The Cambridge Companion to The Beatles

The Cambridge Companion to The Beatles

Edited by Kenneth Womack

Cambridge University Press

Paperback (9780521689762) £15.99

Hardback (9780521869652) £55.00

To my mind, it always makes an inspiring to change to read about The Beatles actual body of work, rather than The Beatles themselves. So much has already been said, written, analysed and presumed about each of the band’s four members, that any remaining, non-formulaic kernel of evolving mystery, is to surely be found within that of the music itself.

And what music it (still) is.

Just as exciting, contagious and inventive today as when it was originally released, much of what The Beatles wrote – from an analytical standpoint at least – invariably falls within the category of brilliant conjecture. For Beatles pundits everywhere, have always assumed (yet simultaneously remained fervently open to persuasion) that they are in the know; as to how nigh each and every song came into being. And here’s the thing: they might be right, they might be wrong. Reason being, there’s something to be said for the argument that the more one discovers, the more inconclusive the entire catalogue becomes. Or, as Anthony DeCurtis has written in the Forward of this altogether outstanding study: ‘’The more we know the more we need to know.’’

To be sure, there are probably those who couldn’t care less. Loads in fact.

Who, after all, really cares about the scientific analysis of art? Who, with the possible exception of professors and Al Pacino, truly cares about the literary criticism of latter day Shakespeare for instance? International anoraks of the world may re-unite once a year to dissect their favourite B-sides of a certain artist (B-sides being a long forgotten idiom of former invention and potential greatness, no longer in existence since the arrival of the mp3 generation), but in the cold light of day, no one really cares. Do they?

So far as any serious musicologists and dedicated followers of the lads are concerned, much is to be gleaned from such an important catalogue of songs as that of The Beatles. And one couldn’t want for a more thorough examination of their work than The Cambridge Companion to the Beatles . A definitive exploration of the band’s work from Please Please Me through to Abbey Road, the book’s twelve essays are a more than commendable contribution to any Beatles literary collection.

In ‘Introducing The Beatles,’ the book’s editor Kenneth Womack, already captures much what the band were about: ‘’With the Beatles, there was a genuine sense of wonder – a desire, even, for the primitive feel and muscularity of rock and roll, yet there was also a deeply felt nostalgia that developed throughout their career, a reverence for the awesome weight of the past, and a blunt recognition of the creative possibilities and rewards of authorship.’’

Replete with comprehensive set-lists of songs from between 1957 and 1962 – which already included no less than twenty-seven Lennon-McCartney originals – the essays make for rather wow factor reading (whether read separately or in conjunction with one another). Indeed, from ‘Six boys, six Beatles: the formative years, 1950 – 1962’ by Dave Laing, to Jerry Zolten’s ‘The Beatles as recording artists,’ from ‘’’Try Thinking more’’: Rubber Soul and the Beatles’ transformation of pop’ by James M. Decker to Walter Everett’s ‘Any time at all: the Beatles’ free phrase rhythms,’ there’s absolutely nothing in this book that isn’t short of superb.

Once again, to quote De Curtis: ‘’[…] this book offers an illuminating guide to all readers who are moving forward into the precarious world ahead, bringing The Beatles with them for spiritual nourishment, enriched understanding, necessary insight, and absolute pleasure.’’

David Marx


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