The postgraduate masters course in The Beatles, Popular Music and Society was launched by Liverpool Hope University in September 2009. The first degree in the world devoted to studying The Beatles and Liverpool, its course director is Dr Michael Brocken, a senior lecturer in popular music studies at Liverpool Hope.
Dr Brocken began keeping a Beatles bibliography in the 1990s for personal use. When the master’s course got underway, he realised that it would be useful for his first intake of students, but required some cleaning up for it to be a proper academic tool.
Enter Melissa Davis and Angela Ballard, postgraduate students on the first Beatles course of 2009-10. They expanded the bibliography’s entries, creating annotations and explanatory material, and provided fact-checking and editing. The result is The Beatles Bibliograpy: A New Guide To The Literature, available only through thebeatleworksltd.com and eBay.
With more than 3,000 entries over 600 pages, the bibliography details full-length books, articles from newspapers, magazines and academic journals, as well as songbooks and websites, by necessity mostly limited to the English language. Various editions of texts are mentioned, and explanatory notes for key titles, authors and periodicals are included.
Where there are annotations on key works, Brocken and Davis let their opinions run free, which elevates the bibliography from being merely a dry list of publications. The editors are evidently more keen on historical narrative and interpretive accounts than reference books which focus on the where and when, as perhaps befits their roles as academics.
While the editors’ assessments are thorough, some readers may disagree with their opinions on some high-profile writers. Philip Norman’s Shout!, for example, is given a withering review, the author accused of creating “a feeling of mistrust that seeps in due to shoddy research and an obvious determination to tell the story he has set out to tell – whether supported by the facts or not.” Albert Goldman’s The Lives Of John Lennon, meanwhile, is “highly recommended” despite its controversial and highly negative stance towards its subject – traits which Shout! is pilloried for. It is curious that Goldman’s more contentious book is treated more sympathetically than Norman’s, despite the clear imperfections of both.
Despite upbraiding many authors for inaccuracies or omissions, it’s unfortunate that The Beatles Bibliography is itself far from perfect. There are numerous mistakes, such as the entry for Mark Lewisohn’s “Fab: The Beatles Biography Volume One (2008)”, a book which does not yet exist: its title is still unconfirmed, and publication is currently expected towards the end of 2013.
In other instances the assessments are simply baffling. Barry Miles’ The Beatles: A Diary “compares favourably” to Lewisohn’s groundbreaking and essential The Complete Beatles Chronicle, which is dismissed as “a rather anodyne piece of work”. This, despite the clear debt Miles’ book owes to Lewisohn’s superior, pioneering account, without which Beatles scholarship and literature would be far poorer.
The pitfalls of a paper publication are highlighted by the book’s description of Beatles author Jude Southerland Kessler’s “promised trilogy of Lennon novels covering John’s life from 1940 to 1961.” During the period of the bibliography’s compilation Kessler announced she would be extending the series and writing nine books on Lennon, rather than the original three. Fortunately, further updates of the bibliography are promised every six months, making this a living text.
The collaborative approach occasionally results in repetition. Consecutive entries on three books credited to John Robertson are each accompanied by a note explaining that the true author is Peter Doggett writing under a pseudonym; once would have been enough. Furthermore, the section on Doggett’s work under his own name fail to mention any of the Robertson texts, despite at least one of them (The Art & Music Of John Lennon) having been republished under Doggett’s own name. One wonders how many other such omissions have slipped through the net.
Misgivings aside, this is a brave undertaking, and the authors should undoubtedly be congratulated on embarking on such a colossal task. The Beatles Bibliography will be an indispensable tool for Beatles scholars, collectors and completists, who will be able to ignore some of the more outlandish assertions and draw instead from the wealth of factual information contained herein.