25 May 2017
I’ve just published a book on the Beatles’ songwriting, called Who Wrote the Beatle Songs: A History of Lennon-McCartney (available on Amazon). It’s kind of in the tradition of Beatlesongs by Dowlding and In Their Own Write by Turner, but with more analysis and documentation. I look at each song written by the Beatles during the Beatle period, and try weigh the evidence to see who wrote each song. Lots of footnotes, partially because of my academic background, but also because a good footnote gives you the date of the interview, and allows the reader to go to the source, see the context, make sure the quotes are reliable. I’d love any feedback—did I make any glaring mistakes? Did I deal with the John/Paul tensions fairly? And so on. I recommend the trade paperback, because the footnotes, index and bibliography are easy to work with in a book; but there is an inexpensive Kindle version that works well on that format.
As Joe in his “Readme First” suggested we talk a little bit about ourselves and what we’ve come to recommend, here’s how the book came about. I became a Beatles fan in sixth grade, when I saw them on Ed Sullivan. I was also into classical music a lot, as I play the violin. Since in classical music, there’s a lot of emphasis on composers, I was always interested in who wrote pop songs. Like, OK, Glen Campbell is singing “Wichita Lineman,” did he write it? As it turned out, he didn’t, a man named Jimmy Webb did. So I got interested in Jimmy Webb. As I turned that focus toward the Beatles (we’re jumping ahead to my high school years now, in Provo, Utah), I got interested (Ok, obsessed) with understanding what was behind that “Lennon-McCartney” credit. So after the Beatles breakup I listened to those early solo albums with great interest, and began collecting interviews with John and Paul in which they talked about songwriting. When I heard McCartney I was floored – I think it was my major focus on music rather than lyrics. So I became a diehard Paul supporter. Which meant that, at that painful time, I wasn’t a John supporter.
In college I majored in music my first two years. Then I switched to English and got my B.A. in that. Then, in grad school, I would change my major about every two months, until I finally ended up majoring in Classics (Greek and Latin). (You can see how this is pointing toward the Beatles, can’t you?) I did grad work in classics at UCLA, and while there, played amplified violin with a group called The Inklings.
After grad school, I got a job working in a law firm (hopefully you’ve noticed the well-planned, linear progression of my career), and with my extensive background in ancient Greek and Latin to help me (and a few ancient Indo-European languages, like Old Irish and Hittite, thrown in for good measure), wrote my first book: In Sacred Loneliness: the Plural Wives of Joseph Smith. In that book, I wrote small biographies of each of the thirty-three women who married the first Mormon prophet, Joseph Smith. Since this is a Beatles forum, I won’t tell you the long story of how I made that transition. But I ended up writing a few books in Utah history that have done OK, considering that I had no training in American or Utah history.
But I kept collecting those files (and books) on Beatle songwriting. And I would often get annoyed by stereotypes about the Beatles, about Paul and John, that seemed to have this weird life. The story I tell about this is a conversation I had with a friend at a party. I mentioned my research, and how Paul and John were badly typecast, and he listened with impatient and annoyance. Then he said, “I’ll just say this — John wrote and sang Helter Skelter , and Paul wrote Goodbye.” Of course, he got it totally switched. And he showed how people often don’t understand the complexity of John and Paul as individual songwriters.
So a few years ago, after my last Utah history book was published, I thought the next logical step would be to write the long-pondered Beatle songwriting book. I told my friends my next book would be about the Beatles, and they laughed at me. Ha! I showed them. It appeared a couple weeks ago. I decided to self-publish (a whole other long story there) and it’s available on Amazon now.
As my research continued, I came to have a steadily more sympathetic view of John; partially because I came to realize what masterpieces he wrote when he was a Beatle. My books attempts to escape the partisan divisions between Paul and John fans. However, there are a lot problematic elements in the John-Paul relationship. In the late interviews, John tended to emphasize individual ownership of songs, and Paul tended to remember collaboration. So on each individual song, I’ve tried to sort that out.
Anyway, for those of you who like this kind of elaborately, pedantically over-documented book, it’s now out there . . .
1 May 2011
Hi and welcome to the forum @toddmagos.
Is this available from Amazon UK, can only find it in the US store?
"I told you everything I could about me, Told you everything I could" ('Before Believing' - Emmylou Harris)