George Martin Biography – Part Two: Sound Pictures

The second installment in an exceptional two-part biography of Beatle producer, the late Sir George Martin, has just hit bookstores in the US and the UK.

We reviewed Part 1, Maximum Volume: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin (The Early Years: 1926-1966), back in January and have been hanging out to get our hands on Part 2 ever since.

Now, Sound Pictures: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin (The Later Years: 1966-2016) is finally here.

Like the first book in the series, there are different covers for each market. Here is the US jacket:

And here is the cover for the UK:

Author Kenneth Womack really has created the definitive biography of the man widely regarded as The Fifth Beatle. In this second volume he takes up the story from 1966, when the Beatles have just released their Rubber Soul album to huge audience and critical acclaim: “At this point, the Beatles were in the midst of riding a winning streak in the UK, with eleven consecutive number-one singles – the latest being the double A-sided “Day Tripper” backed with “We Can Work It Out”, which was released in December 1965 and had rung in 1966 atop the UK charts. The pressure was definitely on to maintain the Beatles’ commercial dominion in their home country, and the group’s principal songwriters took the competition very seriously indeed, with John and Paul regularly vying to see who could land the next A-side.”

In those sentences Womack sums up the huge weight of expectation that was on the band, not only to keep on coming up with the goods in the form of hit records, and to maintain their hectic performance and appearance schedule, but also internally to keep moving forward creatively, to stretch themselves, try out new sounds and new ways of doing things.

In Sound Pictures we get a birds-eye view of the Beatles at their most creative. With the decision in late 1966 not to tour anymore but instead to use their albums to talk to their fans, they set a course that led to the release of four consecutive LPs that always make it into any ‘Best Albums of All Time’ lists: Revolver 1966, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 1967, The Beatles (The White Album) 1968, and Abbey Road 1969. When the Beatles decided to use the studio as their instrument it was Sir George who was there to guide them – and we’re all the luckier for it.

Add to that amazing list of LPs a string of Number 1 singles (like ‘All You Need Is Love’/’Baby, You’re A Rich Man’, ‘Hello, Goodbye’/’I Am the Walrus’, ‘Penny Lane’/’Strawberry Fields’, ‘Lady Madonna’/’The Inner Light’, ‘Hey Jude’/’Revolution’ and ‘Something’/Come Together’ to name but a few) and you start to get an idea of the wave of creativity being unleashed between 1966-1969. George Martin was central and influential in each and every recording.

Sure, as the Beatles became more confident in the studio the dynamic between the band and their production team changed throughout this period – especially around the time of The White Album (and Womack goes into this in some detail) – but they usually found their way back to George Martin for guidance in some form or other. It’s a trend that continued right through the eighties with the release of the Beatle catalogue on CD for the first time; the huge Anthology project; and right up to more recent releases like the Beatles Love, where many of their songs were remastered and radically remixed. As well as having helped create it, Martin was closely involved in caretaking the legacy too.

Throughout the timeframe of Sound Pictures, Sir George was working as an independent producer, arranger and composer. He started up his own company called AIR, and established his own recording studio facilities as well, so in the book we get to learn about the huge catalogue of artists he collaborated with alongside some of the significant musical productions he was associated with. George Martin has worked with performers as diverse as Cilla Black, Elton John, Cheap Trick, Jeff Beck, Kenny Rogers, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney as solo artists, America, Celine Dion, Jimmy Webb and John McLaughlin. It extends right up to his passing in 2016, and goes well beyond his work with the Beatles.

This is an excellent book, a great read, and Kenneth Womack should be congratulated for the depth of his research and the engaging way he tells the story of one of the greats of the music business. Highly recommended.

If you are looking for a soundtrack to accompany these two volumes as you read you could do worse than getting hold of the six CD set, Produced By George Martin – 50 Years In Recording. It was released in 2001:

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New George Martin Biography – Maximum Volume

We have reviewed author Ken Womack’s work previously on beatlesblogger.com

He’s a recognised authority on The Beatles and their enduring cultural influence. His latest work is the first in what will become a two-volume biography devoted to Beatle producer, Sir George Martin.

First published last year in the United States, then quickly followed by a UK edition, the first installment is called Maximum Volume: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin (The Early Years: 1926-1966).

Here’s the US jacket:

And here’s the somewhat more tame UK cover

This book is long-overdue. There have been surprisingly few in-depth studies of the life of one of the most influential figures in popular music, a career spanning more than 60 years.

In Womack’s book we learn that George Martin scored his first real job in the music industry pretty much by accident when he joined the recording giant EMI as an A&R man for Parlophone Records and that in the 1950s being in A&R (or Artist and Repetoire) didn’t mean you were a producer – it was more about talent scouting and the artistic and commercial development of the artists signed to your label.

Martin had a natural musical talent and great training, and he’d had some success with comedy and novelty records for Parlophone. But he needed more than that. By the early 1960s to keep his label afloat George Martin needed to hit it big with a pop group – and soon.

Though he had tons of creativity, drive, and a solid musical background, Martin’s main handicap was that he had little knowledge or experience of the world of Rock & Roll.

Then, into his life walks a young, four-piece outfit from Liverpool.

These guys knew a lot about Rock & Roll, but had no knowledge about studios and how to record their music. The pairing of the two was a marriage made in heaven. What George Martin was able to bring to the table fitted perfectly with what the Beatles needed – and together they went on to make magic.

It wasn’t always plain sailing though, and Martin often had to be tough and give as good as he got because the Beatles were hard task masters. They were ambitious, confident, and didn’t suffer fools lightly. But George Martin had the chutzpah and the musical knowledge and ability to carry it off:

Martin: “Let’s have one more go at the backing, then we’ll record your voices separately. This time, we’ll get it exactly right.”

McCartney: “Why—what was exactly wrong?”

Martin: “The tuning sounded wrong. And you, George, should be coming in on the second beat every time instead of every fourth beat.”

Harrison: “Oh, I see.”

In its essence, this brief exchange demonstrated what people in the Beatles’ inner circle understood implicitly: namely, that George was possibly the single most influential person in their world, really the only one who could impinge upon the nature of their music. Even Brian [Epstein], whom they held in extraordinarily high esteem, held little, if any, sway in terms of influencing the direction of their creative lives. At one point, when Brian dared to offer an opinion about their efforts in the studio, John coolly replied, “You look after your percentages, Brian. We’ll take care of the music.” (pg. 252)

In Maximum Volume Womack candidly – and comprehensively – tells the story of George Martin from his very humble childhood and early adulthood, through to the heights of success he and the Beatles enjoyed globally. It’s a great read, a real page-turner in fact as the detail behind that enormous success unfolds.

As one reviewer put it, the book contains enough fresh information and informed insight about the group’s early years to satisfy [even] the most devout Beatlemaniac.

Maximum Volume takes a similar approach to that of Mark Lewisohn’s well-researched and highly regarded multi-volume telling of the Beatles story: there are footnotes detailing where Womack is getting his information and where his quotes come from; there’s an extensive bibliography; and there’s a comprehensive index. All these things point to the thorough research undertaken by Ken Womack and the efforts he’s gone to put the life and work of George Martin into a context that can be supported by facts.

The importance of this approach to writing about the Beatles, or any subject or person for that matter where so much has been written over many years, is imperative. Sifting through the mass of it to find those kernels of truth about your subject before forming it into an accurate and entertaining narrative is paramount – and Womack pulls it off. For a great reflection on this subject it’s worth a listen to the Something About the Beatles podcast episode called “The Beatles and the Historians“. See too the show’s interview with Ken Womack himself: “George Martin – Maximum Volume“.

Womack’s second and final volume on the life and work of Sir George Martin will be published in September this year. It’s to be called Sound Pictures: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin (The Later Years: 1966-2016).

In the meantime, enjoy Volume One – Maximum Volume. It is highly recommended.

The Beatles ‘Hard Day’s Night’ Mystery Chord Revealed

Sum of All Parts is an ABC Radio podcast here in Australia.

The show recently examined (from a mathematical perspective!) the famous opening chord of The Beatles’ song, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’:

The podcast episode is called ‘The Magical Mystery Chord’.

Using the research and insights of mathematician and Beatle fan Professor Jason I. Brown, and personal experiences at Abbey Road Studios by Canadian musician Randy Bachman, the podcast un-picks just how The Beatles (with producer George Martin) achieved a chord that has tantalised musicians now for over fifty years…..

There is also a very short Sum of All Parts “bonus” episode, ‘Slow Down, George Solo-son’. Also well worth a listen.

The Film Scores and Original Orchestral Music of George Martin

Here’s a release to look out for in November – a newly recorded disc of music composed by the late Sir George Martin.

Called The Film Scores and Original Music of George Martin this gathers together a cross-section of works illustrating his musical genius – some for the very first time: The music is performed by The Berlin Music Ensemble, under the baton of US-born producer, composer and arranger, Craig Leon who is the driving force behind the project.

“When I was going through it, I was just struck by the elegance of the composition and how much they fit the era that I grew up in music, and again made me think how much I wouldn’t have even had the life I had if George Martin hadn’t done what he did,” Leon said. “He bridged the gap between an interpretive producer and a creative producer, which was the thing that I wanted to do.”

The recording will be out on November 10 on CD and digital download on the Atlas Realisations label. Then, in January 2018 to celebrate George Martin’s birthday, a 2LP vinyl edition will also be released.

The track listing:

  • 1-5 The Pepperland Suite (Original music written for the film Yellow Submarine)
  • 6-9 Live and Let Die Suite (Original music written for the film Live And Let Die)
  • 10-12 Three American Sketches for Violin & Chamber Orchestra
  • 13 Judy’s Theme
  • 14-16 Under Milk Wood Overture (Incidental music to Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas)
  • 17 Belle Etoile (* First recording)
  • 18 Waltz in D Minor for Flute & Chamber Orchestra
  • 19 Prelude for Strings
  • 20-29 The Mission Chorales (* First recording of the original sketches written for the film The Mission)

And here’s a short background video featuring Craig Leon talking about how the project evolved:

We love the music of George Martin. See also:

Vale Sir George Martin

Produced by George Martin – New DVD/Blu-Ray

Produced by George Martin – Six CD Box Set

On Valentines Day – A Beatles “Love” Find

What more could you want on Valentines Day than to find a bit of Beatle Love treasure?

Rummaging through some old theatre programs at our local St Vincent de Paul Society thrift shop (the equivalent of Goodwill stores in the US), what should we come across than a thick, lavishly illustrated program from the Beatles/Cirque du Soleil production Love, which is still showing at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas.

This is a beautifully produced book, about the same size and shape as an LP record, and it’s filled with photographs, drawings, cast details and information about this long-running success story – which last year celebrated its tenth year in production. love-cover

Inside there are fantastic drawings, illustrations, and photographs from the stage show – like these:

love-1 love-2 love-3

Impressively laid out, with some four page fold-out sections included, this particular theatre program seems to date from around February, 2008 as inside on the credits page in small print it says “Love.02.08”. The photograph of co-Music Director, Giles Martin is a decidedly youthful one:

love-4

Right in the very centre of the book there are two pages of Beatle Love stickers. In the copy we found the previous owners have only removed two – the rest are perfectly intact:love-stickers

Here’s that full credit page in more detail:love-creditsAnd the rear cover:love-rearA nice Valentines Day find……(click on the images to see larger versions).

More on The Beatles: Live at the Hollywood Bowl

Apple and Universal Music have now officially announced details of the expanded and newly remixed version of The Beatles’ 1977 live album At The Hollywood Bowl.

The new release will be known as The Beatles: Live At The Hollywood Bowl, and it is directly sourced from the original three track tapes of the concerts. Producer Giles Martin and engineer Sam Okell have remixed and mastered the recordings at Abbey Road Studios. The album will include the thirteen tracks from the original album produced by George Martin, plus four bonus tracks – 3 of which are previously unreleased recordings from the concerts. Those tracks are: ‘You Can’t Do That’ and ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ (both from 23 August, 1964) and ‘Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby’ and ‘Baby’s in Black’ (both from 30 August, 1965).

Giles Martin gave this background:

“A few years ago Capitol Studios called saying they’d discovered some Hollywood Bowl three track tapes in their archive. We transferred them and noticed an improvement over the tapes we’ve kept in the London archive. Alongside this I’d been working for some time with a team headed by technical engineer James Clarke on demix technology, the ability to remove and separate sounds from a single track.

With Sam Okell, I started work on remixing the Hollywood Bowl tapes. Technology has moved on since my father worked on the material all those years ago. Now there’s improved clarity, and so the immediacy and visceral excitement can be heard like never before. What we hear now is the raw energy of four lads playing together to a crowd that loved them. This is the closest you can get to being at the Hollywood Bowl at the height of Beatlemania. We hope you enjoy the show…”

Live at the Hollywood Bowl will include a 24-page booklet with an essay by music journalist David Fricke, and will be issued on CD on 9 September and as a gatefold double vinyl LP on 18 November 2016.LATHB-EMAIL-BANNER

Read more at Rolling Stone and Billboard magazines.

Making of ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ Video (Love version)

With the 10th anniversary of The Beatles/Cirque du Soleil Love album and stage show coming up on July 14, the official Beatle YouTube site has uploaded a “making of” style video for the George Harrison song ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’.

It includes a tribute to the late George Martin and information on how elements of the Las Vegas show are being tweaked and updated with fantastic new graphical elements for 2016:

The official Beatles site also has the song in full – complete with the fancy new graphics – all part of the 10th anniversary revamp: