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Revolution in the Head
18 March 2016
9.41pm
The Void
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Interesting. I am working my way through the (bloody brilliant) articles on this site so no doubt I'll come across them. Generally speaking he seems pretty on it though, I mean he doesn't say that Ringo wrote I Am The Walrus or anything glaringly wrong. I'd say it's still a good introduction into Beatles-lore before something by Mark Lewisham for instance (whose books daunt the hell out of me...) 

I vaguely recall there being a footnote in the first edition which said that when George was thinking of leaving after disillusionment with touring the others were thinking of carrying on as The Ladders. This isn't in the other editions so I'm guessing that was pointed out as being a rumour. Can't check what song it would have been under because I lost it years ago but I'm guessing Tomorrow Never Knows or one of the other early Revolver era sections. 

Why my brain remembers things like that and not what the bin day is I do not know. 

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18 March 2016
10.59pm
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Ahhh Girl
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Don't be daunted by the Lewisohn's books, @The Void. I just discovered the Beatles in 2013. I'm holding my own reading Tune In. It may be taking me longer than some other people to read through it, but I'm getting a lot out of it.

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pepperland
20 March 2016
4.11pm
The Void
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Ahhh Girl I may give Tune In ago - I was put off by some negative reviews I read at the time it came out saying it went into too much detail.

I'm not hugely interested in their childhoods etc and suspect that I'll prefer volume 2 and 3 because that's when it'll go into their recording career (and I'll have as much detail as I can regarding that!) However it seems like it's going to be a pretty definitive text and the completist in me feels I should read all of it. And I do need a new book to get stuck into!  

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Ahhh Girl

"You're not talking to Rikki and the Redstreaks you know!" - John Lennon

20 March 2016
4.24pm
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meanmistermustard
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The Void said
Ahhh Girl I may give Tune In ago - I was put off by some negative reviews I read at the time it came out saying it went into too much detail.

I'm not hugely interested in their childhoods etc and suspect that I'll prefer volume 2 and 3 because that's when it'll go into their recording career (and I'll have as much detail as I can regarding that!) However it seems like it's going to be a pretty definitive text and the completist in me feels I should read all of it. And I do need a new book to get stuck into!  

It does sound a little hard going the early years when they are growing up but once you've started you're hooked. I read the expended edition (two books) and whilst it took a good while to get thru at no moment was I sitting there hoping for the story to get a move on or bored by the amount of detail. I'm actually pleased all that detail was there as I felt more immersed in what was happening.

"I told you everything I could about me, Told you everything I could" ('Before Believing' - Emmylou Harris)

22 March 2016
4.27am
The Void
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aaah girl @meanmistermustard Yeah I contradicted myself and started the kindle version last night! Skipped to when they were teenagers (the chapters going back to the 1800s is definitely more than I needed although I'll probably go back to it) 

And yes I am finding it surprisingly compulsive. Just got to Julia 's death. That'll teach me for having preconceptions. 

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22 March 2016
7.58am
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Ahhh Girl
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Oooo, glad we got you past the hang-up. Happy reading!

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The Void
22 March 2016
12.11pm
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Joe
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Much like The Beatles' own music, I think it's important to see RitH (and, indeed, Lewisohn's earlier books) in the context in which it was written. In the early 90s there really weren't all that many great Beatles books, which is why biogs like Shout! get mentioned so often. The early settlers are the ones who are remembered.

Lewisohn raised the bar immeasurably. Before his books we barely knew about half of the Anthology recordings. Just a few years later we'd heard the lot. And yet there are mistakes and omissions all through Lewisohn's Sessions and Chronicle. Mistakes because the books were done quickly, because the information wasn't out there, or because of simple misunderstandings. But for many years it was the best we had. Nowadays there are many more sources, people have gone back and added, corrected, improved upon, but the gold standard of reference books is always what Lewisohn achieved. That's what all Beatles writers should aspire to.

Ian MacDonald's book came in the wake of Sessions and Chronicle. It also raised the bar, though in a different way; before then there wasn't really the same type of song-by-song analysis of a performer or group. His template was widely mimicked by a succession of other writers, and his scholarly approach bridged the gap between biography and musicology.

Obviously this here website is hugely indebted to both writers, both in the format they gave us, the style of reference writing, and also the information within the books. What I have that print authors don't is a) the means to assimilate feedback from readers (and, indeed, in the mid-90s there was probably very little feedback), and b) the ability to make changes at the drop of a hat.

Yes, MacDonald's publishers put out two revisions – the last of which added the Anthology recordings (I haven't seen the second edition) – but there are still mistakes. Every publication has errors. Some of us are fortunate in that it can take literally seconds to fix something, but that's not an option for print authors. Yes, he gets line-ups or facts wrong. Some of the articles on my site have gone through 100+ revisions, and probably still aren't complete or entirely accurate. We (and I'm hesitant to include myself in such hallowed company) do the best we can with the tools at our disposal. RitH was written before Wikipedia, before Google, before the WWW went mainstream. IIRC from the introduction a lot of it was a result of nothing more than close listening.

I've seen MacDonald dismissed as a Marxist writer, written off as a curmudgeon who had lofty ideals for music, and who made the wrong call on a number of points (eg his dislike of Across The Universe ). That's OK though – RitH was written to start a conversation, to make people think differently about the music, to help readers hear familiar songs in a new way. To take one example, nowadays we all know that Lennon wrote mainly horizontal melodies (eg Help !) and McCartney's are more vertical (eg Penny Lane – NB there are exceptions from both authors). Who first put forward that idea? MacDonald did. McCartney himself has mentioned discovering that about their melodic styles. That's the sort of weight MacDonald's book had – he told a Beatle something new about his own songwriting!

You might disagree with any number of his assessments about the individual songs, but I defy any reader to finish the book and not come away with a new appreciation of The Beatles. And if you feel it's spoilt by incorrectly claiming the Taxman solo was reused in Tomorrow Never Knows , well, pick a different song and learn something different!

I do, however, see an inherent flaw in his format. Song-by-song analyses are fine, but sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The White Album and Abbey Road are great examples of that. A lot of the songs on both albums are pretty dire, some of the worst recordings The Beatles made. But they collectively amounted to something intangibly magical. MacDonald's discrete analysis doesn't often allow for that sort of broader assessment, hence the rising negative tone during the third part.

I just wish he'd done the Bowie book he had been commissioned to write. Peter Doggett ended up writing it (The Man Who Sold the World: DB in the 70s) but, as much as I like PD, I think MacDonald would have done it so much better.

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23 March 2016
12.13pm
The Void
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 @Joe I agree absolutely - whatever anyone may say about RitH it is one of the most influential piece of music writing, no question.  And I think it's healthy to read other perspectives on songs - I love Across The Universe but am secure enough in my love of it to enjoy reading someone's reasons for not liking it.  Indeed that's one of the joys of a Beatles forum!

I know what you mean about song by song analysis sometimes missing out the overall effect of albums.  However he does write broad assessments of some of the albums (certainly the later ones) after the last song recorded for each has been covered.  He writes quite fair assessments of the White Album , Abbey Road and there's a few pages on the impact of Sergeant Pepper IIRC.  He describes the White Album as being a triumph of track sequencing (the Beatles' longest session!) over individual song content and I think he actually describes Abbey Road as being greater than the sum of its parts, although I've not got it to hand to check exactly how he phrases it.

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"You're not talking to Rikki and the Redstreaks you know!" - John Lennon

24 March 2016
6.12am
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Joe
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Thanks for the reminder, @The Void. I knew there were some mini-essays in the book, but it's a while since I read it from cover to cover. I tend to only dip into it nowadays when I want to check something.

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