Playlist Of The Day 3/12/2016: 22 Other Recordings Produced By George Martin


If you listened to George Martin's work from before he took the reins as producer of the biggest and best rock band of all time, you might say to yourself what I just did: "Nothing he'd done could have prepared him for what happened." But typing that sentence out I realized it was total bunk. In building the permanent record of the band who started the British Invasion, Martin had twelve years of practice fashioning an unusual slate of artists that represented vital earmarks of the Beatles' profile. Having had only a couple of experiences producing rock records, Martin went into the endeavor as an outsider. Seeing as how there was no rulebook on how to record four scousers who pooled from Carl Perkins, Smokey Robinson and Buck Owens and played them very loudly, maybe Martin had a leg up on getting their fairly complex chords and harmonies across in glorious mono. Maybe his deep experience with some of the greatest British comedians of all time gave him an in with a group that dropped one-liners like peanut shells. And only a true in-and-out, no-attitude recording professional who valued his work and craft could bear the confidence and relative lack of ego to figure out how to record "Tomorrow Never Knows" without having to smoke whatever everyone else in the control room was.

But Martin was a company man. The luckiest company man in history of business, but still a company man. Working for BBC, EMI and Parlophone he got a lot of "assignments," primarily in the fields of classical, jazz and cozy pop. But especially comedy. His first production credit, featured here in August 2014, was a cracked fake opera sung by Peter Ustinov and featuring Anthony Hopkins on harpsichord. Martin also worked with Peter Sellers, making casually insane parodies of current musical trends (including the Beatles), and Spike Milligan, in addition to a spate of lovable British novelty crackpots like Bernard Cribbins, Dudley Moore and Lance Percival. After he was permanently affixed to the Beatles legend he became renown for little else, but he continued to work on multiple rock and pop projects like Gerry & the Pacemakers, Cilla Black, Stackridge, Mahavishnu Orchestra and... uh, America. In fact I didn't realize until earlier today that Martin was the producer of Jeff Beck's breakthrough solo albums Blow By Blow and Wired.

So I went looking for George Martin productions that had nothing to do with any Beatles, and combed through the 700+ results for today's memorial. As occasionally happens when I have a small cushion of unoccupied time, the list grew from five songs to ten and fifteen, until I finally realized this sucker was going to be a playlist and I could make it as long as I wanted. Twenty-two seemed enough. These songs feature the casual but very lettered excellence Martin applied to a wide range of pop music: jazz, comedy, pop, mildly progressive rock, madrigals and Cheap Trick.

My favorite bits:
  • Out of all the deranged pop parodies Martin did with Peter Sellers, the one that got out of hand most efficiently and fully: "Any Old Iron"

  • Spike Milligan's romantic intermingling of grand theft auto, penal institutions and South American dance, "Wormwood Scrubs Tango"

  • An entertaining, electronically informed instrumental Martin performed under the name Ray Cathode -- which would still be funny now, but back then it was hilarious

  • The Master Singers' "Highway Code," an amazing bit of government information presented in madrigal form

  • Some of his better post-Beatles rock efforts, including Stackridge, Jeff Beck, and because I want to be fair, "Sister Golden Hair" by America

  • A Beatles cover by Sean Connery whose inclusion here is not meant to suggest that it was a highlight of either his or Martin's respective careers

  • Cilla Black's "Alfie," because it's goddamn incredible.

Rest in peace, George. After this playlist. And thanks.

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