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, which covers the 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 stories 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.

The Beatles 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 great photos.

Shout, by 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.

The Beatles, 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).

Lennon Remembers, 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.

Paul McCartney: 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 Lennon-McCartney songs.

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 are excellent.

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.

The Playboy 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 Lennon-McCartney composition.

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.

The Complete 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.

Beatles Gear, by Andy Babiuk. For gearheads, an extraordinarily in-depth look at the instruments the Beatles used during their career, both onstage and in the studio.

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.

contents copyright Richie Unterberger , 2000-2010
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