Friday, April 07, 2006

"Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book? It took me years to write, will you take a look...?

Ever since the nine-year-old me sat through a long-ish drive to Woburn Safari Park, with my parents pushing Rock'n'Roll Music - Volume One into the cassette player, there have been four people who have meant more to me than anyone beyond family.
Their names are John, Paul, George and Ringo.
And, yes, there was a "One-two-three-FOUR!" introduction involved.
I'm always instinctively suspicious of people who claim they don't like The Beatles.
Like grown men who insist they're not football fans, can't and won't understand the game indeed...
Weirdoes...
But since I started straggling together every stray copper, until I had enough to pay £5.99 for Rock'n'Roll - Volume Two or Beatles Ballads or - soon enough - proper, original albums-as-first-released, the Fab Four and pretty much all they spawned has been my happiest obsession.
I will even hurl myself into fevered defences of "Frog Song" Macca on occasion, though I shall restrain myself now.
But I did wonder, about a year-and-a-half ago, when ponderously moving home from Worthing to Barnet, whether my too-hefty book collection was perhaps a little too Beatle-heavy.
I could, in fact, fill a whole bookshelf with Beatles tomes, distinct entirely from the CD cabinet stuffed with Please Please Me to Abbey Road, Live At The Star Club to Anthology 3, All Things Must Pass to Chaos And Creation In The Backyard, Bossa Nova Beatles to The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash, bootlegs taking in Wings, the Travelling Wilburys, the All-Starr Band and etcetcetcetcetera...
And yet, and yet... I can't let any of them go.
And indeed, I can't keep adding to them.
My brother Noel, as part of his valedictory bridgegroomly speeches, handed each of his siblings a book token (nicely-judged - I'd have been desperately disappointed with flowers), and I set off for Waterstone's a few days later with full intentions to finally buy the Peter Cook anthology, Tragically I Was An Only Twin.
And yet, and yet... what catches my eye but a glistening silver Beatles book which has somehow evaded my attention for - the inside page incredibly tells me - almost two whole years...?
The Beatles: Ten Years That Shook The World - a collection made by Mojo magazine, trawling together features, reviews and interviews by some of the most venerable music hacks around. Oh, and plenty of gorgeous glossy photos, too...
It's not really a handy book to browse on the daily commute, but since buying it - within about seconds of spotting - I've had it propped up on my dinner table for every evening's entertainment...
And still been surprised by some of the insights, despite an adolescence often spent poring over that monthly pedants' special, The Beatle Book magazine (having convinced the local newsagent to order in copies, with a stern astonishment he didn't stock them already...)
For no reason other than, well, I dunno, here are a few of my favourite Beatle books...

* The Beatles, The Beatles Anthology: Well, of course... 367 pages of riches which, were they not of such shiny silver, you'd swear were solid gold in all essences...
The TV series itself was a revelation, even for the most knowledgeable Beatles obsessive, purely for the special aura each interview carried, the rarest of rare tapes and footage somehow unearthed beyond the call of duty - and the lavish loving care and attention given to each second. Though I did feel slightly sorry for the sole stooodent who was turfed out of our hall's TV room for the first episode, having happily booked the video to watch a tape of some old "Hitchhiker's Guide" episode only for a band of us Beatle-niks to march in and brook no argument...
But the CDs. And the DVDs. And, oh yes, the book too...
Random highlight: (When the Hell's Angels invaded an Apple Christmas party in 1968)
NEIL ASPINALL: "They did get asked to leave Apple. I asked them, but they got into that hippy language: 'Well, you didn't invite us, so YOU can't ask us to leave...' In other words, as George had invited them, so George was going to have to ask them to go. I think George did it very well - I can't remember exactly what he said, but it was like: 'Yes/no - Yin/Yang - in/out - stay/go. You know - BUGGER OFF!' And they said: 'Well, if you put it that way, George, of course...' and left."

* Geoffrey Stokes, The Beatles - 25th Anniversary Special: The first glossy silver Beatles hardback I owned, and proudly autographed and addressed by myself, I now discover... Large print and double spaced, but tells a very straight, comprehensive story with plenty of appropriately-sepia prints and a 1979 introduction by Leonard Bernstein.
Random highlight: Bernstein eulogising "the frabjous falsetto shriek-cum-croon, the ineluctable beat, the flawless intonation, the utterly fresh lyrics, the Schubert-like flow of musical invention and the Fuck-You coolness of these Four Horsemen of Our Apocalypse".

* Ian MacDonald, Revolution In The Head: The Beatles' Records And The Sixties: Perhaps the most readable and reasonable of the many pseudish, detailed analyses of each and every Beatles song, bar-by-bar, by the late great NME historian. The closing chapter writing off the sheer evilness of ALL modern pop music is perhaps a little unnecessary and heavy-handed, but even at its most technical, the insights into each song - and, indeed, recording - manages to throw fresh light on even the most familiar pleasures.
Random highlight: "Conceded by Lennon to be the best song on Abbey Road, SOMETHING is the acme of Harrison's achievement as a writer. Lacking his usual bitter harmonies, it deploys a key-structure of classical grace and panoramic effect, supported by George Martin's sympathetic viola/cello countermelody and delicate pizzicato violins through the middle eight. If McCartney wasn't jealous, he should have been."

* Michael Braun, Love Me Do! The Beatles' Progress: Perhaps the most cherishable, underrated Beatle book, this was published in 1964, the full flush of Beatlemania and yet full of both transient, off-the-cuff commentary and lasting insights into the madness which would actually endure... Jelly babies, Elvis, hysterical to-ing-and-feverish-fro-ing of the world's Press, and that famous Fab Four hack-charming wit - as actually experienced, not told from afar with nostalgianecdote-ishness at its most avariciously "whimsical"... Braun should have been what Hunter Davies became.
Random highlight: "Before the reception the Beatles met the Ambassador and Lady Ormsby Gore at the Embassy residence. When John is introduced to him Sir David says: 'Hello, John.'
'I'm not John,' says John. 'I'm Charlie. That's John,' and he points to George.
'Hello, John,' says the Ambassador, turning to George.
'I'm not John,' says George, 'I'm Frank. That's John,' and he points to Paul.
'Oh, dear!' says the Ambassador. 'I'll never get these names right. My wife is much better at remembering names.'
...
Several hours later, Sir Alec Douglas-Home met President Johnson. The President remarked, 'I liked your advance party, but don't you feel they need haircuts?'"

* William J Dowling, Beatlesongs: A curio, both slapdash and comprehensive in its own strange way, running down every song officially issued by The Beatles and running extracts from many other books and magazines under the various categories "AUTHORSHIP", "RECORDED", "INSTRUMENTATION", "CHART ACTION", "MISCELLANEOUS" and "COMMENTS BY BEATLES". Hardly definitive, but a fun, browse-able beginning.
Random highlight: The way it splits each song's authorship into constituents of "1.00" (eg. "Birthday" is 0.7 McCartney and 0.3 Lennon), so credits are calculated for George's sister Louise Harrison (0.05 of "Piggies"), Yoko Ono (0.25 of "Revolution #9") and Thomas Dekker (0.3 of "Golden Slumbers"), for example...
If you don't want to know the overall result, look away now...
Lennon wins, with 84.55 to McCartney's 73.65... So now you know.

* James Henke, Lennon Legend: An Illustrated Life Of John Lennon: The book's basic text adds little new to the familiar story, but the additions are stunning - removable replicas of Lennon's old school reports, his Lewis Carroll-esque self-produced school magazines, A Hard Day's Night and How I Won The War posters, handwritten lyrics sheets, Ed Sullivan Show tickets, avant-garde artwork, scrawled-across Press releases... For the inner light, the inner child in every Beatles fan!
Random highlight: (From his school report) "French: A disappointing result. He is so fond of obtaining a cheap laugh in class that he has little time left for serious concentration.
Mathematics: He is certainly on the road to failure."
(From his school-scribbled publication, "The Daily Howl") "News about Firework Night (Fred's birthday) - The sad news has just come through that only 80 people above the age of 76 were killed. Most of the spoilsports just lost their sight, and maimed for life. And it wasn't for want of trying."

* Tony Barrow and Robin Bextor, Paul McCartney: Now And Then: Seemingly inessential yet glossy 2004 hardback, split into two sections for former Beatles Press officer, the garrulous Tony Barrow, and Sophie Ellis-Bextor's documentary-making dad to record their various impressions of the man Macca, but manages to be throw in plenty of little gems of fresh observation - especially the homely descriptions of Robin'n'Paul sharing pints of home-brew (made by Macca, and bottled with his own home-printed label) as they look out over the Sussex Downs from Paul's Peasmarsh pad, before the old man moves to the piano to bash out a tipsy Long And Winding Road...
Robin - lovely chap, one lucky sod nevertheless...
Random highlight: (Robin Bextor) "George Martin once said to me in an unguarded moment that I should imagine for a moment getting up in the morning determined to spend as much money as I could. Buy a car in the morning, walk down Bond Street and stop in every shop and buy more clothes, records, watches, anything, dine in the best restaurants and go to the best clubs and then get home laden down with wordly goods late in the evening to realise that you had earned far more than you spent that day - that is what it is like being McCartney. Finance simply isn't an issue with Paul now."

* Andrew Solt and Sam Egan, Imagine: John Lennon: A hefty paperback released to accompany the skilful 1988 film, this deftly collates a load of Lennon quotes alongside plenty of photos from Yoko's private collection - especially homely and emotional as the 1970s move on and especially in the final, poignant 1980 chapter.
Random highlight: 1980 - "We're not selling ourselves as the perfect couple. We have our problems, we've had our problems, but when I was singing and writing this and working with her, I was visualising all the people of my age group and singing to them. I hope the young kids like it as well, but I'm really talking to the people that grew up with me. I'm saying, 'Here I am now, how are you, how's your relationship going, did you get through it all, weren't the seventies a drag, here we are, well, let's try and make the eighties good, you know.' It's not out of our control, I still believe in love. I still believe in peace... Where there's life, there's hope."

Of course, there are many many more - for example, Hunter Davies's workmanlike authorised biography from 1968, updated in 1985. Philip Norman's fizzier account, Shout! Albert Goldman's compelling, yet over-reachingly scandalous The Lives Of John Lennon. Blackbird, Geoffrey Giuliano's pale photocopy of a Goldman-job on McCartney. John's joyous "Daily Howl" updates In His Own Write and Spaniard In The Works. George's own intriguing indulgence, I Me Mine, Ringo's homely Postcards From The Boys. Mark Lewisohn's chronicles of every "day in the life" of every Beatle or Beatle-associate you could ever imagine...
And new, newer releases a-plenty...

I might just get through a few more book tokens yet...

3 comments:

a.c.t said...

Yeah, but I can't stand Abba - does that make me the same as one of those people who claim they don't like the Beatles? I actually knew somebody at school who claimed he didn't like music at all - how very odd.

overnighteditor said...

Too right. Never trust someone who doesn't like the four kings of EMI.

The Beatles were my introduction to music (not the first time around I stress) and still among my favourites.

I also like all the stuff derived from the Fabs; Chemical Brothers etc.

Lyndon said...

Nothing wrong with not being able to stand Abba. Goes hand in hand with having taste. Those people who gush on about "oh such great *pop* tunes" are desperately seeking an excuse for being kitsch, disco and retro that doesn't simply consist of "I am kitsch, disco and retro"

Awful singing (slices through my head like a rusty hacksaw), terrible lyrics, monstrously overproduced and horrible clothes. Nothing redeeming whatsoever.

Listen to people cover beatles songs in a different style and many, many times it works. I can't claim to have heard a great number of them, but covers of Abba songs are almost universally as lame as the originals, whilst not many (if any) have made a *new* sounding version of it, a possible hint to the lack of quality/depth in the original composition.

I gues it wasn't a cover, but the Madonna song using an Abba sample was astonishingly bad. But then if I start talking about how bad Madonna is I'll never get any work done today...