“Music is at the core of our being. Can you imagine a woman rearing a child and not humming to it? It's as natural as breathing.”
Just in case you haven’t already been listening over the past sixty-some-odd years, Eagle Rock Entertainment’s grand new Produced By George Martin documentary demonstrates once again, via a wealth of vintage clips and contemporary interviews with clients past (Paul McCartney, Cilla Black, Jeff Beck, Bernard Cribbins even) and protégés present-day (Rick Rubin, T-Bone Burnett) the sheer magnitude of the man’s sonic innovations on, and indelible contributions to, the music industry. Or what remains of it, I should say.
All of which got this Rock and Roll Reporter thinking, for not the first time mind you, what exactly our aural lives would have, could have been like in, dare I even imagine it…
A WORLD WITHOUT GEORGE
1953: Already well known to radio enthusiasts throughout Britain as “the funniest man this side of Lord Mountbatten,” Peter Sellers of the rightfully legendary Goon Show is urged by both his mother and others in command to expand his talents and notoriety into the world of spoken word recording. He naturally approaches all-powerful EMI’s comedy division, Parlophone Records, in search of a contract but, despite a riveting audition which apparently included a 20-minute rendition of his trademark “My Old Man’s a Dustbin,” Sellers is turned down.
Dejected and despondent, the man inexplicably soon after retires from the Goons at the very height of their renown, only to troll about the nether regions of the UK music hall circuit performing tired ventriloquist routines (“Birdie Num Num” being the most, um, notable) before bottoming out altogether, touring American Air Force bases in North Africa as part of a Wee Willie Winkie tribute act then perishing, penniless, beneath a Clacton-on-Sea fun fair helter skelter.
“If only a producer of rare insight and courage had been there in 1953 to offer the man a long-term recording contract,” lifetime Sellers acolyte Stanley Kubrick once said, “the world of comedy records, not to mention World War III movie satires, would have been completely different.”
1962: Agreeing only after a flood of pleading telegrams and phone calls to finally take a meeting with northern England’s most powerful record retailer, Brian Epstein of NEMS, the EMI Studios on Abbey Road NW8 is visited by an unruly quartet of Liverpool “beat musicians” who proceed to audition for Parlophone brass with a bewildering repertoire of Fats Waller and Ethel Merman numbers. Although the band’s drummist impresses all with not only his percussive prowess but a smoldering mean, moody magnificence, staff producer Ron Richards nevertheless declines to offer the group a recording contract.
However, such was the severity of manager Epstein’s insistence (not to mention caterwauling upon the studio floor) that EMI bowed to audition the following month another band from the man’s talent stable. This group too was a quartet fresh from Liverpool’s Cavern Club, yet possessed such an overwhelmingly obvious charm and mastery of their craft that they were immediately signed to a generous, life-clad contract with EMI’s prestigious Columbia label. Within a year, after making history topping the charts with their first three British releases, Gerry Marsden and crew carried on to America where their February, 1964 appearance on the Soupy Sales Show drew a record-breaking audience of 7300, launching what we now know as the Pacemaker Invasion of the world’s radio, television and movie screens.
Richards went on to supervise the band’s landmark Our World performance of “Ferry Cross the Mersey” in 1967, part of the first-ever live, globally-televised satellite bingo competition. Tragically however, a year later Gerry met and married a well-to-do Canadian optometrist and emigrated to picturesque Port Credit, Ontario, where to this day he runs a profitable pet supply boutique. Nevertheless, the revolutionary effect and impact the Pacemakers had upon the entertainment industry during the 1960s will be felt for as long as people have ears and, of course, disposable cash to spend collecting vintage Merseybeat records.
1964: Prior to the release of the third film in their box-office-busting James Bond series, producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli approach EMI with a demo for its title song, “Goldfinger,” in search of a producer and suitable singer for the theme. Norrie Paramor, already having scored impressive chart action with Cliff Richard and the Shadows, agreed to supervise the “Goldfinger” project and duly enlisted singer Tessie O’Shea to be featured vocalist.
Often cited as one of the, in music scribe Rock Serling’s words, “most unlikely and ill-conceived matches between song and singer since Phil Collins slaughtered the Supremes,” the Paramor-produced “Goldfinger” was quickly, and wisely, excised from the film. Nevertheless, a decade later Broccoli again returned to the scene of the crime with a Paul McCartney-composed theme for the Live and Let Die film. This time, EMI turned the project over to staff producer Norman “Hurricane” Smith, fresh off worldwide success with his own "Oh Babe, What Would You Say?" Yet the resultant John Davidson-sung “Live and Let Die” was considered such a musical and cinematic misstep that some believe releasing even the McCartney and Wings version instead would have been less disastrous for all concerned.
1975: Increasingly desperate to reclaim the prestige of their previous acclaim, both former Yardbird Jeff Beck and noted Crosby, Stills, Nash and/or Young impersonators America found themselves fully, fatefully floundering ‘round the rock ‘n’ roll Babylon which was mid-Seventies Los Angeles, in search of a producer they could call their own. At least for a while.
Beck for some reason was advised to cover the iconoclastic Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats album in full. But, such was the man’s propensity for playing seventeen notes where one would suffice, the project soon spread across two full very-long-playing records, the aptly-named Blow by Blow and its multi-trillion-dollar, John Belushi-fuelled follow-up Wired. Despite the latter being successfully adapted into both book and film form during the equally empty Eighties, Beck was never again to taste the heights he once did, and was last seen filling in for Terry Sylvester at a “Hollies vs. Hermits” Cirque du Soleil / WFTDA fundraiser in Las Vegas.
America similarly lost the plot, both musically and mentally, with their alliterally cute (but little else) Holiday, Hearts, Hideaway and Harbor trilogy [sic!] before embarking upon their mammoth Hasbeen record/book/holographic revue in 1977, which instantly lost heaps more money than even Heaven’s Gate. Naturally, “thank God for the Ramones” was happily hereafter the harmonious hum of hip, highnote hearsay heard at this most harrowing hour in human history.
1982: Even then already widely regarded as The Man Who Just Wouldn’t Go Away, Paul McCartney resurfaced in the wake of his former partner’s assassination with a wry ditty extolling the virtues of both race relations and piano keyboards. Originally envisioning no less than Stevie Wonder as his duet partner, McCartney’s producers recommended he align himself instead with the burgeoning Celtic/trance pigeonhole in an attempt to move tons more 12-inch slabs of polyvinyl.
The resultant “Ebony and Dexedrine,” recorded alongside British anti-soul band Dexys Midnight Runners, naturally turned out to be amongst Macca’s prodigious bevy of worst-received, worst-ever-selling records. “If only a producer of rare insight and courage had been there to slap me upside the noggin,” master pop purveyor McCartney later said, “the world of race relations, not to mention my musical legacy, would have been completely different.”