When asked once to divulge my favourite Beatles book, I decided that I would do much better than that. I decided to present an illustrated breakdown of all 30-plus Beatles titles that I have acquired, in order of purchase, detailing the circumstances of their acquisition, their author, title, publisher and date of first publication, together with my all-important personal star rating, while providing, as often as possible, a brief explanation of their individual significance – for me and for the world. Here is the result!
1. Mark Lewisohn: The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions (London: Hamlyn, 1988). Purchased at Waterstone’s, Birmingham, 1989.
This is the book that set the ball rolling for me, written by the absolute master of Beatles chronology and historical detail. I bought it with my own unearned money when I was 17 or so, while studying at sixth-form college. I specifically remember seeing Jason Donovan tell Alan Titchmarsh how much he enjoyed the book on ‘Pebble Mill at One’ (daytime TV) when it first came out, which maybe encouraged me to buy it (even though I wasn’t really a Jason fan). And it is of course a landmark publication in the way it references, in phenomenal detail, every single Beatles recording session that took place from 1962 to 1970, together with many previously unseen photos, taken largely by Linda McCartney. It also features a fascinating interview with Paul as an introduction, wherein, while praising Lennon’s astonishing vocal performance on ‘Twist and Shout’, the singer is rather disparaging, in contrast, about the talents of the Curiosity Killed The Cat frontman (how dare he!).
2. Fenton Bresler, Who Killed John Lennon? (London: St Martins, 1989). Purchased by myself from a remainder bookshop in 1990.
I got very engrossed in this book while I was living in halls in London as an undergraduate, at which time, instead of trying to get a girlfriend, I explored the possibility that there was a CIA conspiracy surrounding the Lennon murder, and that ‘lone nutter’ Mark Chapman had in fact been brainwashed or drugged prior to the shooting, or something. It may all sound pretty ridiculous now, but… it is in fact pretty ridiculous.
3. Philip Norman, Shout! The True Story of the Beatles (London: Pan, 1981).
I read this book while living in a completely disgusting student house in Hounslow, West London, despite the fact that it has a pretty awful cover. It was the education that I really needed in the Beatles at this time, as it tells the complete biographical story of the Fab Four from their humble beginnings in Liverpool to their acrimonious split as millionaire hippies in 1970. I was particularly impressed with journalist Philip Norman’s vivid and eye-opening account of the band’s escapades in the sleazy red light area of Hamburg during their formative years, which was of course the making of them. And on the whole, the book is, as the blurb on the cover suggests, pretty definitive.
4. Mark Lewisohn et al., The Beatles London: The Ultimate Guide to over 400 Beatles Sites in and around London (London: Portico, 1994). Purchased by myself at Foyles, Oxford Street, in the year it came out.
When I ‘ran’ the travel section of Foyles bookshop in 1994, I ordered heaps of this particular title, thinking they would fly off the shelves. But they didn’t. I think maybe this was because the book is just too nerdy for most: while it tells you where and how to find some of the most important Beatles sites in the capital, such as the Abbey Road zebra-crossing in St John’s Wood or the Apple Corps building in Savile Row (Tube station: Piccadilly Circus), it also goes into great detail about such places as ‘Goodge Place’, where McCartney was ‘once photographed in his customised Mini’ (Tube station: Goodge Street). Personally, though, I was very pleased to see Lewisohn and his co-writers document the fact that the Thornbury Playing Fields in Hounslow, where I often played football with a few mates, was the very same field where the Beatles ‘run footloose and fancy free’ in the ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ sequence of A Hard Day’s Night. An exceptionally nerdy book, yes. But necessary.
6. Ian Macdonald, Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Records & the Sixties (London: Vintage, 1994). Purchased by myself at Books etc, Oxford Street, on the day of first publication.
I was very excited to buy this book as soon as it came out in 1994, at which time I read it from cover to cover on the train from London to my home town of Birmingham. It has since become a classic, of course – though the acclaimed author died tragically in 2003. The introduction alone is, without a doubt, the most exhilarating piece of writing you could ever wish to read on the subject of the Beatles, but the author can often annoy you on later pages with his hypercritical art-historian diagnoses of some of your favourite songs, which he describes as being either ‘vertical’ or ‘horizontal’ (?!). He is mean about ‘All You Need is Love’, for example. But still… absolutely essential stuff.
7. John Lennon, In His Own Write & A Spaniard in the Works (London: Simon and Schuster, 1996).
‘In his own write‘. ‘A Spaniard in the works’. Geddit? I bought this book of surreal wordplay and doodlings in 1996 because I was keen to see for myself the extent of Lennon’s ‘literary’ talent. It combines both of the singer’s books (from 1964 and 1965, respectively) and can be considered a ‘Beatles book’ purely because the two titles were first published at the height of Beatlemania. And, in truth, it is very entertaining stuff, although after a while I did find myself growing weary of the endless Lewis Carroll-inspired puns and juvenile drawings. But I am always intrigued by the fact that he attended a Foyles Literary Luncheon at the Dorchester Hotel in commemoration of it. Funny.
8. Geoffrey Giuliano, The Beatles: A Celebration (London: Sunburst 1993).
10. Hal Leonard, ed., The Beatles Lyrics: The Songs of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison & Starr (London: Omnibus Press).
11. Steve Turner, David Magnus, et al, All You Need Is Love: The Beatles Dress Rehearsal (London: Tracks, 1997). Purchased by myself at Blackwells, Charing Cross Road in 1997.
I put in a special order for this at the bookshop, because it is a pretty specialist title. It is basically a photographic document of the summer day in 1967 when the Beatles prepared for their performance of ‘All You Need is Love’ as part of the historic ‘One World’ live satellite broadcast around the world. It consists of some fascinating behind-the-scenes portraits of the band in their psychedelic gear, as they mess around with trumpets, hand-puppets and drums, while smoking cigarettes and chatting with friends such as Mick Jagger and Keith Moon. There are A LOT of pictures of John playing a trumpet, actually. A lot.
12. Barry Miles, Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now (London: Vintage, 1997). Purchased at Blackwells in 1997. Despite appearing to be a McCartney biography, don’t worry, because this title IS to all intents and purposes a Beatles book, as it goes into very little detail about the singer’s career post-1970. It is practically a Beatle autobiography, in fact, because most of the book consists of large chunks of quotes from Paul while in conversation with friend and fellow 60s-scenester Barry Miles (known simply as ‘Miles’), owner of the influential Indica Gallery. It came out when Paul was enjoying a major renaissance in his credibility, fresh from the hugely successful ‘Anthology’ series and his very Beatles-influenced solo album Flaming Pie, with a definite intent on ‘putting the record straight’, after years of competing against the legend of John Lennon as ‘the cool, avant garde one’ (my quote marks). He is keen to detail, for instance, his involvement in probably the most experimental Beatles track ever (largely attributed to Lennon) – ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ – it being he who derived the revolutionary sequence of 16+ tape loops that fade in and out around Ringo’s brilliant non-standard drumming. Much respect.
14. Hunter Davies, The Beatles: The Authorized Biography (London: W.W. Norton and Co., 1996).
Obviously you need to have this book because it is, as the title suggests, the only authorised Beatles biography. The only one. (There are no others.) It is the result of all four Beatles agreeing to allow Times journalist Hunter Davies access to their working lives during their highly creative 1967/68 psychedelic period, before all the rifts and bad feeling set in between them. Its particular selling point lies, therefore, in Hunter being able to provide a compelling eyewitness account of Lennon and McCartney writing songs together at Lennon’s home in Weybridge, Surrey, as they work on the ‘Sergeant Pepper’ album. As a result, the book is a classic, of course, and never out of print.
15. Paul Du Noyer, We All Shine On: The Stories Behind Every John Lennon Song: 1970-80 (London: Perrenial, 1997).
Part 2 to follow…