Rankman loved the Beatles: John, Paul, George, George and Ringo.
Save your “gotcha emails” because that’s not a two Georges typo typo. There was always talk about the “fifth” Beatle being disc jock “Murray the K,” or early bassist Stu Sutcliffe, or keyboard genius Billy Preston, who added funk and sophistication to the “Let it Be” rooftop sessions.
Let there be no mistake: the “fifth” Beatle was George Martin, the legendary producer who died peacefully Tuesday at age 90 after monumental contributions to society and my world.
Martin was the recording-studio adult whose assignment it was to herd the four coolest cats in the history of modern music. It was the older Martin who made sure the lads stayed on task while they would have much preferred to be smoking pot on the stairwell. Martin was a classically-trained musician who kept the order and put to vinyl some of the greatest music recorded.
In a pinch, he even added the keyboard solo on John Lennon’s masterpiece “In My Life.”
There might have been no Fab Four if not for the Fab One.
“If anyone earned the title of the fifth Beatle it was George,” Paul McCartney said in a statement. “From the day that he gave The Beatles our first recording contract, to the last time I saw him, he was the most generous, intelligent and musical person I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.”
Why am I waxing on about George Martin? Because a few weeks ago, I listened to “Rubber Soul” for the 968th time (probably) since 1965. I still have the original vinyl and put the needle down on a player recently borrowed from a neighbor.
Once again, my jaw dropped as I marveled at the level of song-writing sophistication in these simple, restrained, pared-down recordings. “Rubber Soul” remains my favorite Beatles album, starting with the cover photo.
It was a seminal departure for the world’s most famous band, advancing the boys from pop jingles about girls to a new genre of acoustic introspection.
The writing battle between Lennon and McCartney on “Rubber Soul” remains awe-inspiring. I would give the slight nod to Lennon because of “In My Life” and the super-creepy “Run for Your Life.” You know, “catch you with another guy, that’s the end, da, little girl.” Paul is dismissed by some for his detached lyrics and solo-career slide into affected sappiness. Yet, on “Rubber Soul,” he stood toe-to-toe with Lennon and produced some of his finest work.
Two of my favorite all-time McCartney songs were on “Rubber Soul” and were not hits. They were “You Won’t See Me,” and “I’m Looking Through You,” anti-syrupy songs about relationships gone awry. You could imagine even the suspicious Lennon thinking those were good.
This all seems so strange to me now because “Rubber Soul” was the first record I remember owning. Consider I was born in 1958, which means I was 7 when the album was released.
What the hell was that about??????
It was about this: I had my tonsils out in February of 1964 and remember being in the recovery room at Fullerton’s St. Jude’s Hospital. A TV set in the ward was showing a band called “The Beatles” on the Ed Sullivan Show.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that my black-and-white life, like millions of others, changed that night. I was only in grade-school but became an instant Beatles fanatic. The next thunder bolt was the movie “Hard Day’s Night.” There was a period in my life where I refused to acknowledge any other rock bands existing. That was my mistake, of course, but an honest one.
When I listened to “Rubber Soul” two weeks ago, not knowing George Martin was about to die, I heard sounds I had never heard before. I made a point to appreciate the subtitles of the intricate harmonies, seemingly gratuitous hand claps, while marveling over the minimalist, economic disbursement of the sound.
I listened to the “middle eight” instrumental solo on “In My Life” knowing that it was Martin’s bit, as he sped up a piano to make it sound like a harpsichord.
What genius. So, anyway, thank you George for producing the sound track to my life.
Reggie Jackson once famously said, when he was a New York Yankee, that he was “the straw that stirred the drink.”
What Reggie meant was that he, amidst all the collateral chatter and chaos, held the center together.
Martin held it together for the Beatles. The world owes him big for that. He corralled and collated (sometimes) scatter-brained genius and made each track sound like there was no other way it should have been recorded.
In honor of Martin, it’s time to give “Rubber Soul” another listen.
Say the word and be like me. Say the word and you’ll be free…Say the word, I’m thinking of. Have you heard, the word is love?
Loved you George: Yeah, yeah, yeah.