The Mammoth Book of The Beatles
Edited by Sean Egan
Running Press/Constable & Robinson – £7.99
‘’In 1967, Rolling Stone journalist Langdon Winner wrote, ‘‘The closest Western Civilization has come to unity since the Congress of Vienna in 1815 was the week the Sgt. Pepper… album was released.’’ During that week, Winner happened to be driving across the USA on Interstate 80. In each city where he made a stop for food or petrol, the tableau was the same: …Pepper… was omnipresent. He wrote, ‘’… the melodies wafted in from some far-off transistor radio or portable hi-fi. It was the most amazing thing I ever heard. For a brief while the irreparably fragmented consciousness of the West was unified, at least in the minds of the young.’’’’
So writes Sean Egan in the devilishly apt and informative Introduction of The Mammoth Book of the Beatles, which, as it’s title implies, is a veritable tomb of all things Beatles related. ‘Part One: Life and Art’ chronicles the band’s complete recordings with razor-sharp analysis of each and every album, while ‘Part Two: Dissenters,’ contains five essays with semi-provocative titles such as ‘Penny Lame’ (by Dave Simpson) and ‘Living Life Without Loving The Beatles’ (by Gary Hall). Part Three looks at The Beatles Film and TV output – which includes a more than alluring piece by Mitchell Axelrod entitled ‘The Beatles TV Cartoon Series: Beatletoons’ – while ‘Part Four: Beatle Women’ contains a number of candid interviews with the likes of Cynthia Lennon, Pattie Boyd and (rather surprisingly) Astrid Kirchherr, the latter of whom injects refreshing light into the proceedings.
For instance, when the interviewer Ken Sharp, asks why John Lennon was only able to open himself up to the then Beatles bass-player, Stuart Sutcliff (whom she was set to marry before he died of a brain haemorrhage) Kirchherr replies: ‘’I don’t know. I think they were soul brothers in a way as far as art was concerned, life as being an artist. John admired Stuart for his strength wanting to be an artist. Stuart knew from the very beginning that all he wanted was painting. And John had so many gifts, it was hard for him. He was a great musician and a great artist as well.’’
Reading such words, makes one wonder what might have been, had Lennon not been murdered?
That said, the resoundingly rich, musical legacy that he and The Beatles bequeathed upon the then unsuspecting world, remains as equally resonant and irresistible today, as it no doubt did back then. In fact, it’s impossible for a Beatles track go by without me picking up on its illustrious nature, sound quality and all embracing (and consuming) exuberance.
The penultimate section of this book, includes assorted interviews with Pete Best, George Martin, Paul McCartney and Bill Harry, while ‘Part Six: And In The End’ concludes with a colourful overview of the band by Paul Gambaccini – the following of which has oft been said, but is still worth mentioning: ‘’The Beatles – the unit – was greater than the sum of its parts. They were John, Paul, George and Ringo – not or – the first and, to this day, the only rock group whose Christian names were all known to all society.’’
Along with a comprehensive UK Discography by Graham Calkin, this book is a more than valuable collection to that of any serious Beatles archivist.