It is somewhat ironic that the man who did more than perhaps anyone else to shape contemporary pop music in the last half of the 20th century was not really all that interested in pop music at the outset of his career.
George Martin, who would go on to produce almost all of The Beatles’ recordings as well as recordings by Elton John, Cilla Black, Jeff Beck and many others, had studied classical composition at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.
His goal was to be the next Rachmaninoff.
While he did become an accomplished pianist and composer, he never achieved that goal.
What he became instead was one of the most revered record producers of all time.
How did that happen?
Fate intervened in the form of a letter offering him a position at EMI Records’ Abbey Road Studios.
He still wanted to be the next Rachmaninoff, but gradually he became hooked on the business of making records.
Martin began to make his presence felt after being named head of Parlophone Records.
There he excelled as a producer of orchestral recordings and comedy records, producing albums by Rolf Harris, Bernard Cribbins, Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers and others.
He may have been content to continue down that path, but fate intervened again when he went to a meeting with a young record store owner named Brian Epstein and listened to a very rough demo he’d brought along by The Beatles, a band he was hoping to convince Martin to record.
Martin wasn’t impressed with that recording and told him so.
But feeling a little sorry for this serious but likeable young man, Martin suggested he bring The Beatles to London and he’d give them an hour in the studio.
He didn’t particularly care for what The Beatles played during that first meeting.
In fact he thought it was “rubbish.”
But he did like them.
“They had this wonderful charisma,” Martin said in a recent interview.
“It made you feel good to be with them.”
He decided to take them on.
Martin and The Beatles would go on to make some of the most successful and most influential records of all time, from early gems like Meet The Beatles! and Twist And Shout to rock classics such as Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Magical Mystery Tour and The White Album.
The story of Martin’s association with The Beatles features prominently in a new documentary entitled simply Produced By George Martin.
This feature length profile of Martin takes you fully inside the life of Britain’s most acclaimed record producers.
You follow him from his very humble beginnings in a working class Cockney neighbourhood to the pinnacle of success as a producer with more than 35 No. 1 recordings.
Along the way you learn about his military service in the Fleet Air Arm during the Second World War, his studies at the Guildhall and his initial exposure to the recording industry as a producer of classical recordings and children’s music.
But it is the recollections of his work with The Beatles which captivated me most.
Martin goes into great detail on the creative process behind their music, how they achieved what they achieved in the studio and why it worked on so many levels.
All of this is illustrated with wonderful photographs, archival studio footage and more recent footage of Martin in conversation with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, talking about the long and winding road they travelled together.
There are conversations as well between Martin and his son Giles, himself a record producer and between Martin and his wife Millicent who was already working for EMI when George started there.
There are interviews with record producers Rick Rubin and T-Bone Burnett talking about how Martin and The Beatles revolutionized the way records are made and how brilliant the records they made together sound even today.
Throughout all of this there are snippets of recordings that Martin produced, dozens of them, covering every aspect of his career.
If you have even a passing interest in how records are made and music careers are built, you’ll find Produced by George Martin fascinating.
I’ve watched it four times now and every time I learn something new.
It’s not that I’m that slow on the uptake — although my beloved might disagree — it’s that my brain locks onto something and I start thinking about it. In the meantime, I’ve missed something else.
This is easily one of the best music documentaries I’ve ever seen.
Kudos go out to the producers of this offering.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
Doug Gallant, a reporter with The Guardian, writes his music review column for The Guardian every week. He welcomes comments at email@example.com or 629-6000, ext. 6057.