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- The Beatles, “Let It Be,” and “Get Back”: “Trying to Deceive”? - October 22, 2021
I‘m thinking about which Beatles books are essential because I moved last week and was confronted by the sheer volume of tomes I possess about the band (not to mention the ridiculous number of books about other subjects . . . .) So here’s my list of the ten Beatles reference books I pull off the shelf most often—the ones I’d put in the box if I could take only one box of Beatles books with me on my next move. Hey Dullblog readers, I’d love to see your lists as well.
[Note: These are listed in no particular order, since it became clear I could spend a whole day moving books up and down the list. So all these just get the “essential reference” tag.]
The Beatles, Anthology. For getting the story (various slants and all) from the folks the rest of the books are about.
Mark Lewisohn, The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions. Nothing like learning how things played out at Abbey Road day by day.
Bruce Spizer. Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records and The Beatles on Apple Records. All Spizer’s descriptive, lavishly illustrated discographies are definitive and fun to read.
Ian MacDonald, Revolution in the Head. A song-by-song look at the complete works, with some of the best musical analysis of the band ever written. Even when I disagree with MacDonald, I learn from him.
Tim Riley, Tell Me Why. It’s instructive to read Riley’s song-by-song criticism next to MacDonald’s. Both books are excellent.
William J. Dowlding, Beatlesongs. Concise look at facts related to the songs: when recorded, chart action (if any), authorship, etc. Quoted comments about the songs from the band, George Martin, and others are a great addition.
Steve Turner, A Hard Day’s Write. This look at the songs is less exhaustive than MacDonald’s or Riley’s and more impressionistic than Dowlding’s. Turner writes well, and the photos make this a visual guide to the band’s look at the time each song was written.
Barry Miles, The Beatles Diary. Slightly (but only slightly) edges Lewisohn’s The Complete Beatles Chronicle for me. The illustrations and quotations make this day-by-day account lively.
Mojo/DK, The Beatles: Ten Years That Shook the World. The dark horse on this list—I find not so many people are familiar with it—this is an extremely well-done compendium of pieces about various aspects of the band and its history, done on a year-by-year basis. Well worth seeking out.
In His Own Write and A Spaniard In The Works.
Also, a slim paperback called The Man Who Gave The Beatles Away
– Hologram Sam
@Hologram Sam – What about Skywriting by Word of Mouth?
Sam, I was kind of fudging by specifying “reference” books, and saving biography/narrative books for another list. Says a lot about how many books I have, I know.
I’ve got to look up “The Man Who Gave the Beatles Away.” I’d heard of it before, but have never read it.
“The Man Who Gave The Beatles Away” is a funny, sad book by the guy who was the inspiration for the short, grumpy manager in the Hard Days Night movie (“Stop being taller than me!”
The book sounds like it was dictated all in one night in a boozy liverpool pub. Because he was there at the beginning of the lads’ career, he is never in awe of them. Instead, they come across as fussy, sarcastic teenagers rather than the living legends portrayed in so many bios. Some great photos from the early days, and stories about other bands who burned out and sank into obscurity.
I love the scene at the end of the book, when the author shows up during the concert for Bangaladesh and begs George and Ringo for some cash for tapes he has discovered. Even though they are now superstars, he still relates to them like it’s 1961, and they respond in the same way. George even tells him that no one else in the world would have the nerve to talk to them like that.
– hologram sam
“Recording the Beatles” by Kevin Ryan & Brian Kehew. Exhaustive chronicle of the equipment and process for making the recordings. $100 book, but if you like details it’s a lot of fun
“You Never Give Me Your Money” – Doggett
Really, really good book for us fans/diehards/stalkers/BeatleNerds. Many details I had never heard before, especially regarding the post-breakup years.
Good list. The only book I really don’t like on your list is Tim Riley’s Tell Me Why. There are some sloppy mistakes in that book. For example, Riley says John’s mom was run over by a bus (it was a car), he credits the guitar solo on Taxman to George (everyone knows it was Paul), etc. Those are just embarrassing errors that anyone writing on the Beatles should know.
Plus Riley is clearly a Lennon fan and it’s irritating to see him repeatedly invest John’s songs with more intellectual meaning and weight than Paul’s songs. Of course John-oriented critics (and too many male music critics are John-oriented; critics tend to be a very insular bunch marching in lockstep) do that ALL the time: They take a nonsense song written by John and pore over it for meaning and clues, but they take a nonsense song written by Paul and just call it a nonsense song. Or they take the detailed imagery of Strawberry Fields Forever and call it “psychedelic” and they take the detailed imagery of Penny Lane and see only “nostalgia.” Very annoying.
But I agree with you on many of your choices. Besides The Beatles Anthology (the band’s story as they wanted it told), I also constantly turn to Revolution in the Head, Lewisohn’s books, and to Barry Miles’ various books (not just Beatles Diary but his McCartney biography and his most recent book on The British Invasion.)
It’s too bad the book that was published about George Harrison to coincide with the Scorsese documentary is so thinly researched with so little new information and very little information at all. It’s mostly just a nice photo book. That seemed like a missed opportunity for the Harrison family since that book could have been a good reference about George and his music.
P.S. The best Beatles biography, IMO, is Can’t Buy Me Love, by Jonathan Gould. It’s a great read that manages to combine the sociology of the times (and how the Beatles fit into the era) with analysis of the music and a history of the band. He plays no favorites and doesn’t trade in repeating the same old gossip we’ve read before.
But I’m looking forward to Mark Lewisohn’s three-part history of the band.
Feel fortunate having to lug all those books around: I recently lost my voluminous Beatles book collection in a house fire. Sure, many were old and dog-eared (Recording Sessions, Beatles Forever), but I miss not being able to reach for one of them when I want to.
Ironically, the one book that did survive was “The Unreleased Beatles” by Unterberger. Ironic since I also lost my huge Beatles bootleg collection!!
Just a reminder to cherish what you have!
David, I’m so sorry you lost your books! I do feel fortunate to have so many, even as it’s clear I need to purge some.
I sent in a couple of posts with my favorite Beatles reference books (and my thoughts on some of the books on your list here and it ever got posted.
(insert sad face here.)
Did the posts not go through? Or did I say something inappropriate for publication?
Yes, Drew, I found your use of the word “the” extremely offensive. This site has certain rules, people, and one of them is we don’t use “the.” Anytime you’ve seen it on HD, it has been auto-added by spellchecker.
Whenever anyone posts or comments, I (usually) get an email. Sometimes I don’t, and if you comment and don’t see it in 24 hours, do what Drew did and comment again. I didn’t get notifications from his earlier comment, but I did get one from this one.
As soon as I finish production on Downturn Abbey (Kickstart is here, YAY: http://kck.st/TKfmST), I’m going to start moving HD to WordPress. It will look different but work a lot better.
One addition, perhaps, to the list we’re building: back when I had money to spend on such things, I bought a very nice book called “Beatles: The Complete Scores,” which was reputed to be the most accurate transcription of the music as it was played. Can any musicians out there confirm this?
Just so everybody knows: I have trashed less than ten comments in the history of the site. One called Yoko the c-word, a few criticized posts here in a disrespectful manner, and the others were obvious spam. Otherwise, it’s all good. Oh, except for all the people who think the White Album is better than Magical Mystery Tour, all those get trashed immediately.
Kidding, folks, just kidding. 🙂
the complete scores book is the only one of its kind; once you step off that ledge, you start hitting the fake books and the hal leonard simplified arrangements books (“for piano and vocal”) on your way down. so, in that sense, it’s invaluable for scholarship. I own a copy.
however, it’s worth pointing out that there are numerous errors in the book. some of them don’t affect the music (“steal guitar”), but others have the potential to lead beginning/intermediate musicians down the wrong path. drive my car is a good example of this: the transcriber misinterpreted the pickup at the beginning as a downbeat and so turned the intro into 9/8 to make it fit in. good luck playing it as written and making it sound like the record–in reality, it’s just 4/4 with a pickup. these kind of careless issues ultimately suggest an unfortunate lack of revision. it’s also possible that the errors were introduced deliberately in order to expose potential copyright violation, an old cartographic trick that sometimes makes its way into the world of music publishing.
I usually advocate for would-be beatles players to listen and figure out the parts on their own. there really isn’t anything in their music that a transcriptionist could figure out more readily than another musician listening at home, and there aren’t any passages so complex that a transcription would save a great deal of time (as would be the case with, say, a Bird solo). plus, it’s a great way to learn a thing or two from the brilliance of their songwriting and the gestalt effect of their work.
Skywriting By Word Of Mouth: it sits in my bookshelf with the other Lennon books, although it lacks the charm and coherency of his other work. It contains an amusing slap at the author of “Howl” and a brief mention of Hunter Thompson. The rest of it is somewhat tiresome; I doubt Lennon would have approved of its release, it seems more like something that seemed like a good idea to Yoko.
– Hologram Sam
Many thanks for the recommendation of The Beatles: Ten Years That Shook the World.
I had never heard of this and found it for a reasonable price on Amazon. Quite dense and it took more than a few very enjoyable evenings to work through. The reward, however, was a trove of photos that I had not seen elsewhere and that put a face to many of the names in the Beatles saga.
I found some of the photos to be quite poignant. The shot of John on page 379 reflects, perhaps more than any other in my memory, the incredible transformation from the Help/Revolver era John to the 1969 version. While the one of Paul on page 387 provides the visual image that it was all coming to a close.
Again, many thanks for the vector to this one. It is indeed a keeper.
This has nothing to do with this work per se, but when I look at those early days I wonder what would have happened had the four somehow encountered Joe Meek. Not saying it would have been good, but I do think John and Joe might have had a good chat at the least as Joe was, like John, seemingly in search of sounds that were not yet in the musical vocabulary.
Can you snap the Lennon photos for us, @Neal?
It’s available to borrow on archive.org (though it seems to be quite a dark scan).
p 372 has a photo from a wonderful sequence where Paul scrambles over a desk to sit next to John. It also solves the mystery of why there is a curved section missing from that shot in the sequence on all the scans on the internet: it’s part of the graphic design on that page.
Thank you for the archive.org suggestion meaigs.
I’ll look through and add a few more of Paul to the Dropbox link I posted. It’s quite a visually rich book.
Can you snap the Paul photos for us, Neal? 😉
This link should work: https://www.dropbox.com/scl/fo/2ad52wtsyhhj4eydivvbt/h?dl=0&rlkey=o16e0wxptuld41ape58am12sk
I had not seen the two of John in 1969–the one with Yoko and the one in which he is glancing to the right. The book is laid out year by year and the when it reached 1969 it really struck me, after having looked at the other well-known pictures from earlier years (also in the Dropbox folder) how much John had changed. Sure he was growing up and older, but the disappearance of that smile in his eyes was, to me, more shocking than I had seen in other contemporary pics. To think this was just 24 months distant from the Pepper era. The one from 1974 has him looking much better but I will concede that while the camera might not be doing him a favor in ’69, it did in ’74.
The other one that I mentioned might also be well-known to the Beatles community but was new to me. This is the one of them sitting at the table at John’s home. The look on Paul’s face simply speaks volumes. Who can even try to guess the weight on his shoulders at that moment. Everyone gets tired and worn down, but that is a look far beyond mere fatigue. Is the 1970 view of him standing against the wall is, given what we know now, perhaps a metaphor for what he was feeling?
Perhaps I am reading too much into these shots, but this was knowing what was going on in their lives at the time it is hard not to draw some meaning from them.
I will page through again and see if there were any that were so striking.
Thanks, Neil. I don’t think you could possibly be reading anything into those photos that isn’t there — the tension and despair and exhaustion radiates, how could it not?…. it hurts my heart to look at it, actually. 🙁
I appreciate you uploading. I’m in search of a specific photo of Paul and John recording Rubber Soul that I want for the wall of my studio and it seems the only way to get it is to find the original printed source. I’ve been through multiple photo books on Amazon with no luck. So I’m always alert to new possibilities, as the quest continues.
For reference, this is the photo I’m looking for a hard copy of: http://faithmichelecurrent.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/202671968-256-k470524.jpg
I THINK it’s them recording Rubber Soul, but I’m not sure.
I think you might be very close on your conclusion that your picture comes from the Rubber Soul recording. I uploaded another picture from the book that I labeled “Paul Rubber Soul.” I admit the quality is poor, but if one looks closely one can see that Paul is wearing the same high-collar/turtleneck shirt in both pictures. The one I posted with Paul and the two Georges is stated as being during the Rubber Soul recordings.
Also, if you look at Paul’s hair, there is a great deal of similarity. A small point I know, but their styles changed subtlety every couple of months or so and in these two pics they look the same.
Would my guess hold up in a court of law? Perhaps not, but I just see a great deal that makes me think these two photos were taken within a month, if not closer, of each other.
btw, I also put a picture of Mick Jagger in their who is doing a cracking good impression of Boris Johnson 50 years before Bojo became PM–cuffed links, hair, and facial expressions included!
Thank, Neal. Yeah, for all kinds of reasons it feels like Rubber Soul. Now I just have to FIND the thing in print so I can frame it in my studio… I suppose I’ll keep buying Beatles photo books… oh, the inhumanity of being forced to look at photo upon photo of Paul and John…. LOL
According to the Facebook page The Beatles Recording (https://www.facebook.com/BeatlesRecording/photos?tab=albums) — which has a trove of photos of the group at sessions, organized by date — this photo was taken on November 3, 1965, while they were recording Michelle.
See an uncropped version here: https://www.facebook.com/BeatlesRecording/photos/a.678936245559919/2191989554254573
And many other photos from the same session: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.678936245559919&type=3
That FB page points to this site as a source, and they do offer prints for sale: http://www.beatlesbookphotolibrary.com/?fbclid=IwAR2MaaQW7pqyJ-kCRL1oHzIEAXoe1jnIKS2SNcE32LxMG5EiAeH8ANwXHz4
The photo you want is the first one on this page:
Request prints here: http://www.beatlesbookphotolibrary.com/image-enquiry/?user=0&type=1
Thank you, Christine. I had checked that site and didn’t see that photo because I was looking for the cropped image and scanned too quickly.
The good news is I now at least know the details. The bad news is that they don’t seem to have prints available, despite the link and it looks like something of a dead/bogus website. (Note the placeholder titles for pages that come with a free wordpress site… I sent a message, but I’m skeptical anything will come of it.
That said, THANK YOU for digging it up. At least now when I keep looking through photo books, I have a better idea of which ones might contain that picture.
You’re welcome! Sorry that site’s a dud, but good luck finding it elsewhere!
What is it about this photo that you just have to have?
The gorgeous photo below is what John had on the wall of his studio. Maybe go with that?
I’ve never liked the Bailey session. Maybe it’s because I’m a former fashion photographer, but to me the posing feels awkward and forced. Neither of them (to me) look comfortable with one another or with Bailey, who as I recall said that the session was tense. (though I do love, so much that I can hardly stand it, that John had that photo on his wall, though, and that Paul has one of the two of them working on the Abbey Road medley on his wall at Cavendish.)
What is it about the other one that I covet? First, that it’s them composing — I’m a songwriter, so that has particular power for me as inspiration in my studio. I like that there’s an avant garde feel to it. I love the cigarette — they both looked SO sexy smoking… I love John looking at Paul the way he does. I love Paul staring at the camera with his insolent “bugger off, we’re working” look.
I love everything about it.
And does it go without saying that they both look sexy as hell?
But I’ve discovered it appears in a Beatles photo book (thanks to @Christine) and that it’s a crop of a wide shot, so tragically, it’s unlikely I’ll ever get the high res print of the crop that I long for. So instead, I settled for this, which I made myself out of two individual portraits from a Beatles photo book.
It’s not ideal — I’d much rather than the two of them together in one photo and writing together — but it gets pretty close to the vibe of the original.
I wouldn’t be averse to this one as an alternative/addition, but I have yet to find a print version of this one, or the book in which it appears….
It doiesn’t have the sex appeal or edge, but it’s still a favorite.
Well, anything with John wearing that suede jacket is sexy. Including the non-distorted version of the cover of Rubber Soul:
I think in ’65 they both looked incredible. I’m partial to this picture (Robert Whitaker is the photographer, if I’m not mistaken), and if you like smoking and working… [just forget it’s for a Christmas special]
John still had a smile in his eyes, if the occasion warranted it. He smiled plenty in the Get Back film. He just didn’t smile on cue like the moptops were expected to. He simply grew up which some can’t seem to accept. He was sexy as hell in ’74. Paul looks jilted in the last photo.
Lord/Lady have mercy!
Thanks for the eye feast, Michelle. That Baily pic of PaulandJohn, and JohnandPaul…Beautiful! I see why John had it on his studio wall. It’s stunning and packs a punch.
Just look at them. Both looking back at me… (& y’all too)… with unblinking, unflinching, gorgeousness and sex appeal that transcends space and time. They are both… just…”So Fine!”, (as mine would say), “Somebody turn on the air, it’s getting hot in here”!
Pardon my objectifying these two human beings, it’s noteworthy to mention that they wrote, played, and sang great songs too, that made and still make a lot of people happy, but Lady/Lord…Have Mercy!
Haha, you’re welcome Water Falls. They brought out the best in each other, in more ways than one!
My go to Beatle reference books are as follows:
-‘Power Bottom: The Life and Times of Brian Epstein, The Man Behind the Beatles’ by Albert Goldman, foreword by Pete Best.
-‘It’s Raining Men (and Boys!): My Secret Thai Getaway with John Lennon’ by Elliot Mintz, foreword by Albert Goldman.
-‘John Lennon, My Brother, Who I May or May Not Have Slept With’, by Paul McCartney with Geoffrey Giuliano.
-‘The Little Red Tractor That Huffed and Puffed’, by Ringo Starr
-‘I’m So Happy to Have Ringo As My Best Friend, and I Love Beatles So Much: A personal memoir’ by Mark Lewisohn
-‘The Necronomicon’ by Yoko Ono Lennon
-‘How to Cook Fort̶y̶ Humans’ by Linda McCartney
Now that’s a shelf, @Matt. I’d only add:
“The Spear of Destiny: The Holy Relic That Will Allow You to Conquer the World or Troll Paul Simon, Depending”