Friday, 15 July 2011

Music Producers, Creators of Sound- part 2

Abbey Road Studio. Photo by Scott.

What the work of a ‘music producer’  entails was not clear to me until I started to work on my own musical work ‘Storm’, with the ingenious Urs Wiesendanger. Totally ignorant of the workings of a recording, I was always amazed at how he would take a song, and then break it down as if it was a jig saw puzzle with bits missing- here I have to admit that most of the time I couldn’t make head or tail of what was going through his head- but in the end he added the missing bits and the puzzle became a living song! I could imagine how the Beatles felt when they worked with Sir George Martin.
Sir George H.Martin 1964

If there is any one that you would in the  least expect to be, not only a pop music producer, but also one of the greatest of all time, then it must surely be the man they call “the Fifth Beatle" Sir George Henry Martin CBE. With 30 number one hit singles in the UK and 23 number one hits in the USA, besides at least 15 number one albums, Sir George takes some beating!

Unlike most of the producers of his day Sir George came from a classical background, and had actually studied piano and oboe at the Guildhall School of Music. After his graduation, he worked for the BBC's classical music department; in 1950 he joined EMI, where in 1955 he was made the head of Parlophone Records , which EMI regarded as a minor department where they could dispose of irrelevant acts. But in1962 that all changed. Similar to Sam Phillips, George Martin was searching for that special something to push Parlophone to the stars, yes, he had improved its profits by recording, Beyond the Fringe, a successful TV show, but that was not enough; what he wanted was another Elvis- and it came in the guise of four young men from Liverpool- The Beatles!

George Martin was not impressed by the Beatles, but as the saying goes ‘God works in strange ways’, and if strong marriages are made in heaven, then, the one between the Beatles and Martin definitely was. It was a witty remark from George Harrison that saved the day, and the Beatles were signed on, more for their Liverpool humour than their musical talent!
The Beatles & Sir George Martin having a tea break!

What this celestial partnership created is now legend. The combination of this cultured English musician, arranger and producer, with the raw Mersey/Hamburg talent of the four young rockers, broke all the known boundaries of popular music. Martin’s ability to translate the groups ‘abstract’ ideas into reality was a major factor in the success of the whole project, I would go so far as to say, ‘no Martin-no Beatles’, and ‘no’ what followed! His orchestral arrangements and instrumentation merged classic and rock together so that they stood as one. His talents as a multi instrumentalist were frequently used to add the missing link on many a song. He was also strong enough to push his own ideas through, even in the face of the equally strong willed youngsters; for example, it was Martins idea to put a string quartet on “Yesterday”; Paul McCartney was not hot on the idea, but Martin insisted, and McCartney was over the moon with the result. A simple suggestion from Martin could change the whole character  of a song, such as "Please Please Me",  Martin's crucial contribution here was to tell them to speed up what was initially a slow ballad, a change which made this the groups first number one.

Over the years John and Paul were sponges, soaking up all the production and arrangement techniques of George Martin, so by the time they recorded the White Album they were more or less producing on their own. As with Sam Phillips, Sir George’s career flourished long after the Beatles had gone; but the music that materialized from his Abbey Road Studios in the 60’s, will remain his crowning masterpiece.

Due to the pioneering spirit of the few ‘rebel’, innovating, risk taking music producers of the 50’s and 60’s, music production became a creative art form, which played a great part in the moulding of music as we know it today. And even in today’s electronically, softwared, computerised, downloaded, streamed and overloaded music universe, there occaisonally  appears a star that is “the perfect/imperfect”.

In 2010 two giants of Soul Music, departed this earth within a few months of each other, one was the irreplaceable Solomon Burke, and the other, legendary music producer Willie Mitchell, who worked closely with such greats as Al Green, Syl Johnson and Ann Peebles. Burke and Mitchell’s final earthly cut is the album Nothing's Impossible”. In the clip below Solomon describes and shows the close bond between the singer and the producer during the recording of this CD, the bond that creates magic.

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