I did say recently that I didn’t want the blog to become an obituary column which seemed to what was happening throughout January and February but I don’t want to omit mentioning the passing this week of one of the music world’s most well-known and influential record producers – George Martin, the 5th Beatle.
Looking back now at photos of George working with The Beatles, he could be their dad, always dressed in his shirt and tie, his brylcreemed hair immaculately combed back. As it turns out he could have been an older brother in age terms but it goes to show how that small age difference in the ’60s meant that you were either part of that pre-war generation who had suffered the hardships and direct involvement, or you were the new post-war “never had it so good” generation who were bringing such innovation to music, film, fashion and ideas.
George however, although he may not have looked like his protégés, certainly had the ideas that contributed to their incredible success. In fact during their short career (considering their impact on the music world even to this day), they spent half of it in the recording studio with George, choosing that medium for their musical output rather than returning to live shows in front of screaming fans, who wouldn’t have been able to hear the songs anyway. There can’t be many people who haven’t heard of, or listened to, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” which truly was a landmark album in the history of pop music. It won four Grammy Awards in 1968 and often tops polls of “The Greatest Album Ever Made”. None of this would have come about without George.
Again, I am probably going to horrify people by admitting that I was never a great fan of Sgt. Pepper and preferred The Beatles earlier pure pop output. It is simply that I was too young in 1967 to appreciate its sophistication. As a child, the films A Hard Day’s Night and Help! appealed to me much more and were shown regularly on television. As happened with David Bowie, I was just born too late to appreciate them at their creative height, but have kind of come round since.
George Martin’s relationship with The Beatles came about because of his link to Brian Epstein, the band’s manager. During the early ’60s, Brian Epstein and George Martin between them, were pretty much responsible for creating the Mersey Sound or Merseybeat as it came to be called. Brian had tried all the major labels to sign his Liverpudlian stable of artists, but it was not until an initially reluctant George Martin at Parlophone saw something there he could work with, that the magic began. As well as The Beatles, Cilla Black, Gerry & the Pacemakers and Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, all made the regular trip south to visit George and the team at Parlophone. Cilla Black may have referred to the orchestra he used as “a bunch of auld fellas” but they certainly all contributed to making those artists the massive recording stars of the day.
There are just so many songs I could have picked to write about in relation to George Martin but the most obvious for me is of course Alfie, the song I used as inspiration for the title to the blog. Cilla Black was initially reluctant to take on this Bacharach and David classic but after Burt came across to London from the US to play and conduct on this oddly titled song, she could hardly refuse, despite her reservations that it was the name you would give a dog! George Martin was at the mixing desk performing his magic and after many takes of the song, they produced something truly remarkable.
Alfie by Cilla Black:
It’s now over 50 years since Cilla was asked to record Alfie in order to promote the Michael Caine film of the same name. Right at the end, our eponymous hero poses the question, “What’s it all about?” and I have come to realise that after 50 years of listening to popular music and now writing about the memories it conjures up, the answer is very much love, just as the song lyrics say. It is the love for our family as children, the love for our best friends as teenagers, for the various boyfriends/girlfriends on the way to finding that special someone, and now for me, the love I feel for my husband, daughter and special friends. Since starting this blog, I have never once reminisced about that important work deadline, that crucial exam result or the completion of that lengthy report, it is always about the people along the way. There is the old adage that you never go to your deathbed wishing you had spent more time at the office and after writing this, my 30th post, I am more convinced than ever that this is the case. As The Beatles sang – “All You Need Is Love”!
RIP George Martin.
(Song By Burt Bacharach/Hal David)
What’s it all about Alfie
Is it just for the moment we live
What’s it all about
When you sort it out, Alfie
Are we meant to take more than we give
Or are we meant to be kind?
And if, if only fools are kind, Alfie
Then I guess it is wise to be cruel
And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie
What will you lend on an old golden rule?
As sure as I believe there’s a heaven above
Alfie, I know there’s something much more
Something even non-believers can believe in
I believe in love, Alfie
Without true love we just exist, Alfie
Until you find the love you’ve missed
You’re nothing, Alfie
When you walk let your heart lead the way
And you’ll find love any day Alfie, oh Alfie.