Beatles Books

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.

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 with Geoff Emerick.

3) Hard Days Night; Merseybeat in excelsis 5th Best British Rock Album according to Q in 2000 and composed entirely of Lennon-McCartney songs

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 🙂

BOOKS

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?  Read the rest of this entry »

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69; Been There – Done That!

Get Radical (Part 6 of Learning…With The Beatles)


The Art Collective known as The Beatles had released their masterpiece, now known as the White Album, but tellingly entitled The Beatles. This virginal white release signified their creative rebirth after Epstein’s death and the hat trick of experimentalist cartoon alter-egos they had donned in the mid-sixties. Having gone to India to clear their heads, regrouped unplugged with a broader group dynamic than ever before, they had amassed a huge swathe of songs and then recorded them, often as leader plus backing band. To me, along with opening Apple and signing and recording many other artists, this indicates that musically they had changed states for the third time. But this time we didn’t get it. Read the rest of this entry »

All You Need is Heutagogy

There’s nothing you can make that can’t be made.

No one you can save that can’t be saved.

Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you (It’s easy)

1! 2!! 3!!! 4!!!! was replaced by a woozy “a-one, a-two, a-three, a-four!” and the bass that inspired The Jam’s best track kicks in. The Beatles had replaced the urgent intro to the faux live show of Please Please Me with the lazy faux ambience of their studio recording. Presence, the Holy Grail of recording since Edison in 1888, was to be replaced with artifice. Revolver, what goes around, was to come around again, this time at the bidding of the artisans.

“It was like letting the workmen take over the factory,” said McCartney about Revolver two years before May 68, five years before Lennon supported the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in and ten years before the Lucas Aerospace Shop Stewards alternative Corporate Plan. But before they could run their own factory they needed yet another Fifth Beatle, the golden-eared wunder-kid Geoff Emerick who, as a nineteen year old studio engineer was promoted to work on Revolver. A fan, young and imbued with the shape-shifting sixties spirit, Emerick was to set up Abbey Road for recording in ways that were forbidden by EMI, but demanded by the Beatles. He miked McCartney’s bass with a loudspeaker on Taxman and told the stuffy classical string players on Eleanor Rigby to play loud.

Despite their productivity tending to support McCartney’s industrial assertion, The Beatles in fact turned Abbey Road into an Art School not a factory. A musical research lab for their creativity, just before Arts Labs, from which David Bowie would emerge, gained popular currency, along with the mid-sixties fad for multi-media happenings and various forms of experimental art. McCartney befriended the emerging leading lights of London counter-culture, Hopkins, Miles, Dunbar, supported the Indica Gallery and it, engaging with various tropes of the English counter-culture. Lennon, of course, was ready to Howl on a Daily basis if he could throw a Spaniard in The Works. So let’s get inside The Beatles creativity like Vpmatt on the Beatles most “experimental” track.   Read the rest of this entry »

Learning…With The Beatles

John, Paul, George and Ringo were musically self-taught but received detailed instruction in the arts of popular music, were completely ignored yet extravagantly supported, were outright copyists and extraordinarily original. They brought everything they had learnt to The Beatles and kept on learning.

They re-invented authentic pop music after “the day the music died” (Feb 3rd 1959) and went on to create a new template, what Rolling Stone called the “self-contained band“, which has dominated popular music ever since with little variation. Even in 2007, the digital age, when Radiohead elected to make In Rainbows freely available to download it was as an album; an art work still in the shadow of Sgt Pepper. Arguably Radiohead were trying to solve a business problem that The Beatles had failed to solve with Apple.

Analysing the break up of the Beatles in his book You Never Give Me Your Money, Peter Doggett writes that “together and alone, at odds and at one, the Beatles somehow managed to create and preserve music that is as enduring as their myth, perfectly encapsulating their own time and enriching every time to come”. My stories have been about encapsulating that time, the sixties, and now I want to propose a fresh understanding of that musical creativity to enrich our time.

The way the Beatles developed and grew both defined and liberated the decade for those who, like me, lived through it and grew up within its sashaying lineaments. They provided the ambient hooks of its soundtrack and were its standard bearers, surfacing a range of artistic, cultural, philosophical and political issues for us to engage with. Unlike the Rolling Stones, say, they made the sixties comprehensible for all, creating a fresh national sense of identity in the UK that helped us to both survive a decade-long Blitz of social change, and read the signs of the times; not least as they often wrote them.

I don’t think they were preternaturally talented, let alone gods descending upon us, which some American writing about the Beatles can seem to imply, nor do I think it tragic that they split up. They emerged at just the right time, lasted as long as they needed to and then split up at The End; sounding perfect forever.

I do think they were gifted, made the most of their abilities, learnt their craft together and, as Malcolm Gladwell points out in Outliers, emerged historically at just the time when they could. I am less interested in who was the most talented Beatle, rather more in how their history exemplifies Brian Eno’s observation that ‘perhaps every group of musicians should have written above them “This group is a musical instrument; treat it as such“.’ I think it is as such a group, a wonderfully creative group, that we can learn from them. Read the rest of this entry »

Home

Let It Be is the first Beatles album I heard historically rather than at the time. Ironically it was a contractual obligation soundtrack, which was exactly the kind of industry manoeuvre they seemed to have rendered redundant back in 1963, seven years earlier. My response at the time was that this was an expensive boxed set of left overs put together to promote a film I wouldn’t bother going to see.

I didn’t get to hear Let It Be as an album until two years later as my story explains. I was visiting South Wales miners in Maerdy, to report on the 1972 miners strike, and my colleague, friend and boss Terry had brought a tape of Let It Be to keep us company in the days when cars had no soundtrack beyond road noise. I wasn’t enamoured of playing music on the clunky Philips piano key mono tape player which we had at the time, but the long, low-slung journey needed something.

I was intrigued though. I’d loved the singles Get Back and Let It Be, which itself always seemed an appropriate end to the Beatles. But I was buying jazz and progressive rock at the time and preferred artists who played live. But here was an unheard Beatles album, which was interesting; very interesting! Fortunately the Beatles ability to create memorable harmonies cut through our lack of decent sound equipment and Let It Be become the backing track for the visit that weekend.

Read the rest of this entry »

Got To Be Free

1969. Groups had caught up with The Beatles, so many of them were releasing albums, and ambitious albums at that; the Sgt Pepper template was having an effect. New labels like Harvest were set up to exploit this and Island was growing its artistic dynasty, supergroups like Blind Faith were creating a new kind of musical offer and groups like The Who were taking Art School to the Opera. And all this after 1968 had seen an extra-ordinary flowering of live music across the UK on the new music circuit of Student Unions. They didn’t want variety they wanted rock. I went regularly to York University where a typical gig had four bands such as, Pink Floyd, Yes, Social Deviants and the Idle Race (Jeff Lynne), all on the same bill. Led Zeppelin picked up from Cream, I was obsessed with Jack Bruce, Jethro Tull had matured, the Moody Blues had gone progressive. Having a world class band on the top of their game encouraged the others, check Marmalade Skies for more info, but the Beatles were surrounded. I had just left school and my music tastes had changed. I now preferred live music, by real authentic musicians, who could play their albums live.

However the Beatles, as ever, scored a coup with the release of Abbey Road. They had it previewed on BBC2, on Late Night Line Up, a kind of suave version of That Was The Week That Was, the aesthete’s response to swingin London. And they had made a special film to accompany Abbey Road, which now seems to have been lost by the Beeb!

In a weird inversion of the first time my family sat down and watched the Beatles on the Royal Variety Show the eighteen year old me sat down and watched it with my Mum and Dad. They knew it was acceptable because it was on the “posh” station. This time my Dad didn’t get angry, he got bored, it was late night TV, pretty rare in those days. Mum faithfully kept me company as I watched the colour film in black and white; didn’t work for Magical Mystery Tour either. Kicking off with Come Together, which seems to get better over the years, Abbey Road would reveal itself as a grower. Read the rest of this entry »

And Then There Were Four

1968 was the year of revolutions which mostly failed. The Beatles started their own revolution; Apple Corps. Vanity label? Maybe, but as well as releasing their own records The Beatles were offering funds to kick start any creative artist and they began producing as well as writing for other artists. They kicked off this creative jamboree by playing Hey Jude live on the David Frost Show and releasing it as a single backed by the awesome Revolution. A group at the height of their powers? Sounds like it. Hey Jude was the best selling single of the year globally and remains a favourite of British fans; provocative and criticised at the time Revolution sounds like it’s reflections on 1968 were…well you know, we all want to change the world.

The White Album was the first album NOT to feature a group picture of the Beatles on its white, elegantly produced, Richard Hamilton sleeve; just four solo pictures of the boys looking very different and arty. I heard the album the day after it came out and my story is about that. George Martin first heard it when the Beatles turned up at Abbey Road with a tape prepared by the group at George’s house in May 68 containing 27 songs! They had 35 new songs altogether, it was Rishikesh Unplugged. The studio produced version starts off with the drivingly wonderful Beach Boys/Chuck Berry spoof Back In the USSR, which had them branded as Communists and was banned across large swathes of the USA; irony with harmony, and Paul on the drums.  Read the rest of this entry »

Let Me Take You Down

I was in the kitchen of our house in Germany, an Army Brat, when I heard the invitation for the first time. The transistor was on the mantlepiece in the main room and it pulled me right in and made me feel that Nothing is Real. This time it was more “bloody hell, this is the new Beatles single? Wow!” I don’t think any single Beatles track ever captured me with its imagery and its setting quite so thoroughly first time out. I leant against the mantelpiece listening attentively and was just about to move when the Ringo-driven coda kicked in. When I did finally move away from the fireplace I was dazed; not sure of what I had heard and wondering how I could hear it again. Almost five years of invention and this was, yet again, a completely new Beatles. Conversely, I remember Penny Lane lighting up the front room the following day back in February 1967 and being so breezy and clean that it made housework feel like fun.  

Read the rest of this entry »