The death, reported today, of celebrated music producer Sir George Martin at the age of 90 has quite rightly prompted a rash of glowing tributes to the man whose work in popular music and entertainment quite literally spanned a generation.
My own personal tribute was to note his status as the most successful record producer in British charts history, being at the console for more Number One hit singles than anyone else ever. Precisely how many that is however is something that over the years appears to have become victim to some slight embellishment.
The official total appears to be 30 Number One hit singles, a fact boldly trumpeted at the top of his Wikipedia entry. Only further down the page is this total properly cited, in his official biography on buried on the now ghost website of the William Morris talent agency who represented the producer towards the end of his life. Yet this total isn’t completely truthful, because based on official records there are actually only 28.
For the record, George Martin’s Number One hits in chronological order are:
You’re Driving Me Crazy (The Temperance Seven), 1961
How Do You Do It (Gerry and the Pacemakers), 1963
From Me To You (The Beatles), 1963
I Like It (Gerry and the Pacemakers), 1963
Bad To Me (Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas), 1963
She Loves You (The Beatles), 1963
You’ll Never Walk Alone (Gerry and the Pacemakers), 1963
I Want To Hold Your Hand (The Beatles), 1963
Anyone Who Had A Heart (Cilla Black), 1964
Little Children (Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas), 1964
Can’t Buy Me Love (The Beatles), 1964
You’re My World (Cilla Black), 1964
A Hard Day’s Night (The Beatles), 1964
I Feel Fine (The Beatles), 1964
Ticket To Ride (The Beatles), 1965
Help! (The Beatles), 1965
We Can Work It Out/Day Tripper (The Beatles), 1965
Paperback Writer (The Beatles), 1966
Eleanor Rigby/Yellow Submarine (The Beatles), 1966
All You Need Is Love (The Beatles), 1967
Hello Goodbye (The Beatles), 1967
Lady Madonna (The Beatles), 1968
Hey Jude (The Beatles), 1968
Get Back (The Beatles with Billy Preston), 1969
The Ballad of John and Yoko (The Beatles), 1969
Ebony and Ivory (Paul McCartney with Stevie Wonder), 1982
Pipes Of Peace (Paul McCartney), 1984
Candle In The Wind ’97 (Elton John), 1997
28 of them in total. The only way you get to 30 based on this list is to count the two double-sided Beatles singles as two recordings which I maintain is cheating. The one other possible explanation is that this total also takes into account the two bits of historical revisionism that the original Guinness chart books undertook in the 1970s when establishing the singles chart canon. In 1963 the NME charts listed both Please Please Me by The Beatles and Do You Want To Know A Secret by Billy J Kramer as Number One hits. The Record Retailer listings of the time demurred, as indeed now do the ‘official’ records. However if we overlook that detail and do indeed count them as Number One hits this duly takes Sir George Martin up to his historic total of 30.
Looking at the full list of chart-toppers it is only too apparent how mutually beneficial the relationship was between Martin and Brian Epstein. The svengali brought a hungry new star from Merseyside to London and George Martin put them on top of the charts. It really was that simple. Once Epstein scaled back his scouting activities to focus on his two biggest money spinners – Cilla and The Beatles – so too did the flow of George Martin Number One hits reduce to a steady drip of Beatles releases.
Nonetheless it is a record which stood the test of time and which was destined to outlive him. The competitive world of modern music means that whilst just once in a while there are producers whose flame burns white hot and whose work starts to guarantee their acts hits, they often fade away fast as the talent seeks to expand their horizons. Not even 21st century wonders such as Dr Luke or Calvin Harris have come close to matching Sir George Martin’s phenomenal singles chart track record. Whichever way you count them.