George Martin - the finest album I've ever made

George Martin's production credits include all the Beatles' masterpieces except Let It Be. He has worked with other artists ranging from the Mahavishnu Orchestra to Celine Dion and Elton John. So ask any rock fan to name the finest George Martin album and the answer is very likely to be Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band or another classic from the charts. But legend has it that the man himself chose as the finest album he ever made a little known LP recorded by a pioneering American ensemble five years after Sgt. Pepper.

Despite the celebrity endorsement the Paul Winter Consort's 1972 Icarus remains almost unknown to the extent that it is currently not available on CD. Yet you only need listen to the first few tracks to realise that not only is this a truly great album, but it is also the fountain from which flowed a lot of influential music trends that are still around today. George Martin's production credit coupled with this personnel listing gives an idea of the sheer inventiveness of Icarus:

The Consort
Paul Winter - soprano sax, vocals
David Darling - cello, vocals
Paul McCandless - oboe, English horn, contrabass Sarrusophone, vocals
Ralph Towner - classical guitar, 12-string guitar, piano, Regal, bush organ, vocals
Herb Bushler - bass
Collin Walcott - conga, tabla, mridangam, surdos, traps, kettledrums, bass marimba, sitar

Friends of the Consort
Andrew Tracey - resonator guitar, voice
Billy Cobham - traps
Milt Holland - Ghanaian percussion
Larry Atamanuik - traps
Barry Altschul - random percussion

Janet Johnson, Paul Stookey, Bob Milstein - voices

Despite the low profile of Icarus several individual tracks have gone on to become classics including the title cut and The Silence of a Candle, both penned by Ralph Towner, and Paul McCandless' timeless All the Mornings Bring. Like the Beatles, The Paul Winter Consort contained more talent than it could safely hold and Paul McCandless and the late and great Collin Walcott broke away to form Oregon and in 1978 Wallcott went on to form Codona. Today the Paul Winter Consort continues to make music and release albums under the leadership of its eponymous founder. Read more on Collin Walcott and Codona in my 2009 post.

* Band listing comes from Paul Winter's World of Living Music which is rich in resources.

** Paul Stookey contributes vocals on the final track. Stookey was the 'Paul' of the legendary folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary.

*** I deliberately use the wording "legend has it that the man himself chose as the finest album he ever made...". This is because I always try to double-check sources. There are a number of reference to the George Martin quote but I cannot find confirmation of the source. If any reader can help I will make the appropriate changes.

**** But there is a very interesting interview with George Martin about working with the Paul Winter Consort here. It includes the apocryphal story that an audio cassette of Icarus was left on the surface of the moon by a NASA astronaut.

***** Synchronicity (or something): George Martin also produced Elton Johns' 1997 hit Candle in the Wind.

****** Now read about what Glenn Gould dubbed "The best damn record we ever made".

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Michael Murie said…
Interesting article; I'd never heard of the album.

I checked George Martins book "All You Need Is Ears" and lo and behold, in chapter 13 he writes:

The album was called Icarus, and was, I think, the finest record I have ever made. It didn't sell particularly well, but a lot of people took notice of it. And it had one special distinction. The title song, 'Icarus', also went out as a single, and David Durling's brother gave a copy to one of the Apollo crews.
That was how it came to be the first record taken to the moon, though I don't think they had the facilities for playing it!

He also mentions earlier that the cellist David Darling had a brother who was a "space scientist" at Cape Kennedy.

It should be noted that in the 270 page book, he actually only devotes three or four paragraphs to it, and the book was written in 1978/9, so he may have changed his opinion since then...

Also, George Martin did produce The White Album (actually called The Beatles) , it was the album Let It Be that he did not produce.
Murai said…
I had the enormous pleasure of hearing them live my freshman year of college in 1977 for what I THINK was the Common Ground tour. It was amazing and Susan Osborne's voice was magnificent. I have loved them ever since. So happy to see them get recognition as they are woefully under appreciated. If you ever have the chance to see them live, please do so. And take the whole family, it's a grand experience.
Pliable said…
Updated tribute to Sir George Martin here ~

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