Martin wrote the familiar “By George! It’s the David Frost Theme” (1967) and his “Theme One” was an energetic composition for organ, brass and percussion for the opening of BBC Radio 1, also in 1967.
As Martin explained it, the watershed came in 1967. “It’s very difficult for me to be impartial, but my personal favourite with The Beatles is Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I do think that it is the best thing that they ever did. I suppose it was a producer’s daydream. I was able to do everything that I’ve ever wanted to do and the boys were similarly anxious to make it a far-out thing for its time.”
The Beatles returned from India in 1968 with many new songs. Martin tried to persuade them to make one great single album, but they insisted on a double album of 30 tracks, some of which he regarded as substandard. He subsequently discovered an ulterior motive: in order to negotiate a new contract, The Beatles were fulfilling their quota on the existing one.
In January 1969, and this time to honour a film contract, The Beatles allowed the cameras to capture them creating Let It Be. The album was intended to be totally honest, and Lennon told Martin that there was to be “no echoes, no overdubs and none of your jiggery-pokery”. Martin approved of their aims, but the collapse of the friendships within the group created tension. There were great songs (“Let It Be”, “Get Back”) and a wonderful session on the roof of their Apple headquarters, but overall, it was disappointing.
The Beatles realised their mistake, and later in the year, they asked Martin to take control. The result was the mature-sounding Abbey Road, and the merging of song fragments into a symphonic suite on side two was Martin’s idea. He said, “It proved to be a very happy album and I was very pleased that the group went out on a note of harmony and not one of discord.”
While Lennon was working on the song “Instant Karma” with Phil Spector, he asked him if he could do anything with the tapes of the Let It Be sessions. Martin said, “John gave them to Phil Spector and asked him to overdub them, which was in direct contradiction of all he had said. He kept it very quiet and the first thing I knew about it was when the album came out. I was pretty annoyed, and so was Paul. The album credit reads ‘produced by Phil Spector’, but I wanted it changed to ‘produced by George Martin, over-produced by Phil Spector’.”
When The Beatles split up in 1970, both Lennon and Harrison preferred Spector for their solo recordings. McCartney recorded by himself, but returned to Martin in 1973 for the orchestral title song for the James Bond film Live and Let Die. He later produced McCartney’s albums Tug of War (1982) and Pipes of Peace (1983).
Martin found that his hearing had been damaged as a result of working with The Beatles, but knew that he would not receive further commissions if this were widely known. For this reason, he grew his hair to cover his ears and accepted short-term work. His most durable relationship was with the soft-rock group America, and he produced their US hits “Tin Man” (1974) and “Sister Golden Hair” (1975).
Among his many one-off projects were the score for the Mickey Rooney film Pulp (1972), Tommy Steele’s musical autobiography, My Life, My Song (1974), Jeff Beck’s album Blow By Blow (1975) and Gary Brooker’s No More Fear of Flying (1979).
Martin wrote his autobiography, All You Need Is Ears, in 1979 and a further volume, Playback – The Autobiography of George Martin, followed in 2002. The award-winning The Making of Sgt Pepper, a 1992 programme in The South Bank Show series, led to a book of the same name three years later, which Martin also developed into a stage presentation.
The first AIR Studios opened in Oxford Street in October 1970, the first client being Cilla Black. The studios were soon being used around the clock and the takeover of AIR studios by Chrysalis meant that Martin was a board member of several related companies, including the radio station Heart FM. A new AIR Studios in a converted church in Hampstead was opened in 1992. Martin also took a keen interest in the training of young musicians, notably at the Brit School in London and the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts.
In the late 1970s, Martin drew up plans for a second studio complex in Montserrat. Many rock stars enjoyed working in this quiet, tropical paradise, but the island was devastated by Hurricane Hugo and a volcano in the early 1990s.
His later productions included a recording of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood in 1988, with Anthony Hopkins reprising Richard Burton’s role and a new score by Martin. In 1994, he worked with the harmonica player Larry Adler on The Glory of Gershwin, with several guest performers including Kate Bush, Cher and Sting. His farewell to the industry, In My Life (1998), featured celebrity performances of Beatles songs, including Sean Connery narrating the title song.
Martin’s final production was Elton John’s homage to Princess Diana, “Candle in the Wind ’97”, which became the biggest-selling record of all time. He undertook a considerable amount of fundraising for charities and he organised the unique Party at the Palace concert in 2002, which involved Brian May playing “God Save the Queen” from the roof of Buckingham Palace.