Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Fifth Beatle - George Martin

By James Magary

Many Beatles fans have long debated as to who deserves the title of "fifth Beatle". The Beatles had many people around them during their storied career, so there has always been a natural curiosity as to who was closest to the group, and what impact they had on their work.

For many people, studying the history of the Fab Four is just as interesting and fun as their music itself, so the argument about which person outside the group had the most influence on them is a recurring theme among Beatlemaniacs, journalists, biographers, and fans. I will make the argument that there is only one correct answer to this question... the fifth Beatle is, without a doubt, Sir George Martin.

Generally there are a few candidates widely discussed as being the fifth Beatle. Here they are with their basic qualifications, and main strike against:
  • Stuart Sutcliffe: John Lennon's art school friend and short-term member of the Beatles. Strike against: He was released from the group because he didn't play the bass properly, and Paul McCartney did not want him in the group.
  • Pete Best: The original drummer for the group, who was replaced by Ringo Starr prior to the group's fame. Strike against: He was kicked out of the band!
  • Yoko Ono: John Lennon's wife, who influenced John a great deal, spent time in the recording studio while the Beatles made some of their late-career albums, appeared on two Beatles recordings ("The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill" and "Revolution 9"), and whose name appeared in the title of the hit "The Ballad of John and Yoko". Strike against: She was only invited to the sessions because John wanted her to be, and the other Beatles did not want her in the studio, let alone in the band.
  • Brian Epstein: The Beatles early manager, who plucked them from obscurity and managed them to their first record contract and worldwide success. Strike against: Not a musician at all, and did not participate in any recording sessions.
  • Mal Evans: The Beatles road manager and longtime friend and assistant. He can be heard striking an anvil on the Abbey Road song "Maxwell's Silver Hammer". Evans may have inadvertently inspired the concept for "Sgt Pepper" when he asked Paul McCartney to explain to him what the "S and P" letters were on their meal tray while on an airline flight (the letters stood for salt and pepper, which got Paul thinking about a name for the fictional group). Strike against: More of an employee than a Beatles collaborator.
This brings us to George Martin, who is the natural choice as the fifth Beatle. Martin was the producer of every single Beatles record from their first professional recording session through to Abbey Road. While the Beatles occasionally had a guest musician or two playing on some of their records, Martin was the only person who was intimately involved in every single track.

Applying his training in the field of classical music, Martin brought an educated sophistication to the Beatles music that they might not have had without him. He had never produced a rock and roll group until he met the Beatles, and they had never produced anything, but the unlikely combination ended up producing wonders of creative artistry that have yet to be surpassed.

Martin did not do any drugs, and insisted on a tight recording schedule and a professional atmosphere in the studio. He also wrote the score for many orchestral tracks that became integral parts of Beatle recordings, such as the string quartet backing on "Eleanor Rigby" or the elaborate symphonic crescendo in "A Day in the Life". His professionalism, creative input, and classical experience was a huge factor in the Beatles overall sound and influence. He helped them transcend the limits of being a rock and roll band, and made them into something else entirely.

Since most fans appreciate the Beatles music above all else, it seems strange to award the fifth Beatle title to anyone other than George Martin, whose influence to their musical legacy is heard on every note of every record. It is a testament to his importance that the Beatles never wanted to work with any other producer, which is rare for many bands, so his talents brought a consistency to their records which adds weight to their overall body of work.

Martin's work and legacy can be newly appreciated on the latest remastered releases of the Beatles albums, including the new Beatles USB Apple, which is a USB drive containing 24 bit (better than CD quality) versions of all of their classic albums.

To read more about the remastered recordings and the Beatles USB Apple click here:

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