Wednesday, May 18, 2011

There are three great books about The Beatles

Stumbled upon my copy of Michael Braun's "Love Me Do" yesterday. I'm not sure you can get it at the moment, which is a shame. This is a 1995 reissue of the original book which came out in 1965 and was written in 1963-4. Braun was an American journalist who went on the road with the Beatles when nobody beyond the showbiz columns was interested in them. In his introduction to the 1995 version he wrote that what interested him was they were "a new kind of people". John Lennon later said that Braun's was the best book about The Beatles because "he wrote how we were, which was bastards".

They don't come over as bastards, just four blokes from unremarkable backgrounds (flicking through it I come upon the bit where Lennon says Ringo had only been to school for two days thanks to his childhood illnesses) who suddenly find themselves bulleted into a position no humans had ever been in before and somehow deal with it. It's not the most joined-up narrative. Instead Braun just records what people said amid the chaos.

It's as if the window is just closing on their real lives and henceforth we will only be able to see them through clouds of myth. It starts in the bar of the ABC in Cambridge.

In another corner John Lennon is sipping a coke which he keeps replenishing with Scotch.
"How long do you think the group will last?" somebody asks.
"About five years."
"Will the group stay together?"
"Don't know," says Mr Lennon and pours another Scotch into the coke.

The other two important books about The Beatles are Ian Macdonald's Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties, which is all about the music, and Peter Doggett's You Never Give Me Your Money: The Battle For The Soul Of The Beatles, which is all about what happened afterwards.


  1. One of my favourite books was The Beatles in Scotland. It was done a few years ago and shed a lot of light on the band's early days and their first shows north of the border. There was also some good stuff about Stuart Sutcliffe, Lennon's holidays as a teenager in Durness and McCartney on the Mull of Kintyre. All in all a pretty good read with brilliant pictures.

    Linda Hughes

  2. Can I dis-recommend Philip Norman's "Shout"? Ignorant bilge - e.g. said that Parlophone was a useless secondrate label that never had any hits. Probably never heard of Adam Faith. Given that Norman doesn't understand or like pop music, you'd think that as a Sunday Times reporter he'd know basic research.

  3. For me, Carr & Tyler's The Beatles - an Illustrated Record and Lewisohn's The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions are all the love you need.

  4. I'll go with all your choices paricularly Love Me Do, which captures the boom of Beatlemania in much the same way as Nik Cohn's Awopbopaloobop renders the birth of rock 'n' roll.

    But, would also add Mark Hertsgaard's A Day in the Life. A snappy volume on the the songs, studio techniques and innovation (ADT, use of earphones in the studio) without any dryness. A biography of the The Beatles music in the context of the time.

  5. Did Mark Lewisohn not make the cut David? I also particularly like Allan Williams' The Man Who Gave The Beatles Away: Lennon wrote a very warm and generous forward to a book which is a million miles from the Nowhere Boy beatcom™

  6. I recently got revolution in the head and found it a bit too deterministic , the way he slots everything together seems a bit to simplistic

  7. While I appreciated Revolution in the Head's slightly scary attention to detail, the epilogue where he states that music used to be better and now it's all rubbish (I'm paraphrasing) left me cold and ruined it rather for me.

  8. I love Keith Badman's After The Breakup 1970-2000 because it's just facts and is great to dip into. At its big fat spine looks lovely on the bookshelf.

  9. As an inveterate (not to say OCD) buyer of any and all Beatle books, I am familiar with all these mentioned above, bar Mondo's recommendation of Hertsgaard's A Day In The Life.
    So, straight to Amazon to order it.

    When I found it, the cover looked very familiar:




    Since the MacDonald is such seminal tome (although now with a different cover), it seems silly to use basically the same jacket design.