The Complete Beatles Songs
The stories behind every track written by the Fab Four
By Steve Turner
Carlton Books – £30.00
As a huge Beatles fan for as long as I can remember, I’m still learning varying, mighty interesting things about the band as the years hurtle by. This is oft aided and abetted by articles in the quality newspapers every now then, along with yet another book release written from yet another perspective. But in the ultimately B-I-G scheme of things, it’s the astoundingly brilliant music they wrote that traverses all things, which is where this absolutely wonderful book comes into play.
I’ve previously reviewed a couple of Steve Turner’s books on The Beatles, although I have to say, this altogether majestic 340 pages (excluding Discography, Bibliography, Index of Song Titles, Credits & Acknowledgements and Song Credits), really is going to take some beating.
Along with Ian MacDonald’s superlative Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Records and the Sixties (1994), Turner’s The Complete Beatles – the stories behind every track written by the Fab Four will probably set the literary/musical bench mark really high so far as its explanation is concerned.
Compiled in inevitable chronological order and compartmentalised by album (including Live at The BBC and Anthology I – III), this is a publication which traverses nigh every aspect of The Beatles song-writing prowess, written by someone who is clearly a fan, clearly in love with their musical output.
In the book’s Preface for instance, Steve Turner immediately writes: ”In another sense, every time I hear a Beatles song feels like the first time I’ve ever heard it. The elements of surprise in the tunes that made them so captivating when they were first released still sound unexpected. They have a magical capacity for retaining their freshness, and they seem to have been able to do the same for succeeding generations. They are songs very much of the era and culture they were created in but also able to transcend that era and that culture. I feel enormously privileged to have my work printed alongside the work of The Beatles but I’m under no illusions. They did their bit without me. I couldn’t have done my bit without them.”
I’m compelled to write that most bands and (serious) singer/songwriters, couldn’t have done their bit without The Beatles. From The Rolling Stones (who back in the sixties, emulated their every move) right through to Radiohead, the band remain responsible for a menagerie of musical influence to this very day; although it started with that of a rather simplistic approach – which the author substantiates in the very first chapter, Please Please Me: ”Although they naturally drew on their own experiences as they wrote lyrics, they did not at this time feel any compulsion to reveal their hidden selves, write words that could be judged as poetry or compose messages for alienated youth. Their keen concern was to emulate those songs that had proved their worth by becoming hits. They stuck to conventional subject matter, used variations of phrases that had worked in past pop songs and deliberately targeted the emotions of their young female followers. The words of a song were deemed to ”work” not simply because of what they said but because of the pleasing and appropriate sounds they made when sung. Words had to contain their own music.”
As mentioned at the outset of this review, it’s always a pleasant surprise, if not a joy, to stumble upon some musical or personal revelation: ”’Tell Me Why’ was written to provide an ”upbeat” number for the concert sequence in A Hard Day’s Night. John thought of something the Chiffons or the Shirelles might do and ”knocked it off.” It’s a typical John scenario. He has been lied to and deserted. He’s crying. He appeals to his girl to let him know what he’d done wrong so that he can put it right. Children whose parents either leave them or die suddenly are often left with a feeling that they must in some way be responsible. ”If there’s something I have said or done, Tell me what and I’ll apologize,” John sang. Paul later assumed that there was an element of autobiography to it.
It was only when he underwent Primal Therapy in 1970 that John came to terms with these subconscious fears. Therapist Arthur Janov set him the exercise of looking back through all his Beatles’ songs to see what they revealed of his anxieties. On his first post-therapy album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, he was able to sing about these traumas in their original context in songs such as ‘Mother,’ ‘Hold On,’ ‘Isolation’ and ‘My Mummy’s Dead.”’
Suffice to say, many Beatles fans might already know about the stories behind many of the songs, but for me personally, I still find it interesting and more than compelling to re-read, re-learn or be reminded of where and how, so many of these great songs came into being: ”Two events during 1964 had a profound effect on John’s writing. The first was hearing Bob Dylan’s music in Paris during January, when Paul acquired The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan from an interviewer at a local radio station. Paul had heard Dylan’s music before through his student friends in Liverpool but it was the first time John had heard it. After hearing Freewheelin’, Dylan’s second album, they bought his debut album Bob Dylan and, according to John, ”for the rest of our three weeks [in Paris] we didn’t stop playing them. We all went potty on Dylan (Beatles For Sale).
As well as being something of a hefty tomb of a book – reproduced with some terrific colour and black and white photographs – The Complete Beatles Songs is a terrific read, simply jam-packed with quotable quotations.
To say it’s almost un-put-downable, is a colossal understatement; what isn’t though, is the fact that every Beatles fan should own a copy.