The Beatles were blessed to have had Three Wise Men in their lives who guided them and helped them on their astonishing trajectory to joyous world domination and enduring cultural significance. And by some remarkable gift of the gods those men were not only wise but kind and gentle.
Manager Brian Epstein discovered them and skillfully and tirelessly promoted them. Publicist Derek Taylor helped shape their image as leaders of the paradigm social shift across the universe. And George Martin was the enlightened alchemist who recognized their innate musical genius and nurtured it to its full flowering.
The Three Wise Men who helped the Beatles. Top left - manager Brian Epstein. Top right - producer George Martin. Bottom - publicist Derek Taylor
Without the Beatles' musical talents they would not of course have been able to perform their magic. But conversely their magic was integral to the Beatles taking off into the stratosphere and staying there.
Let's talk about dear George...
Had the Beatles been produced by any of the standard "recording managers" (as such individuals were known in the early British sixties) who littered London's Tin Pan Alley, it is doubtful that their considerable talents would have reached our ears in the glorious ways that they consistently did in that halcyon renaissance between 1962 and 1970. And that they continue to do in their timeless glory. Because most recording studio titans dictated rather than listened. They told their young charges what to do and how to do it.
But at a very early point in their relationship, George instinctively understood that there was something unique bubbling in the chemical soup of these four lads who had had no formal musical training. And rather than trying to impose his own tastes and experiences on to them he became the most enlightened of tutors. He acted towards them like the Robin Williams character treated his pupils in "Dead Poets Society". He elected to nurture and nourish their talent. Encourage it to blossom. And what a flowering bloomed under that insightful guidance.
I was blessed to enjoy a warm friendship with Sir George over a couple of decades. We were first brought together in the 1990s by my mentor and first employer (in the early 1970s) the late Derek Taylor.
George was warm and friendly by nature so being in his company was always a pleasure. What opened the door further to friendship was our shared sense of humor.
His relationship with the Beatles first flourished because of their love of his work as a comedy producer with Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan of Britain's "Goon Show" (the 1950s British radio precursor to Monty Python).
Though George and I were initially meeting in relation to my role as US marketing strategist (under Derek) for the Beatles Anthology, as soon as George discovered that in earlier years I had produced performances and recordings with Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Monty Python - we deviated into long conversations about comedy. The on-camera interview I was due to conduct with him for a TV special I was producing about the Anthology was postponed for a couple of hours as we chitter-chatted about our favorite mirth-makers.
It was the beginning of a delightful friendship. He was always genial and fully-charged with mischievous quips. And we rapidly developed an easy rapport.
When I launched the official Brian Epstein website and a campaign seeking the induction of Epstein into the Non-Performers' Section of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, George asked me if his name could be the first "signature" shown on the on-line petition because he knew that it would help draw attention to what he thought was a very worthy cause. That same year, when I was curating the re-publication of Epstein's 1964 autobiography, I knew I could depend on George to write a glowing foreword for the book.
What a joy it was to reciprocate and assist George on one of his pet projects. He had recorded an album titled "In My Life" of Beatles songs re-imagined -- with vocals by a glittering array of friends and heroes ranging from Robin Williams and Jim Carrey to Goldie Hawn and Sean Connery.
His UK record company, EMI, had landed him with Capitol Records as the album's US distributor. The same company who had shamefully abused him during the Beatles years. The label had zero interest in George's record and he sought my help. I managed to beg, cajole and hustle EMI into surrendering the US rights and helped set up George with the Universal Music Group for US distribution, who did a sterling job with the release.
He asked me to handle the US marketing and it was a delight to work with him. As part of the publicity campaign we video-taped a wonderful in-depth conversation at the Hotel Bel Air in L.A., surveying his entire life and career. It was an absolute joy to do. We released an audio version of our chat on CD titled "A Conversation With George Martin: There Are Places I Remember..." to help promote his album. It was a real kick to produce a recording of the world's greatest producer! What came through clearly in our long chat was his wit and dry humor. He made a point of demonstrating the "Liza Dolittle" cockney accent that was his childhood speech mode before he'd taken elocution lessons!
I set up a launch party for his "In My Life" album at the Beverly Hills Hotel and we invited all of Hollywood. Musicians of course, actors and comedians to the fore. Of all the many stars that arrived that night I think George had the most fun meeting Mel Brooks and Sid Caesar. And I still recall his laughter when he was given his first cocktail of the night -- specially-created for the soiree and named "The Sir George Martini..." Served very dry with a wicked twist.
Around this time, George made it very clear that he was "done" giving interviews about the Beatles. Not surprising given that he had done so many over the years. So while we would "talk Beatles" whenever we met up, there were to be no formal interviews about the Beatles.
But of course that all changed in 2003. I was commissioned by Harvey Weinstein to supervise and produce the first collectors DVD edition of the Beatles' film "A Hard Day's Night" and I was determined to produce the ultimate bonus disc for fans. I wanted there to be several hours of contextual content about the film. And George would be integral to that. I was touched and appreciative that George agreed to my entreaties to break his "no more Beatles interviews" pledge. It was a gesture of friendship that I cherished deeply.
And of course he delivered wonderfully insightful memories for an exceptional song-by-song analysis I titled "Listen To The Music Playing in Your Head" that I thought was the highlight of the 5 hours of bonus material. His unique perceptions rightly attracted a lot of critical acclaim when the DVD was released. And scattered through his memories of recording the movie soundtrack were delightful nuggets.
The Beatles - James Bond connection? That plaintive instrumental version of "This Boy" that plays as Ringo parades alongside the Thames riverbank featured a solo by Vic Flick - a legendary session guitarist selected by George because he had played the memorable guitar part on the recording of the original James Bond Theme in 1962!
(Tangential trivia - Vic Flick was a key mentor to the young Jimmy Page. And the original James Bond Theme was not written by John Barry -- he arranged it -- but by noted composer Monty Norman)
During the course of our 3-hour ("but you told me it would be only 10 minutes Martin!") video interview George also gave the full story behind his hilarious recording of Peter Sellers doing a Shakespearian rendition of "A Hard Day's Night". He credited "Hard Day's Night" actor John Junkin (who plays "Shake" -- the taller of the lads' two road managers in the film) with bringing him the idea.
I think my favorite time with George was a night in L.A. in the late 1990s. We rendezvoused in the bar at the Sunset Marquis Hotel. I gave him a copy of the second Rutles album "Archaeology" that I'd recently produced with Neil Innes. I knew that George would get a kick out of the affectionate pastiches of his Beatles arrangements. And indeed he did. His appreciation of witty musical humor was always acute, as was apparent on all the Peter Sellers albums he produced.
But I had another mission to accomplish. I was about to launch my first autobiographical one-man-show in which I was going to confess to a teenage prank I had undertaken in 1971 in which I had created a myth about four "lost" Beatles songs. The fake titles were planted in an otherwise scholarly article about unreleased Beatles recordings that I wrote under a pseudonym for a respected British music magazine.
All the unissued titles I had listed were authentic Beatles songs - amassed from my research work in 1967 as the teenage compiler of the discography for the authorized Beatles biography by Hunter Davies. Alas when writing the 1971 article I had succumbed to the temptation to pad out the original list of unreleased Beatles songs (which seemed a bit thin to me) with the titles of four absolutely dreadful tunes I'd composed when I was 14! The sole merit being that the titles were vaguely plausible as late '60s Beatles song titles! And to underscore this, in the article I had helpfully attributed the songs to their supposed composers!
"Colliding Circles" (a John tune); "Deckchair" (a jaunty Paul number); "Left Is Right (And Right Is Wrong)" (a John polemic) and my favorite title: "Pink Litmus Paper Shirt" (a quasi-mystical George ditty.)
To my surprise, over the following quarter century, my 1971 article had been perused, ransacked and re-quoted by many Beatlesologists. And because the other 99% of my 1971 story was accurate, many scholars assumed that the four 'out-fakes' were legitimate too.
I knew that 'fessing up in my one-man show was likely to attract a little bit of media attention -- (true headline in the New York Post: "Biggest Beatles hoax since 'Paul is Dead'!") so I thought I should let my pals in the Beatles universe hear my confession and apology first-hand before they read about it in the 'popular prints'.
As I spun the all-too-true story I searched George's now serious-looking face for a sign of how he was taking this. I was dreading that he might be cross that my childish prank had messed with the pristine Beatles liturgy.
But George was winding me up! As I finished my tale he roared with laughter and told me he wished he'd had a penny for every time someone had asked him about my four "lost" Beatles song titles! He found the whole thing very amusing and he wished me much good fortune with my one-man show. He would tease me about my teenage prank at all our future encounters.
That was pure George. He'd help create some of the finest music in the world. And here he was hearing a story that, on the face of it, seemed to mock an important legacy of which he'd been a vital component.
However George Martin -- the man who produced the Beatles -- was so much more than that. He was a man with immaculate taste, with impeccable ears, with consummate grace and a wicked sense of humor.
The Beatles -- and many other artists -- and all of us were the lucky beneficiaries.
Tonight I will raise a "Sir George Martini" in his honor...
Bless you George.
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