Take Five: Sir George Martin
George Martin will be best remembered for his landmark production work with the Beatles. But London-born Sir George – who was knighted in 1996 in recognition for his major contributions to the music industry and popular culture – had a thriving and creatively fruitful career before, outside of and beyond his work with the Beatles. He produced sessions and/or albums for artists as diverse as Celine Dion, UFO, Peter Sellers, America, Stan Getz, Ultravox, Kenny Rogers and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Here are five tracks that demonstrate the wide range of his talents and producer, arranger and musician.
Peter Ustinov and Antony Hopkins – “Mock Mozart” (1953)
When the Beatles first met George Martin, they were most impressed by his pedigree: he had worked with some of their comedy heroes including the Goons and the Beyond the Fringe troupe (including Dudley Moore and Peter Cook). But Martin’s first success in the comedy field was producing this wacky riff on classical music, featuring two distinguished British actors. Nearly forty years before portraying Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, Hopkins plays harpischord on the track.
The Temperance Seven – “You’re Driving Me Crazy” (1961)
Trad jazz British band The Temperance Seven came together in the mid 1950s during a time when the style (known in the US as Dixieland) was enjoying a revival in popularity. With George Martin as producer, the band scored its first hit with this cover of a 1930 tune by Walter Donaldson. The band’s playful attitude was exemplified by their name (there were eight, not seven musicians in the group), possibly providing inspiration for ‘90s-and-beyond alternarock trio Ben Folds Five.
Shirley Bassey – “Goldfinger” (1964)
The James Bond film franchise has long placed a premium on memorable theme songs. But even against that backdrop, Shirley Bassey’s bravura performance for the third Bond film is remarkable. Released as a single, it soared to #8 on the Billboard chart. Bassey would be chosen to work her magic for two more 007 films in later years: Diamonds are Forever (1971) and 1969’s Moonraker. Fun fact: future Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page plays on the George Martin-produced “Goldfinger.”
Jeff Beck – “Thelonius” (1975)
By the mid 1970s, former Yardbirds guitarist Jeff Beck had moved toward instrumental jazz fusion. For his 1975 album Blow by Blow he set aside his practice of self-producing, working instead with George Martin. In addition to several original tunes and an inspired reinvention of the Beatles’ “She’s a Woman,” the album features this song written by Beck’s friend Stevie wonder. The multi-instrumentalist genius also played Hohner clavinet on the tune he gave Beck.
Cheap Trick – “Stop This Game” (1980)
Midwestern quartet Cheap Trick hit the sweet spot with their trademark combination of hard rock and power pop. After a string of successful albums with producer Tom Werman, the Rockford, Illinois band turned to George Martin for their fifth album, All Shook Up. The album made it to #24 on Billboard’s chart, and its single “Stop This Game” cracked the top half of the Hot 100 chart. Martin’s orchestrations mesh nicely with the rock-solid roar of the core band.