I have been a lifelong rock and roll fan, and people who know me know of my special interest in The Who, but before them I was, and have always remained, a Beatles fan. George Martin, the London-born trained musician who produced almost all their recorded work, was a vital part of their sound. Martin studied music formally after departing the Royal Navy where he rose to officer (1943-1947) and made music and studio production his career.
A marker of many Beatles’ hits (I say as a non-musician) was the “quick-step” or marching band sound. As in Can’t Buy Me Love, say, but there are many other examples. I Want To Hold Your Hand is amongst the best known.
I think this came from Martin’s early immersion in piano and oboe studies and in general his familiarity with orchestral instrumentation and arranging. But also too, his years in the military – the parade ground is never far from the Beatles sound.
To this day, Paul McCartney leans on it, as in this single, called New, from only three years ago. Even at 70, he channelled that Beatles-march tempo sound perfectly. Martin played a lot of the keyboards on Beatles records, and other instruments. In the famous opening flourish of A Hard Day’s Night, Martin sounded a strident piano chord with Paul playing bass and other Beatles on guitar. If you listen closely you can hear it. It’s the way many symphonies start, in fact.
The confluence of talent, drive and/or foresight in Martin, the four from Liverpool, manager Brian Epstein, and Dick James to publish the music, all made it happen. One of those rare things. I actually remember playing the music in the early 60s knowing somehow it would be for the ages.