Producer Spotlight: Sir George Martin

Sir George Martin autographed my copy of The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night album, a record he produced. He was about to set to work on a docuseries and I was asked to help with the music licensing.

A movie director takes words on a page, a script, and brings them to life, guiding actors to deliver the best performances possible and deciding on the best ways to convey the story. A music producer plays the same roles in the creation of a record, taking words on a page, a song, and brings them to life, guiding singers and musicians to deliver the best performances possible and providing input as to how the recorded song should sound.

Sir George Martin, born on January 3, 1926, is recognized as one of the most influential producers in the history of pop music. He is best known for producing all of the albums by The Beatles except for Let It Be. It was Martin who suggested the string quartet on “Yesterday.” It was Martin, with recording engineer Geoff Emerick, who combined two distinct recordings of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” played in different keys and at different tempos, into the one with which you’re familiar. Martin suggested speeding up a ballad Paul McCartney and John Lennon wrote, which resulted in the #1 hit “Please Please Me.” His production of “I Feel Fine” includes one of the earliest uses of guitar feedback. Martin conduction the string section on “Eleanor Rigby.” He brought in a 40-piece orchestra for “A Day in the Life.” On “Tomorrow Never Knows,” Martin’s use of tape loops, reversing a recording of a guitar solo in playback, and having Lennon’s vocals go through an organ’s speaker, helped Lennon achieve his desire of a recording to sound like his mind on LSD. He played piano on “In My Life,” and sped up his recording of the piano part to match the song’s tempo. He suggested the group replace original drummer Pete Best.

Sir George, who died in 2016, also produced artists other than The Beatles. Here are thirty of his finest productions.

Peter!

Today is the birthday of Peter Gabriel. It’s also the birthday of Peter Tork of The Monkees. And Peter Hook of New Order/Joy Division fame. Those three inspired today’s playlist of guys named Peter. Only on Tunes du Jour, folks. And before anyone drags me on social media for not including any women, I couldn’t think of any female Peters. #SorryBernadettePeters


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George Martin autograph

When I Met Sir George Martin

Several years I ago I had the honor of attending a presentation in the recording studio in the iconic Capitol Records tower in Hollywood. Sir George Martin was there to speak about a documentary series he was working on. I was asked to help out with the show’s music licensing.

Sir George Martin, who died yesterday at the age of 90, was a record executive, musician, composer and arranger, but he is best-known to most people as a producer, specifically, the producer of every album by The Beatles save Let It Be.

Sometimes it’s intimidating to meet one’s idols. What if they aren’t friendly or approachable? I’m happy to say that most times that isn’t the case for me, and it wasn’t the case with Sir George. He graciously accepted my request that he autograph the cover of The Beatles album I brought with me. He started signing in the upper left corner, but when he realized his misheard my name, he scribbled out what he wrote and started over in the center. He apologized to me for mussing up, to which I replied, “Are you kidding me?? I now have original George Martin artwork! I’m honored!” After signing my album cover we chatted for a few minutes, until he was called away to tend to other business. Friendly, approachable and gracious, the man was a class act and a true gentleman.

George Martin autograph
Here are twenty of Sir George Martin’s finest productions:


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Der Fuehrer’s Face

“Der Fuehrer’s Face” was the first hit song for Spike Jones and His City Slickers, a pre-rock & roll Ylvis. The wacky recording, on which Hitler gets razzed, was written for an Academy Award-winning Walt Disney cartoon originally entitled Donald Duck in Nutzi Land. The song hit #3 on the pop charts in 1942.

I was introduced to the song by Dr. Demento, whose radio show initially existed to present rare old recordings, but morphed into a showcase for novelty records after listeners requested such tunes repeatedly.

Jones’ orchestra is best-remembered for their Christmas evergreen “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth,” written by an elementary school teacher named Donald Gardner, who upon asking his students what they want for Christmas noticed that most of them were missing teeth.

Jones, who passed away in 1965, was born on this day in 1911.Today’s playlist is inspired by him and includes other songs that were popular on The Dr. Demento Show with some stand-up comedy thrown in.

Monty Python to Reunite – Life Gets a Little Brighter

This week, the surviving members of Monty Python announced they are reuniting for a show that will take place at London’s O2 Arena on July 1, 2014. The last time they performed together was at the Aspen Comedy Festival in 1998. In addition to their best-known skits, the troupe promises new material. At a press conference announcing the show, Eric Idle said the audience can expect “comedy, pathos, music and a tiny piece of ancient sex.”

When I was a kid I would watch Monty Python’s Flying Circus on PBS. The program provided absurd premises (a ministry of silly walks, an eatery frequented by Vikings that includes Spam as an ingredient in all their dishes, a clinic where one can drop in and pay to have an argument, though if you go into the wrong room you’ll get hit-on-the-head lessons), bizarre animation and, on the best episodes, images of ladybreasts.

July 1 falls smack dab in the middle of London’s rainy season (rainy season in London goes from Jan. 1 thru Dec. 31), so I probably won’t attend the show. However, I have my Python DVDs and recordings to get me through. Today’s playlist, a tribute to the group, kicks off with “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” the song that plays at the end of the film Monty Python’s Life of Brian. In the film, Brian, played by Graham Chapman, is despondent, seeing as he is nailed to a cross and certain to die. On a nearby cross is Idle, who attempts to cheer up Chapman with this ditty.

A survey conducted in England in 2005 revealed this to be the third most popular tune Britons would like played at their funeral. Indeed, the remaining members of Monty Python sang it at the 1989 funeral of Chapman.