By Gillian G. Gaar
Can't get enough of specials, events and activities honoring 50 years of Beatlemania in America? Here's a peek at some of the latest Beatles books out there.
“Standing in the Wings: The Beatles, Brian Epstein and Me”by Joe Flannery
“Standing in the Wings: The Beatles, Brian Epstein and Me” (Trafalgar Square Publishing, $27.95) is that rare thing; a Beatles book with something new to say. Author Joe Flannery was Epstein’s friend in Liverpool, and later became the manager of his brother’s band, Lee Curtis and the All Stars, the group Pete Best joined after he was fired from the Beatles. Flannery gives a fascinating account of what Liverpool was like in the ’40s and ’50s, revealing how provincial and isolated it was. The Beatles stories don’t turn up until page 150, and they’re never really center stage; Flannery’s closest relationship was with Epstein. The writing can tend to be overly wordy, but it nonetheless offers some new insights into the early days of the Liverpool music scene.
“When They Were Boys: The True Story of the Beatles’ Rise to the Top”by Larry Kane
Larry Kane is in the unfortunate position of having to compete with Lewisohn, as “When They Were Boys: The True Story of the Beatles’ Rise to the Top” (Running Press, $24.95) covers the same time period. Kane traveled with the Beatles during their American tours, and works quotes from that time into the new text. The writing is occasionally overly dramatic (“A teenage band, in raw form, arrived on the scene through a circuitous journey, on streets hardly paved with gold, but rather lined with the trapdoors and quicksand of decision, fate, and competition”) or incredibly dewy-eyed, as in Kane’s delicate description of Paul McCartney’s attitude toward groupies (he supposedly “always showed respect to the women on tour whom he lured for intimacy”). But Kane does get some new anecdotes from a variety of people along for the ride during the group’s early years.
“Beatles Vs. Stones” by John McMillian
John McMillian’s “Beatles Vs. Stones” (Simon & Schuster, $25) is the kind of analytical tome that brings to mind the famous joke about music criticism: “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” Typical is the section concerning “Norwegian Wood,” where McMillian brings up the odd theory that it really details a successful sexual encounter, hinted at because the song’s title sounds like “knowing she would” (thus possibly an example of John Lennon’s “impish wordplay”) “Fans were left to wonder: what is it about, really?” McMillian concludes. Um — maybe just what Lennon and McCartney always said it was about; a failed romantic encounter that led to the narrator taking revenge by burning the house down. You can also ponder such ideas as whether women reporters would’ve described the Beatles’ arrival in the US differently, as opposed to the male writers, who used “military metaphors” like “invading” and “conquering.”
“Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock ’n’ Roll” by Robert Rodriguez
Robert Rodriguez has written numerous books about the Beatles over the years: there’s “Fab Four FAQ,” “Fab Four FAQ 2.0,” and last year’s “Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock ‘n’ Roll” (Backbeat Books, $19.99). The latter is an enjoyable detailing of how the Beatles created what many regard as their best album. He also puts the album in context, covering the music scene at the time and the Beatles’ place in it; their relationships with other musicians; their drug use; their decision to stop touring; and a nod to the future, laying the groundwork for “Sgt. Pepper” with the “Strawberry Fields”/“Penny Lane” single. A very readable account of a classic album. Next up from Rodriguez is “Solo in the 70s: John, Paul, George, Ringo 1970-1980.”
“The Beatles Records on Vee-Jay" by Bruce Spizer
Bruce Spizer’s detailed books about collectable Beatles records have become collector’s items in themselves. Now, he’s finally republishing his first book, “The Beatles Records on Vee-Jay,” in digital form. The “interactive PDF” is optimized for the iPad, but note that it will also work on any device that reads PDFs, meaning you can read it on your personal computer as well as an e-reader. And the good news is that the book has not just been republished; it’s also been extensively revised and updated. The original book ran to 242 pages, and the new edition is 447 — yes, nearly twice as long, with much new information as well as a lot more images (such as the telegram that establishes the release date of “Please Please Me,” the very first Beatles record issue in the US: February 7, 1963). And as part of the redesign, information on label variations is now at the end of each section, with a hyperlink provided to make it easier for the reader to skip over this info, which makes the book especially user-friendly for non-collectors (and certainly those who aren’t interested in the minutia of label variations have found Spizer’s books entertaining and enjoyable). You can download a free sample chapter at: http://beatle.net/vjdigital/.
“A Hard Day’s Write” by Steve Turner
In the U.K. the Beatles’ 50th anniversary began in 1962, with the release of the “Love Me Do” single, and publishers were quick to recognize that fact. Steve Turner’s “A Hard Day’s Write” (Carlton Books, import only) was republished in a 50th anniversary edition in the U.K. It’s one of the best Beatles books to present the stories behind the Beatles’ songs, and has been updated to include all the “Live at the BBC” and “Anthology” albums; if you’re a Beatles fan and you don’t have this book yet, you should. This edition also has new photographs.
“The Beatles: It Was 50 Years Ago Today” By Terry Burrows
“The Beatles: It Was 50 Years Ago Today” (Carlton Books, $75) is a coffee-table book with a good mix of familiar and lesser-known photos. Facsimile reproductions of tickets, flyers, and promotional items are tucked into folders throughout the book, and the text (by Terry Burrows), is better than that in Carlton’s similar offering “The Beatles Treasures.” The bonus DVD didn’t work in my player (and online reviews indicate this is a common problem), but as it only contains around 10 minutes of interview material you’re not missing much. GM