On January 17, 2024

The Movie Diary: Fun in the Sun

In 1950, a young George Martin, having been educated at the acclaimed Guildhall School of Music and Drama, joined the British record label EMI as a producer. Five years later he became the head of Parlophone Records where he specialized in classical and comedy recordings. Martin, however, was always on the lookout for ways to expand the label’s scope, so he began considering musical acts that he would have previously passed over.  

His life would be forever altered in 1962 when four young lads from Liverpool (calling themselves “The Beatles”) walked in looking to make a recording. Martin was initially skeptical about the group’s potential. At that point, they were a young and relatively unknown band, but they had built a reputation as an entertaining live act, so Martin agreed to an audition. 

In their initial session, Martin was struck by the member’s personalities and their witty banter, but he wasn’t immediately convinced of their musical prowess. He also had heard that the group had been turned down by most of the other major record labels, making Parlophone one of their last chances.

Legend has it that after that first audition, Martin commented to his assistant that he didn’t think the Beatles had much talent. Despite his reservations, however, he decided to give them a chance and offered them a recording contract.

Martin’s classical background and innovative approach to studio recording played a pivotal role in shaping the Beatles’ sound. He introduced orchestral arrangements, experimented with new recording techniques, and collaborated closely with the band on seminal albums like “Rubber Soul,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and “The White Album.”

Martin also contributed musically, playing piano on many tracks and arranging orchestral elements. But his true genius was bringing the concepts and rhythmic meanderings of the Fab Four to fruition. The Beatles provided the ideas; Martin provided the means to see them realized. And because of his deep involvement, George Martin was often referred to as the “Fifth Beatle.”

A great example of George Martin’s influence on the Beatles was when he provided guidance for Paul McCartney’s song “Yesterday,” one of the group’s most iconic and enduring songs.

Originally, “Yesterday” was composed by McCartney with just vocals and an acoustic guitar. When McCartney brought the song to the studio, Martin recognized its potential and suggested adding a string quartet to enhance the emotional impact of the melody.

Despite initial hesitation from McCartney (who was concerned about departing from the Beatles’ usual rock sound), he eventually agreed to Martin’s suggestion. Martin then arranged and conducted the string quartet, creating a distinctive musical backdrop for the song.

The addition of the strings elevated the song to a new level, giving it a classic and timeless quality. The orchestration contributed significantly to the emotional resonance of “Yesterday” and showcased George Martin’s skill in arranging. The song went on to become one of the Beatles’ most beloved and covered tracks.

Over time, Martin’s initial skepticism transformed into a deep appreciation for the Beatles’ creativity. Their collaborative partnership would lead to the creation of some of the most intriguing and accessible pop music in history and result in Martin’s being considered one of the greatest record producers in the world. 

After the Beatles disbanded in 1970, Martin continued to produce for other artists. And while he loved the facilities in London, he yearned to create a recording experience where musicians could truly connect with the process. 

In 1979, Martin founded AIR Studios, a recording workplace located on the Caribbean island of Montserrat. The studio was built in a lush, scenic location and was equipped with the most advanced recording gear money could buy.

Musicians from all over the world journeyed to the tiny island to record in the unique environment. Subsequently, many classic rock albums were recorded there, including the Police’s “Synchronicity” and Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms.”

This week’s documentary feature, “Under the Volcano,” outlines the brief history of AIR Studios, the musicians who went there, and the unique magic that was experienced on the island. It also delves into the studio’s unexpected demise.

Check this one out if you loved early eighties music because there’s a good chance that some of your favorite albums were created at this location. 

A turbulent “B” for “Under the Volcano,” now available for rental on Amazon Prime. 

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at moviediary@att.net.

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