THE BEST BEATLES BOOKS: A SURVEY
There are hundreds if not
thousands of Beatles books, with more on the way all the time. Here's
an opinionated, selective guide to about a dozen of the best of them,
very most essential volumes written about the band, as well as the best
starting points for those wanting to find out about the group.
The Complete Beatles
Recording Sessions, by Mark Lewisohn. Indisputably the #1
Beatles book, particularly for listeners primarily interested in their
music. It covers all of
their 1962-70 EMI recording sessions in great detail, with a lot of
that clear up how many of their songs were recorded. And it's not dry
or overly technical—indeed it's quite fascinating reading, with lots
of quotes from George Martin, Paul McCartney, and many of the session
musicians and engineers who contributed to the records.
Tune In: The
Beatles: All These Years Vol. 1, by Mark Lewisohn. By far the
most thorough biography of the Beatles, which is really saying
something considering the voluminous competition. But note: this
900-page book is but the first of three volumes, covering only until
the end of 1962. Though staggeringly detailed, it’s also extremely
readable, with vast first-hand research and much context from their
Liverpool life and the rise of rock’n’roll. An “extended special
edition” runs 1700 (!) pages, with several hundred thousand more words.
This too adds a lot of detail and many stories, though most readers
will be satisfied with the standard 900-page edition, which covers the
essentials well. Volume 2 is not expected until about 2020, and the
third and final volume not until about seven years after that.
Anthology, by the Beatles. You've probably heard about this
one, since it was a #1 bestseller a few years ago. It's true that
it offers a somewhat distorted perspective since it relies almost
wholly on direct quotes from the Beatles themselves, and doesn't
include contextual information or quotes from other insiders who
might paint a more controversial picture, like Yoko Ono, Phil Spector,
Allen Klein, or Pete Best. But it does have loads and loads of
first-hand stories from the Beatles about their career, and tons of
Phillip Norman. A good general career
overview of the Beatles, though some of the text is pretentious and
judgmental, and some of the facts have been cleared up or corrected by
subsequent researchers since this was published in 1980.
by Hunter Davies. Their authorized biography,
published in 1968. Again, subsequent research embellished or corrected
much of the information here, and some of the more controversial
aspects of their sex lives, Brian Epstein's homosexuality, and other
private matters were not discussed. However, actually it does
have a lot of interesting first-hand quotes from all four members,
their families, and their associates, covering most of their career
(stopping at the end of 1967).
by Jann Wenner. This compiles the long interviews
Lennon gave to Rolling Stone
in 1970 just after the Beatles broke up,
in which he discusses, frankly and sometimes angrily, the Beatles and a
lot of their songs.
Many Years from Now, by Barry Miles. Miles is a longtime friend
of McCartney and this is pretty much a
biography, but virtually all of it covers the pre-1971 Beatles period,
rather than his solo career. There are tons of long quotes from
McCartney about the Beatles, and inside stories about the writing of
virtually all of the
A Hard Day's
Write: The Stories Behind Every Beatles' Song, by Steve
Turner. Like it says, the stories behind how all of the Beatles'
officially released songs were written, and the incidents and people
that inspired them. Unlike many such books, its research and writing
Here, There and
Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles,
by Geoff Emerick with Howard Massey. Geoff Emerick was
the engineer on most of the Beatles' sessions from 1966 onward, and
worked on more Beatles sessions than anyone besides the Beatles or
George Martin. His memoir is very
detailed and interesting.
Interviews with John Lennon & Yoko Ono, by David Sheff.
This compiles the long interviews Lennon gave Playboy in 1980 just
before his death. It's not as good as Lennon
Remembers, but it does
have a section in which Lennon comments about virtually every
Apple to the Core,
by Peter McCabe & Robert D. Schonfeld. Hard to find now, but this
1972 book is a decent overview of how and why the Beatles
broke up, although it's much heavier on the business/management side of
things than the musical/artistic one, and some of the facts have been
expanded upon/corrected by subsequent research.
Beatles Chronicle, by Mark Lewisohn. From the same author who
wrote The Complete Beatles Recording
Sessions, this might be
something you want only if you're a really big fan and have digested
more general volumes first. But it's a pretty thorough record of their
day-by-day professional activities, through their April 1970 breakup.
by Andy Babiuk. For gearheads, an extraordinarily in-depth look at the
instruments the Beatles used during their career, both onstage and in
The Beatles: Ten
Years That Shook the World, edited by Paul Trynka. Assembled by MOJO magazine, this is a superb,
lushly illustrated 450-page coffee table volume of expert
special-interest historical articles about the band, covering dozens of
facets of their career from 1961-1970.
unless otherwise specified.
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