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Saturday, September 28, 2013

The view from the end of Mark Lewisohn's massive Beatles book

It was always in the same order: John, Paul, George and then the drummer, first Pete and then Ringo. That order didn't only sound right. It also reflected the way the power structure worked. It was John's group. He brought in Paul, who brought in George, who later on argued for Ringo. And they never forgot it. They all sought John's approval, partly because he could be a bully if he didn't approve. Then again, so could all of them.

Not long after their first record came out Brian Epstein took John and Paul aside and made them register as a songwriting partnership, despite the fact that they hadn't written many songs. The first royalty payment for "Love Me Do", which was obviously more of a hit than I remember, had the people who played on the record earning £27 each while the people who got the composing credit made £157 each. Very quickly this must have begun to rankle with George, particularly because he would know that in most cases only one of those names had actually written the song.

Lewisohn's very good on the puzzled reaction of the British music business to that first record. The Beatles were almost unique in already having a fan following when they put out their first record so they couldn't be completely ignored. "Love Me Do" sold well in the North West, even with literally no radio play and minimal publicity.  Brian Epstein ordered a lot of copies because his shop could sell them, not in order to hype the chart. Everyone else they met thought the name was risible and wanted to know who was the leader. Publicists would have to explain that this was a different animal, a group that played its own instruments and did its own singing. Even George Martin, who recognised that they had a special chemistry as people, wanted to know who was the leader. When they did auditions they would do three songs, each featuring a different lead singer.

The most perceptive single line about the Beatles comes in Michael Braun's early book about them "Love Me Do! The Beatles' Progress", in which he said that when they arrived in America they were representatives of "a new kind of people". In Lewisohn's book some of the adults that they come into contact with like them but only the teenagers got them and responded to the way they dressed and carried themselves. Pete Waterman was a young DJ when they played Coventry and remembers John Lennon wearing the first pair of Levi's he'd ever seen. Norman Jopling, the 18 year old writer on Record Mirror, wrote at the time about their "long flat hair" and remembers that in those days "music hadn't caught up with fashion and film. When I saw The Beatles I knew things were changing."

I can remember that feeling. I'm bound to love The Beatles - All These Years: Volume One: Tune In because it's not just the story of their lives. It's a little bit the story of anyone who lived through it. I write all this about it and still people get in touch and say "should I read it?" as if it's a major life decision. Look. If you haven't read all the other books about the Beatles then bully for you because here's the definitive one. If you have read all the other ones then it would be silly not to read this one as well. And don't forget, I'm talking to Mark Lewisohn about the book as well as Bob Stanley, the author of Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop on October 9th at the Old Queen's Head. Full details here.