A Brief Review of Beatles Books
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 buying books and real Beatles stuff.
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.
1) White Album; “the greatest group in the world at the height of their powers” Marmalade Skies
2) Revolver; when then they learnt to play the studio.
3) Hard Days Night; Merseybeat in excelsis 5th best British Rock Album according to Q entirely Lennon-McCartney
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 Cirque de Soleil 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 it too; like sitting next to Ringo in Abbey Road studio 2.
Before I wrote this 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!
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, and their solo careers too. As with all the books 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; awesome.
BIOGRAPHY; Beatles & Fifth Beatles
Lots of interesting biographies but I am increasingly of the opinion that they are often unreliable witnesses. 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 really valuable obviously. I suggest that his son Giles sits down with him and gets the Authorised Version sorted. Give them a million pounds someone! Actually far 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 stuff he was involved in, which was much less than George Martin overall but for more hands on when he was (Loudspeaker as microphone on Taxman!). 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. 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 as a whole provides a particularly wonderful post-war European narrative, which Philip Norman covers well in John Lennon. However he has recently been trumped by Tim Riley’s Lennon, because Riley is a music fan and Norman a newspaper journalist. I really like Bob Spitz’s The Beatles Biography even if it patronises Liverpool and this side of the pond because, 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 1960 Litherland Ballroom Concert; the Ed Sullivan moment for teenagers on Merseyside. Larry Kane’s Ticket to Ride about The Beatles in the USA covers their early tours as an insider; it let’s you see why the teen hormones of 64 turned into the student protests of 68…
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 (Pete Frame), Perfecting Sound Forever, Remake/Remodel, and much more…
Backbeat, Nowhere Boy, oh! & Hard Days Night, HELP!, Yellow Submarine, Magical Mystery Tour, of course
AND I get a copy of Let It Be please? With all the outtakes?
Updated Jan 5th 2013
Comments welcome or email me fred (.) garnett (@) gmail (.) com