1 June 2014
My name is Victor, I’m from São Paulo, Brazil.
I am searching for a book, or more than one, that has informations and analysis on The Beatles music.
The Beatles changed the world, their music changed the world. No other band can be compared to their magic and their ability to write songs, to mix different rythims, instruments, sounds, cultures.
What made them so unique, musically? How exactly did they change Rock n Roll, technically? What elements did they use?
I’d like to know if any of you know any books that bring up that matter. I am interested specifically on knowing more about their technique, on how they revolutioned music, and how did they mix different music styles to criate their music.
I appreciate your help.
1 November 2013
17 December 2012
Ian MacDonald set the standard in 1994 with Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Records and the Sixties. A song-by-song analysis which also places their work in context of the world and events around them. Updated twice, it also includes the Live At The BBC and Anthology recordings. There are others I could recommend, but there is no better place to start than here.
EDIT: On Emerick’s book, it should be noted that many find him an unreliable witness.
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8 November 2012
I second the MacDonald recommendation. It changed the way I hear their music.
The following people thank parlance for this post:Ron Nasty
2 May 2014
Coming at this from a musical angle, and not worrying so much about other banal details like what John’s driver used to like for breakfast:
If you want in-depth look at the music, then Walter Everett’s two ‘The Beatles as Musicians’ books are excellent. They are very academic though, and if you don’t have at least a basic working understanding of theory and harmony, then a lot of the analysis won’t make any sense. Everett’s research is excellent, and his citing of his musical sources is very valuable; in some cases he transcribes fragments of songs from bootlegs to illustrate variations etc, plus he makes reference to a lot of older songs known to the Beatles, and how they incorporated pieces of those songs (whether as wholesale fragments or just as inspiration) into their own work. If you have a large bootleg collection, and copies of the ‘The Songs We Were Singing’ or ‘Dustbin Prophecies’ sets, then the books really come to life. Everett’s work isn’t without errors, and there are a few books etc that have come out since that he probably would have used as reference material, had he not written his book first (around 1999, I believe).
MacDonald’s book, on the other hand, frustrates me. His book is great if you want a critic’s opinion. I suppose his discussions of The Beatles in a social and historical context are interesting, but his musical opinions don’t mean much to me – I don’t trust his ears. There are plenty of books by critics who don’t know the first thing about music. That’s fine – but some are better than others.
It’s always going to be hard to figure out the hard facts, especially as memories fade. Doing my own research on the very topics the original poster asked about, I have found the following books to be very useful, some absolutely indispensable, for getting an ‘accurate’ (accurate within reason!) picture of the recording techniques and methods, and a good look at the music and composition methods:
- The two books by Mark Lewisohn, Complete Recording Sessions and Complete Chronicle
- The two aforementioned Beatles as Musicians books by Walter Everett
- Here There And Everywhere by Geoff Emerick
- Recording the Beatles by Ryan and Kehew
- With A Little Help From My Friends by George Martin
- Beatles Gear by Andy Babiuk
- The Beatles Anthology book
- Get Back by Doug Sulpy (also known as Drugs, Divorce and a Slipping Image)
- Way Beyond Compare and That Magic Feeling by John C Winn
- Many Years From Now by Barry Miles (As close to an autobiography by Paul McCartney as can be)
- Lennon Remembers by Jann Wenner
- Love Me Do : The Beatles Progress by Michael Braun
- The Beatles authorised biography by Hunter Davies
- John Lennon last interview by David Sheff
- Live At The BBC by Kevin Howlett
If you get the first 8 or 9 books listed there (2 each for Lewisohn and Everett), it should keep you going for years!
If you are planning on doing some heavy musical analysis, or analysis of how certain records were made, then you also need recorded examples so you can make sense of what you’re reading, or do your own new research. Your ears are your best friends:
- All the Beatles’ regular releases in mono and stereo, the Beatles Anthology, Live At The BBC etc, ie. Everything you can get officially and legally
- The multitrack moggs from rockband, or better yet the Moggical Mystery Tour sets (I’m still looking for a full version of the Sgt Pepper set, if anyone can help me out!)
- Dustbin Prophecies or The Songs We Were Singing, for the music that inspired the music
- A/B Road or Let It Be Day by Day, preferably digitally so you if you are reading the Suply books you can find what you want to hear quickly (also doesn’t take up shelf space, like my old Day by Day set does)
- All the studio outtakes you can get your hands on: this is much easier to do now than it was 15 years ago. eg. having all the working recordings of Strawberry Fields makes it much easier to understand when you read the book
- All the demo versions you can find
- Any isolations you can find – backings tracks with no vocals; just vocal tracks; overdub isolations etc, some of these things are found on 5.1 extractions, or on ‘OOPSed’ recordings
- The Complete Live At The BBC sessions. Whichever version you like…. Unsurpassed Broadcasts is pretty great
- The Purple Chick live series. Ya gotta have some live Beatles in there…
- The Beatles Anthology DVD set. Also the Director’s Cut bootleg version.
That oughta do for now…. If I’d had this list when I started looking for this stuff, I’d have a lot more shelf space, a lot more hard drive space, and probably money for a Telecaster
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17 December 2012
@muzair Isn’t your opinion of MacDonald’s book a critic’s opinion? And based on the opinion that you don’t like it? I don’t agree with everything he says, but would place it above the majority of sources you name.
And you list the David Sheff as Lennon’s last major interview, conducted over August and September 1980, but do not mention Andy Peebles 6 December 3 hour interview for the BBC with John, which the majority here would consider as his last major interview – and that’s ignoring the interview he gave on the morning of his death.
Everything, in the end, is opinion. I stand by my opinion, and many others’ opinions, that MacDonald’s book is the place to start if you are looking to understand their cultural and sociological impact. It was, and remains, a landmark work – whether you, as a critic, like it or not, and provides much more than, say, Andy Babiuk’s Beatles Gear, the Geoff Emerick or George Martin, Anthology, or any other memoir.
As I said, start with MacDonald and go from there. Michael Braun’s Love Me Do is a great book of it’s time but wouldn’t answer the question.
Where is Wilfred Mellers Twilight of the Gods in your list? the first major analysis of them musically.
You provide an interesting and selective bibliography, but I think most are distractions. Sorry.
2 May 2014
@Ron Nasty With regards to the Andy Peebles interview – I just forgot about that one, that’s a good call and I’d put that in there too. I’m sure there’s other stuff I forgot to mention; Mellers’ book I read years ago but don’t have a copy of and forgot about. It’s not that big a deal, is it? I’m also not trying to knock MacDonald’s book to undermine your opinion. Seems like you took it kinda personally. Sorry.
Perhaps I missed the ‘place to start’ bit of the original question and have given too much on a certain angle.
You’re correct that MacDonald’s book is great for understanding The Beatles cultural and sociological impact. I agree. If you’re looking for one book as an overview of all that, and some discussion on the music, yeah, that’s a good place to start. I’ve had that book for years, and loved it at first, but over subsequent years I found that various things he was saying about the music just didn’t make sense with what I was hearing. I have to trust my ears over what I’m reading… For example, there’s at least one other song he mentions (I’d have to look it up – maybe Oh Darling is one?) where he conjectures that it’s not Ringo, but Paul, playing the drums, where it’s clearly Ringo. There’s also somewhere towards the start of the book where he talks about the BBC version of Some Other Guy being ‘swung sloppily’… I can’t trust that; it’s a straight 8s feel, not swung 8s, and therefore definitely not swung sloppily. That’s partly why I say I can’t trust MacDonald’s ears on musical stuff. If you’re writing a book on music and you can’t tell the difference between straight 8th note and swung 8th notes….
I think it really comes down to what question you want the answer to. I’m trying to offer a view that deals much more with purely the musical/singing/composition side of things, and the technical/recording/playing side of things. I also believe you need a variety of sources to try and get as close to the truth as possible, which is why I’d recommend so many books.
If it’s mainly a sociological and cultural context with some music discussion, go Revolution in the Head. If you want a real musical analysis that discusses things like inner voice leading, counterpoint etc, reach for The Beatles as Musicians. If you want to know on what dates, on how many sessions, how many takes etc, go Lewisohn’s Recording Sessions. If you want McCartney to tell you something about his songwriting process with John, or how he would consciously decide to try to sing like someone else (Ray Charles, Little Richard, Marianne Faithful) for a particular vocal shading, go Many Years From Now.
For things like Emerick’s and Martin’s accounts, sure, they are always going to paint themselves in a friendly light, but they were there… And both of those guys are giants in their fields, and what they have to say about the process is invaluable.
Oh boy this could go on for a while
17 December 2012
@muzair It is not that I necessarily disagree with your list, just that I think you over-answered. Your two or three go-to books would have sufficed. It’s that saying about not being able to see the wood for the trees, and in your reply I felt you said, “Here is the forest!”
I chose one, albeit flawed, book to say, “Go from here… but there is more.” And I agree, the MacDonald does have flaws, and he has opinions I disagree with. I would always cite it as probably the best entry point for an overview of their music when someone asks.
I often find those involved unreliable witnesses, especially on their impact, and what was different about them. As, I believe it was John said, when asked in America about it, that if they understood what was happening, they’d get four boys together and be managers, or words to that effect.
Sometimes, less is more, and that was all I was saying.
Three books on the music, and its how and why and context, what would you recommend?
(You may find, if I can recommend something, Anthony Robustelli’s new book interesting – I Want to Tell You: The Definitive Guide to the Music of The Beatles Volume 1: 1962/1963. It could soon become the definitive analysis of their music.)
1 May 2011
When getting into the Beatles Revolution In The Head was incredible but on a personal basis its lost some of its shine thru the years. Well worth reading however. For a good overview you wont go too far wrong with that and Lewisohn’s Recording Sessions (tho i would recommend volumes 1 and 2 of John C Winn’s The Beatles Recording Legacy as companion pieces as they correct errors in the books).
There is a scholarly analysis by Allan F Moore ‘The Beatles Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band’ as well. You’d need to have a very detailed knowledge of music however, i don’t and its like reading a book in Swahili.
Robert Rodriguez’s ‘Revolver : How The Beatles Reimagined Rock ‘N’ Roll ‘ details the making of the album and stand-alone single ‘Paperback Writer /Rain ‘, the outside musical influences on the Beatles for that album, and its influence on music after its release.
"I told you everything I could about me, Told you everything I could" ('Before Believing' - Emmylou Harris)
1 June 2014
Thank you all so much for all the information! I have now for sure a lot of material to look after and study The Beatles music.
I should just try to specify what I’m looking for, and I think many books you all wrote about should help me. I’m not a musician, I’m just a huge fan of The Beatles, and I know all of their songs, other than that, I play the guitar, but that’s not much.
The main thing I’m looking for is this: The Beatles changed the music. They put together Rock’n’Roll, pop, and many other styles to make their music. Their music is so catchy, but yet so good in quality, it seems so simple, almost intuitive sometimes, but still nobody ever (in rock, in pop) did what they could do. How did they get from what existed (Old school Rock, american R&B, etc.) and turned all that into something so universal, so unanimous? I mean, 4 guys from Liverpool that didn’t have any deep musical studying or theory… This is what intrigues me.
So, I do want to learn about their musical techniques, as long as I understand it, but also about how did they take everything that existed and created something so new. I’d like to know what they changed in music, and how they did it, all the different stuff that inspired them, all the technique (as long as I can understand it).
Thanks very much for all the help. =D
2 May 2014
@Ron Nasty 3 essential books on the how why and context… Tough call! I think that’s why I had so many on my list 🙂 For me, and hopefully this covers @voabarros’ brief too:
The Beatles as Musicians, Vol 1 and 2. Lots of juicy musical info and enough historical context to get a good picture.
The Complete Beatles Chronicle by Mark Lewisohn. I picked Chronicle over Sessions to start with because it really gives you an idea of just how quickly they got around everywhere, and how much they got done in a short period of time. Part of the reason why they got so good at what they did, and why they changed so much about music, is because they worked really, REALLY hard… and Chronicle lays that out really well, you only have to look at the timelines and what was done each day.
Then you can move on to other books for the minutiae about certain areas you get interested in. I certainly wouldn’t recommend ‘Northern Songs’ about the Beatles’ publishing as a first book!
As an aside, thanks Ron for the recommendation on the Robustelli book. I’d heard of it but I haven’t gotten around to checking it out yet, it looks interesting.
Maybe one day I’ll write the Beatles book I would like to read… if I can figure it out concisely enough!