song/Men.”
Martin’s appreciation for comedy and studio wizardry may have found a kindred spirit in John Lennon, but his classical training (on piano and oboe) and fondness for film scores made an impression on the more tradition-minded Paul McCartney. As a fan of Johnny Dankworth’s 1960 score for Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (another “kitchen sink” drama à la A Taste of Honey), Martin produced Dankworth’s “Experiments with Mice,” jazzy variations on “Three Blind Mice” that hit the Top 10 in the UK in 1956. In 1961 Dankworth wrote the theme for the popular British TV spy series The Avengers. That same year Martin produced Danworth’s first Number One record, a version of the jazz standard “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” performed by a nine-piece trad band called the Temperance Seven, which featured vocalist Paul Macdowell. The Dankworth-Martin association continued in 1976, when Martin produced the album Born on a Friday for Dankworth’s wife, jazz singer Cleo Laine.
The Beatles came up in the rock and-and-roll era, when Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Elvis Presley defined cool. Their early shows were big beat bacchanals, the Brit interpretation of that crazy American sound. But it wasn’t long before they were absorbing and creating more and more music – from folk to experimental, to psychedelia and hard rock, quite literally changing music forever and influencing hundreds of great bands in the process.
This is the first book for music lovers that begins with the simple premise, “If you like the Beatles . . . ,” and takes off from there, digging into their influences and everything that came after them, opening up new doors for listeners looking for no-risk discs to expand their collection.
Beginning with the Beatles’ lesser-known roots in rockabilly and Tin Pan Alley, and working through American R&B, the British Invasion, California folk, and the Summer of Love, and to the great pop and rock bands of the ’80s, ’90s, and the 21st century, this is a must-have for anyone who likes the Beatles, which is…everyone.
Posted on January 3, 2014, in Music Fans, Music Industry and tagged Backbeat Books, Bruce Pollock, excerpt, George Martin, George Martin birthday, if you like the beatles, record producer, The Beatles, The Goon Show. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.