Gratitude for “The Fifth Beatle”

I wrote in this blog a while back that I had been listening to the Beatles’ boxed set on Spotify lately and enjoying the shuffle play effect, never knowing which era of their musical diversity I would be hearing next, but enjoying it all. With the death of “the fifth Beatle,” musical producer George Martin, this week at the age of 90 I am reminded that at least part of their genius was due to George.

As an Associated Press article put it, George Martin “turned the studio into a wonderland of tape loops, multi-tracking, unpredictable tempos, unfathomable segues and kaleidoscopic montages.” He lengthened and improved “From Me to You,” added the string quartet to “Yesterday,” keyboard and special tape effects to the wonderful “In My Life” sung by John Lennon, composed the orchestral score for “Strawberry Fields” on Sgt. Pepper as well as combining two unrelated songs to create “A Day in the Life” on that same album (the sad outer verses from Lennon, the happier inner two by Paul McCartney) and wove them together with an astonishing string score by Martin himself.

Some lamented the Beatles’ decision to retire from touring halfway through their career and work exclusively in the studio, producing amazing album and after amazing album. I never did. I think I knew, even then, that these four (or five) men were about transforming the rock music genre and that it would never be the same again. The focus they were able to give, in their last years together, to composition and musical experimentation required hours, weeks, and months in the studio and could never have been accomplished “on the road.”

I am grateful for what they did. And grateful to George Martin for improving it ever so much.

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