There is a theory that George Martin was a man who got incredibly lucky the day he met the Beatles. It’s a theory that was sometimes posited by the Beatles themselves, in their less gracious moments. “When people ask me questions about ‘What did George Martin really do for you?’ I have only one answer. ‘What does he do now?’” wrote John Lennon in 1971. “It’s not a putdown, it’s the truth.”
Certainly, life would have turned out very differently for George Martin had the general manager of a publishing company called Ardmore and Beechwood not rung him in early 1962, suggesting he meet with Brian Epstein to discuss his charges, who had already been turned down by Decca and Pye: he might have remained among EMI’s massed ranks of staff producers, handy with a sound effect when the kind of comedy records he specialised in before he met them demanded it. And perhaps if the Beatles had hooked up instead with Joe Meek, the tormented, volatile experimental genius of 60s British pop production, he’d have come up with something even more inventive and thrilling than the wintry strings that perfectly underscore Eleanor Rigby’s despondent solitude, although it’s hard to see how. Perhaps if Brian Wilson had been sitting in the control room, instead of the urbane former boss of Parlophone Records, John Lennon would have got closer to his brief that Tomorrow Never Knows should sound like a hundred chanting Tibetan monks.
Or perhaps not. The story of 60s pop in Britain is littered with artists protesting that producers of Martin’s vintage – second world war veterans who’d grown up in a world where rock’n’roll didn’t exist – could not understand what they were trying to achieve or were incapable of capturing their sound in studios that were primitive by American standards: the Rolling Stones, escaping to the States at the earliest opportunity to record at Chicago’s Chess Studios or RCA in Hollywood; poor old fortysomething Norman Smith, struggling to make sense of Pink Floyd’s music and indeed their increasingly peculiar frontman. But you never heard the Beatles complain in that way, nor did they ever pack their bags and flee Abbey Road for the studios of LA.