The old adage says you should never judge a book by its cover. That could probably also be extended to book titles, if Fab Four FAQ 2.0 is anything to go by.
You may be expecting a straightforward set of frequently-asked questions and answers about The Beatles, covering the same ground so often traipsed upon by Beatles authors. Instead, author Robert Rodriguez has assembled a thorough, fascinating and essential guide to the solo years until 1980.
Fab Four FAQ 2.0 is the follow-up to the 2007 book that Rodriguez co-authored with Stuart Shea, and the format is the same: a critical history of The Beatles, with each chapter focusing on a different aspect of their career. This second volume begins with solo work that was issued before the break-up, from George Harrison’s Wonderwall Music in 1968 onwards, and closes, inevitably, with the murder of John Lennon in December 1980.
All angles are explored, from movie roles to memorable live performances, number ones to worst-charting singles, and collaborations and near-reunions. Also detailed are the guest appearances that The Beatles made on others’ recordings, the wives and lovers, the feuds, the talented session musicians, and the range of compilations, reissues and rarities that often tainted and occasionally enhanced the legend.
Rodriguez casts a critical eye over the separate yet often intertwined careers of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr, and isn’t afraid to put forward a case for an overlooked gem or identify a career low. Starr’s Beaucoups Of Blues and Ringo’s Rotogravure – neither of which set the charts alight at the time – are reappraised, and the wildly uneven Red Rose Speedway and Extra Texture are considered in a less flattering light.
Whereas the 1960s trajectory of The Beatles is well known, the solo years have more often been overlooked by biographers. What emerges from Fab Four FAQ 2.0 is that the 1970s were mostly a hugely creative time, even if those creative fortunes were so often mixed.
Numerous fascinating facts are revealed: George Harrison, for example, was likely the uncredited author of several of Ringo Starr’s solo hits; the Red and Blue compilations were partly in answer to a four-disc Beatles bootleg titled Alpha-Omega; and that three of the Beatles performed onstage at Eric Clapton and Pattie Boyd’s wedding in 1979 – due to an oversight John Lennon hadn’t been invited, so the opportunity for a final reunion was missed.
Faults? There are no glaring errors or omissions, though there are a few gripes. Rodriguez has a habit of referring to the former Beatles by nicknames, so George Harrison all too often becomes Hari Georgeson and Ringo Starr is rechristened Ritchie Snare. Once or twice would be fine, but when it’s repeated every few pages it becomes a little wearing.
There’s also quite a bit that only the hardcore will want to know. If you ever wondered when someone would profile the various members of Wings, or when George Harrison’s appearance with Cheech and Chong took place, worry no further. Yet even if the information is of marginal interest, it’s somehow reassuring to know someone out there cares enough to collate it in one book.
Written in a lively style and presented with plenty of photographs, Fab Four FAQ 2.0 is perhaps the most in-depth, engaging and useful book available on the first post-Beatles decade. Its reappraisals of the music will inspire readers to dust down their old vinyl LPs, and all but the most obsessive Beatle-watchers will find plenty of new details to savour.