The late George Martin will always be best remembered for his legendary work with The Beatles from 1962 to 1970, but the distinguished producer’s career hardly began or ended with the Fab Four. Among the most interesting professional relationships of Martin’s life was the one he had with brilliant, erratic comedian Peter Sellers. Martin produced numerous recordings for Sellers from the late 1950s to the mid-’60s, the very era during which Sellers was coming into his own as a performer and star. Spurred by his success as a cast member of radio’s anarchic The Goon Show, which aired on the BBC Home Service from 1951 to 1960, Sellers branched out with some innovative solo comedy recordings, including both songs and sketches, on the Parlophone label. Immaculately produced, these tracks showcase Sellers at his best, with the versatile comedian often playing multiple roles with ease. An early satire of rock music, “So Little Time,” has been cited by Michael McKean and Christopher Guest as an important early influence on Spinal Tap.
Martin’s producing acumen can also be heard on “A Common Entrance,” a 1959 bit in which Sellers portrays a father looking for a good boarding school to which he can send his sensitive son.
When Sellers chose The Beatles themselves as satirical targets in 1964, producer Martin was right there with him. The comedian’s dark, utterly berserk take on “She Loves You,” done in the style of his title character from Dr. Strangelove, features the “Pilgrim’s Chorus” from Wagner’s Tannhäuser playing faintly in the background.
Sellers’ less sinister but still deconstructionist take on “A Hard Day’s Night,” again produced by Martin, was a Top 20 U.K. hit in December 1965. Reciting the lyrics in the manner of Laurence Olivier as Richard III, Sellers promoted the record with an appearance on a Granada television special called The Music Of Lennon & McCartney.
Sellers’ biggest hit on the U.K. charts, however, came in 1960 in the form of a flirty duet with Sophia Loren, his co-star in The Millionairess. Recorded at Abbey Road Studios with Martin at the helm, “Goodness Gracious Me” was a Top 5 smash. Sellers, soon to become romantically obsessed with Loren, was initially quite reluctant to record the sexy novelty song with the Italian actress. According to Roger Lewis’ The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers, it was Martin himself who “dragged” the comedian into the studio to record it on a Saturday morning. The producer had an uncanny sixth sense when it came to hit songs, and he wasn’t about to let this one get away.