'Fifth Beatle' says that's a wrap

Famed producer says his work on 'Love' soundtrack, featuring the Beatles' catalog, will probably be his final effort as he nears the age of 81.

November 17 2006: 1:26 PM EST

LONDON (Reuters) -- It's the Beatles as you've never heard them before.

Legendary producer George Martin, dubbed the "fifth Beatle" for his work on their records, has won over critics with a daring new album based on the Fab Four's music, but at the age of 80 he is finally calling it a day.

"Love," a collaboration between Martin and his son Giles, is the soundtrack to a Cirque du Soleil Beatles show in Las Vegas.

Using the latest technology, the Martins have "layered" songs on to one another so that "Strawberry Fields Forever" also features elements of "Penny Lane" and "Hello, Goodbye," while "Come Together" is combined with "Dear Prudence."

The 26-track CD from EMI features only original Beatles music with the exception of George Martin's string arrangement for "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."

The first hurdle in fiddling with the fiercely protected Beatles legacy is to get the band's consent, meaning Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon's widow Yoko Ono and George Harrison's widow Olivia.

Sir George Martin with his son, Giles.

It is hard to imagine them giving permission to anyone other than George Martin.

"We started work having been asked by the Beatles and the first thing we did, we thought 'Let's find out where we're going'," he told Reuters in an interview.

"We produced a 13-minute tape of what we thought the show should sound like. We played it individually to Paul and Ringo, Yoko and Olivia, and to our surprise and also gratification they all loved it. They said it's fantastic, go ahead and do it."

He said all four would drop in on production sessions at the Abbey Road Studios in London where the Beatles recorded.

"They were intrigued, they were anxious. It was a collaborative process all the way through. They loved everything we did. I don't think we had anything turned down."

'Mess around'

McCartney said he encouraged the Martins to be as experimental as they dared.

"We encouraged them to mess around as much and more than they wanted," he said in a video prepared for Friday's launch of "Love" ahead of its release on Nov. 20. "The Beatles stuff getting showier and newer ... It's like magic."

Giles said the weight of responsibility was made easier by his father's presence.

"I could hide behind him when the flak started, and that made my job much easier, because otherwise it would have been an impossible task to come to Abbey Road and even touch a Beatles tape," he told Reuters.

Father and son believe "Love" reinforces the endurance of the Beatles, who continue to influence bands today.

When asked what he thought of Oasis, often compared to the Beatles, George replied: "They model themselves on the Beatles probably too much ... They are a very good group indeed but not as good as the Beatles."

George, who has poor hearing, said this was his last album.

"I've had a pretty good run I must say. I started with the Beatles in 1962 and they broke up around about 1970 so we had a long period of time together," he said.

"It is the last I should think I shall do, because in two months' time I will be 81 and I am thinking of taking early retirement."

He thought Lennon would have balked at the idea of allowing a Las Vegas musical with Beatles music, but that the end result would have won him over.

"John, for all his inventions was really quite conservative sometimes about taking leaps in the dark, particularly where showbiz was concerned. He wasn't a showbiz person, but he was a great character."

Reuters 2006