A Brief Review of buying Beatles stuff
I have alluded to several books on this blog and so, with Christmas long gone and books, book tokens, book sales and replacements being favoured activities here are some thoughts about books and buying Beatles stuff in. Since I first wrote this blog Mark Lewisohn has published his new meisterwerk Tune-In (2013), which covers everything you ever wanted to know about the Beatles up to Love Me Do. Not only is it a real work of scholarship that moves past the errors in earlier works (by others) to provide both a definitive and balanced account of the flaming pie that gave us The Beatles but it is a is now the key text for fans as he has interviewed many of them to help contextualise the narrative. I will be rereading it for pleasure.
Records; Of course I am assuming that you will have already gotten the remasters, a key topic of this blog, and they produce a great narrative of Beatle life, but if not I would recommend the following five albums in order.
4) Rubber Soul; great folk-rock influenced epic by Dylan & Crosby as they lift off (with one last blast of misogyny)
5) Abbey Road; the most polished and 21st century sounding of their albums; White Album Part 2 meets Love Part 1
Acidheads, mellotron-freaks and prog-revivalists (hello Italy!) should head to the Magical Mystery Tour for a breakfast of semolina pilchards and an English tan. A painless MashUp of all things Beatles for the kids is the wonderful Love! The show in Las Vegas is worth seeing too; it feels just like sitting next to Ringo in Abbey Road studio 2 as the music is from the master tapes :-)
Before I wrote this blog I thought there were only two Beatles book that anyone would ever need and they were both British. Ian McDonald’s “Revolution In The Head” and Mark Lewisohn’s “The Complete Beatles Studio Recording” (now out of print) which both put you at the centre of The Beatles world in the 1960s. Perhaps that is still all that you will ever need to read however recent American scholarship and enthusiasm pretty much trumps those two, in my opinion. Yes I can’t believe it either! So what are the other books worth buying?
FACTUAL Beatles Books
Lewisohn himself has moved beyond The Studio recordings with The Complete Beatles Chronicle, but for sheer detail has indeed been trumped by John C. Winn’s two magisterial, unbelievable books, That Magic Feeling 1966-1970 and Way Beyond Compare 1957-1965. Every single media output The Beatles were ever involved in recording has been sourced, listened to, referenced, annotated and situated in time. A truly great work of reference and, if you are a fan, more memories than you ever thought you could be interested in; buy once and read forever.
ANALYSIS of Beatles Music
If you have read McDonald you will still enjoy Tim Riley’s Tell Me Why, every song discussed and analysed by a music-loving commentator, along with their solo careers as well. As with all the books listed here it will send you back to the music, lovely! Some comments I disagree with but so what, a labour of love and a pleasure to read. If you have a sound system next to your toilet then it makes an ideal toilet read.
Actually in terms of Analysis then Kenneth Womack (note the name) in Long And Winding Roads provides an analysis of the Beatles artistic worth and is absolutely fascinating. Certainly a worthy follow up to McDonald and if combined with Riley actually covers McDonald’s ground with more depth and greater reflection. No wonder McDonald is discounted at Amazon! The competition has moved on past the Brits, who are now references for the newer works; which are awesome.
Actually I’ve just re-read this blog post and realise I haven’t adequately praised the two-volume The Beatles as Musicians by Walter Everett. This was because it is a musicological analysis. However it is loving, detailed, informative and deep. If you like your Beatles serious this is great.
BIOGRAPHY; Beatles & Fifth Beatles
Lots of interesting biographies but I am increasingly of the opinion that they are often unreliable witnesses. Fortunately Mark Lewisohn is putting that right with the official Beatles biography All The Years, Part 1 Tune-In is now out. Massively researched and magisterial. For example his tracking of the sales of Love Me Do shows that it wasn’t hyped by Epstein but had a life of its own appropriate to its time in 1962 and reached 40,000 sales, of which Epstein & NEMS were responsible for 10,000 on Merseyside (where it did reach Number 1).
Perhaps the most ill-served is George Martin in All You Need is Ears, although it is a must-read. Written early on and quickly it is often factually incorrect but his opinions are fascinating and his experience is obviously really valuable. I suggest that his son Giles sits down with him NOW and gets the Authorised Version sorted. Give them a million pounds someone! Actually more interesting to me, if from a lesser figure than Martin, is Geoff Emerick’s Here There and Everywhere. A studio wonderkid (“Golden Ears”) he was there for Revolver and Pepper and he is really interesting on the hands-on stuff he was actually involved in, which was much less than George Martin. I would like Martin and Son to work the same trick as Miles and McCartney in Many Years From Now. This is a fascinating ramble across the great man’s career, full of great nuggets and Miles was there for much of it too, brilliant. Julia Baird’s Imagine This is as highly rated as a book about Lennon’s early life as is the film Nowhere Boy, and this is the book that they love in Liverpool. Has the look and feel of the film Backbeat, which brilliantly captured Lennon’s entanglement with a black-haired artist before he found his creative way back to McCartney. Like a true heutagogue Lennon was always like a moth before a creative flame…
I think the Beatles story provides a particularly wonderful post-war European narrative, which Philip Norman covers well in John Lennon, yet I really like American Bob Spitz’s The Beatles Biography even if it patronises Liverpool and this side of the pond somewhat. Apart from anything else he put the eyework in and sourced lots of interesting interviews concerning the pre-fame Beatles. And he correctly identified their breakthrough moment and writes a great chapter about the Litherland Ballroom Concert; which was the Ed Sullivan moment for teens on Merseyside. Larry Kane’s Ticket to Ride about The Beatles in the USA covers their early tours as an insider, and let’s you see why the hormones of 64 turned into the protests of 68. But these have been trumped by Tim Riley’s Lennon; The Man The Myth, The Music. As a fan and music expert his writing on the Beatles music is even better than Tell Me Why and it is the first book by an American author to really understand the British context from which the Beatles music emerged which I tried to capture in 63/68 A Visceral History.
Other Books worth buying and to be discussed include; the brand new Cambridge Companion (Womack), The Beatles in London, Cant Buy Me Love, Norwegian Wood (Novel), The Beatles as Musicians, The Restless Generation (Frame), Perfecting Sound Forever, Remake/Remodel, and much more…
Backbeat, Nowhere Boy, oh and Hard Days Night, HELP!, Yellow Submarine, Magical Mystery Tour, can I get a copy of Let It Be please?
This post was originally a Page on this site, but has been updated because of interest on Quora.com. I will continue adding links and updating it over the next couple of weeks. There is a new and current discussion on best Beatles books on the Guardian website September 29 2012.