Martin draws unlikely stars for Beatle covers

New disc features Connery, Williams, Dion, others

Nobody sings “Hello, Goodbye” on “In My Life,” the disc of superstar recordings that sends Beatles producer George Martin into retirement, yet the song’s sentiment washes over the entire project. Esteemed musicians, actors and singers, many meet-ing the 70-year-old Martin for the first time, tackle rock music’s most-fabled canon with the man who guided John, Paul George and Ringo from rough Chuck Berry covers to the extravagantly orchestrated “Sgt. Pepper” and “Abbey Road.”

The disc boasts major names performing classic tracks: Jim Carrey does “I Am the Walrus,” Celine Dion warbles “Here, There and Everywhere,” Jeff Beck takes his guitar to “A Day in the Life”; and Phil Collins multi-tracks “”Golden Slumbers.” All of which certainly played into MCA’s decision to pick up the U.S. rights from the U.K. indie Echo to release the disc Stateside Oct. 20.

But the presence of Carrey and other unlikely singers — Robin Williams, Goldie Hawn and Sean Connery — could give the impression this is headed for inclusion in a 21st century “Golden Throats” collection, Rhino’s series dedicated to less-than-enticing vocalizing from celebrities.

“That’s why we have to educate the general public about who George Martin is and show this is a light-hearted take on the Beatles music. It boils down to event marketing,” says Jeremy Hammond, MCA’s VP/marketing director. “Our approach is to start connecting the dots — these are Beatles songs, produced by the Beatles producer and features an unparalleled collection of stars.”

Coming at a time when all-star tributes have waned, Hammond states, “having George Martin involved adds tremendous credibility.”

Hammond’s marketing strategy started in August with a presentation from Martin to Universal Music’s national sales and distribution team at a confab in Cleveland. MCA is targeting fans of Celine Dion and the Beatles through direct mail; a two-song sampler of the Carrey and Beck tracks are being serviced to rock radio.

Television, however, is the main focus: “Entertainment Tonight” will have a piece in September, PBS is doing an artist profile on Martin, talkshow TV appearances by Beck and classical guitarist John Williams are in the discussion stages and, most significantly, on Nov. 12 Bravo will air the BBC docu on the making of the record. (Following its showing on BBC2, the disc leapt to No. 3 from No. 22 in England).

“People in England, at least, love behind the scenes (pictures),” Martin told Daily Variety. “They like to see stars behave in an ordinary way.”

More than toast the Beatles, Martin says of the disc, “It’s celebrating interesting people. I feel responsible as part proprietor for the Beatles music, but we’re not here preserving it. The Beatles records are for that.”

Martin started the project with some friends and came to invite “his heroes” as well — until he had a cast that, one could say, paralleled his career of producing comedy, classical, pop and the ambitious rock-jazz-classical fusion of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. (He considers Mahavishnu’s “Apocalypse” the album he is most proud of.) He chose to release the disc on Echo Records in the U.K. in March — it is still in the top 25 on the independent LP charts — and began looking for a U.S. distrib late last year. MCA started showing interest in February.

As for the Beatles’ reaction, Martin says, “Ringo loved it. Paul’s only comment was there aren’t enough McCartney songs. I told him we were trying to avoid the obvious ones of Lennon-McCartney. ‘The truth is yours are the ones that got played.’ ”

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