Category Archives: The Beatles

The Beatles in 100 Objects

100 objects

The Beatles in 100 Objects
By Brian Southall
Carlton Books – £25.00

Having already written about Brian Southall’s Abbey Road and Beatles Memorabilia – The Julian Lennon Collection, I have to confess to being somewhat intrigued by this relatively new book on the greatest band on the planet, which comes courtesy of a completely different angle.

Other than Andy Babiuk’s excellent 2002 publication of Beatles Gear – All the Fab Four’s Instruments from Stage to Studio and the aforementioned Julian Lennon collection, I can’t really think of a book that concentrates purely on Beatles stuff, things and objects. Admittedly, there was Ringo’s 2005 Postcards from the Boys, but not only was that compiled by an actual Beatle, it was more literary and highlighted the somewhat idiosyncratic insight into the band’s zany, personal and at times, rather affectionate communication.

The Beatles in 100 Objects has been put together from the premise of a more than fascinating compilation of things, many of us might already know and/or be familiar with. Like John Lennon’s Rolls-Royce (a hippy car with all the mod cons) and George Harrison’s painted guitar ‘Rocky’ (a paint and nail varnish job). Althjough more than that, Southall was lucky enough to dig deeper and stumble upon an array of interesting, Beatles related memorabilia – much of which sheds new light.

On page seventy for instance, there’s a replica of a signed Star Club menu, which apart giving early sixties, German drinks prices, clearly marked the end of an era: ””We outlived the Hamburg stage and wanted to pack that up,” said John Lennon. ”We hated going back to Hamburg those last two times.”” While on page 174, there’s a reproduction of Liverpool Airport’s Overcrowding Notice of Friday 10th July 1964 – which again, has been signed by all four members of the band: ”Over 200,000 loyal Beatles fans lined the route from the airport to the city centre and Paul McCartney observed, ”We landed at the airport and found there were crowds everywhere” and went on to say, ”It was incredible because people were lining the streets that we’d known as children, that we’d taken the bus down or walked down. And here we were now with thousands of people – for us” […]. In 1986, ten years after the airport had been privatized, the original terminal at Liverpool airport was replaced with a new building and in March 2002 Liverpool Airport was officially renamed John Lennon Airport.”

From McCartney’s handwritten recording notes for ‘Hey Jude,’ to yet another signed item, the Parlophone promo card (A label for life);’ from Ringo Starr’s Abbey Road ashtray (which he kept beside his drum kit), to the four personalized luggage tags The Beatles were given by Trans World Airlines (during their 1965 Back in the USA tour), The Beatles in 100 Objects is made up of exactly what it says on the cover.

As a result, the book makes for fascinating reading and is as such, nigh un-put-down-able.

The one-hundred objects themselves, have been reproduced in full quality colour on the right, while on the left, Southall depicts the details as well as the story behind each and everyone. So other than being a mighty fun read, it also acts as a great reminder – as the author writes in the book’s Introduction: ”So here we have a book which doesn’t just bring together for the first time a unique collection of objects which illustrate and highlight the life and times of The Beatles in a new and informative way but also reminds at least one senior citizen – and everybody else who is remotely interested in the most golden years of pop music – of how it was back then… when The Beatles ruled the world.”

David Marx

1966

1966

1966 – The Year The Decade Exploded
By John Savage
Faber & Faber – £20.00

From Lou Reed and the influential trajectory of The Velvet Underground to Dusty Springfield; from LSD in all its connotations to how The Beatles changed the world (and to a certain degree, still are); from the threat of all out nuclear war and the formation of CND to The Yardbirds to naturally, England winning the World Cup; 1966 – The Year The Decade Exploded makes absolutely crucial reading for anyone remotely interested in rock’n’roll – as it once was but shall never be again – and (a fundamentally) British culture that at the time, was superlative, if not sublime in its design.

As one of my favourite writers and commentators on modern day music, Jon Savage (whose excellent England’s Dreaming: The Sex Pistols and Punk Rock I reviewed for The Asbury Park Press) writes in the book’s Introduction: ”It was a time of enormous ambition and serious engagement. Music was no longer commenting on life but had become indivisible from life. It had become the focus not just of youth consumerism but a way of seeing, the prism through which the world was interpreted. ‘This isn’t for me’: that simple, defiant cry, delivered by John Lennon, the most famous young person on the planet, echoed throughout 1966. Success wasn’t the be-all and end-all; it was possible to conceive of an alternative future, to believe that things could be different, that people could be free.”

”That people could be free,” unlike today of course, where society, whether by way of societal infrastructure and/or plain expectation, social media or mere economics, has become more shackled than ever before.

Indeed, roll over Jean-Jacques Rousseau and tell David Cameron the news, for as a nation, Britain is becoming increasingly more stifled by the day; unlike the rather explosive year in question, which, throughout these 547 pages (excluding Introduction, Discography, Sources and Index) has been captured, dissected and delivered in such a way that is both educational and entertaining.

Written in chronological month order – with the opening of each chapter stipulated with a set of relative black and white photographs – Savage takes on a veritable journey through a period time that was idiosyncratically innocent, yet nevertheless, breathtakingly vibrant, colourful and some might say, teetering on a precipice of profound new thinking.

Just one (of countless) examples being Bob Dylan, LSD and The Beatles: ”[…] as part of his move away from overt social and political comment, he recorded several news songs that seemed to reflect the hallucinogenic experience. One of them hinted at synaesthesia, music as a cosmic force. ‘Take me for a trip/Upon your magic swirling ship,’ Dylan sang on ‘Mr. Tambourine Man.’ ‘My senses have been stripped/And I can’t feel to grip.’

In late 1964, Dylan turned The Beatles on to marijuana at the end of their first major US tour. By their unanimous account, it was an epiphany. From then on the group began to experiment with sound: you can hear the result in subsequently recorded songs like ‘What You’re Doing,’ ‘I Feel Fine,’ with its feedback opening, and the droning ‘Ticket To Ride.’ By the time that The Beatles were making the film Help! They were – in John Lennon’s words – ‘smoking marijuana for breakfast’ (‘April’).

Other than writing about what many readers might expect such as The Beatles, The Stones and Dylan etc, Savage also touches on the likes of the aforementioned Dusty Springfield, herself, a more than contradictory character: In all, Dusty was a complex, fascinating figure, oscillating between confidence and deep shyness, sharp wit and total commitment to her singing. While her appearance was as solidly armoured as The Supremes’, her spirit was constantly mobile, the fluttering of her hands giving away the tensions and the driven ambition beneath the surface. ‘I want to sing songs that are real, human, with deep emotional appeal,’ she told an American interviewer in 1964, ‘this is my hard fight.”’

Is it just such ‘fight’ that is so sorely lacking amid the wretched Celebrity Culture of today (to which there unfortunately seems no end in sight)?

Either way, 1966 is a mesmerising and intrinsically valuable read.

And it is so for a number reasons, primarily that of the subject matter itself; simply because 1966 ”[…] was a year when audacious ideas and experiments were at a premium in the mass market and in youth culture, with a corresponding backlash from those for whom the rate of change was too quick. The resulting tension was terrific. 1966 was the restless peak, the year when the decade exploded.”

David Marx

The British Pop Music Film – The Beatles and Beyond

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The British Pop Music Film – The Beatles and Beyond
By Stephen Glynn
Palgrave Macmillan – £55.00

As a contextual analysis of Britain’s musical film genre, this thorough examination really does constitute a wide terrain that in all honesty, may be something of a first in its field. Simply dripping with fact, substance and enthusiasm, it’s a must read for anyone remotely interested in Britain’s contribution to rock’n’roll on film.

From Cliff Richard’s A Summer Holiday to The Who’s Quadrophenia, from The Beatles A Hard Day’s Night to the ghastly Spice Girls’ Spice World, Stephen Glynn – who is the author of A Hard Day’s Night: The British Film Guide (2004) and a monograph on Quadrophenia (forthcoming) – has left no cinematic stone unturned.

Written chronologically, the initial idiom of (what on page three, Dick Hebdige has termed) ”youth-as-fun and youth-as-trouble,” The British Pop Music Film – The Beatles and Beyond kicks off with 1957’s Kill Me Tomorrow starring Pat O’Brien and featuring the acting debut of one Tommy Steele, and concludes with 2012’s Ill Manors, written and directed by none other than the hip hop artist/soul singer Plan B, aka Ben Drew. In between, the 212 pages of this very readable book, traverse the socio-politico, musical highs and lows of a genre, that, for all intents and purposes, has more often than not been given short cinematic/critical shrift. But, as Gylnn states in the book’s ‘Conclusion: Music Matters’: ”This study contends that the films in which these musical performances are embedded, long considered of minimal cultural worth, are themselves important sites of cultural negotiation and historical record. They and their own ‘offspring,’ developing from their first uncertain steps to the sophisticated intertextuality of their postmodern afterlife, merit not only conservation or academic consideration, but also celebration.”

Needless to say, perhaps not all of the films considered herein fall under the same descriptive umbrella as to ”merit not only conservation or academic consideration,” let alone ”celebration.” The aforementioned Spice World being a prime example; of which at the polar end stands The Beatles’ 1968 animated film Yellow Submarine – upon which the author sheds an abundance of well considered, critical light.

In Chapter Four (‘The Decadent Pop Music Film: Politics, Psychedelia and Performance’), Glynn intuitively and assertively writes: ”For Ian Christie it was ‘an absolute joy… the best film the Beatles never made.’ Alexander Walker was not alone in claiming that the film captured the Zeitgeist: ‘Yellow Submarine is the key film of the Beatles era. It’s a trip through the contemporary mythology that the quartet from Merseyside have helped create… a pop voyage that sails under the psychedelic colours of Carnaby Street to the turned-on music of ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.’ It combines sensory stimulation with the art of the now in a way that that will appeal to teenage ravers and Tate Gallery goers alike.’ The film was indeed reviewed in Nigel Gosling’s Observer Art Column: he gave the work a new title, ‘mop art, for it succeeds in soaking up acres of the fringe material thrown off by serious painting developments and putting them to such effective use that they are at the same time both valid and exhausted.’ That final caveat was picked up by several critics who saw the film as just too inventive for its own good: Cecil Wilson, for example, confessed that ‘towards the end I began to lose concentration and sank back punch-drunk from the dazzling imagery.”

Being in a position to read the above analysis in just one section of the book, partially accounts for The British Pop Music Film’s validity. Likewise, much of the writing, which, regardless of musical persuasion, never strays too far from that of a tenable, if not trusted critique. The latter of which, is another important contribution to this book’s validity.

At the end of the day as well as at end of most non-fiction books, one wants to instinctively know that one is in very well-researched and reliable hands – of which this is a genuinely fine example. As Barry Faulk of Florida State University has written on the back cover: ”This book should be read with profit by film scholars and students of genre studies, as well as enjoyed by pop music and movie fans. Glynn provides expert commentary on the most significant films in the British rock movie genre, deftly weaving insightful discussions of popular music, counter-culture politics, and British social history into his narrative. His enthusiasm and deep interest in the topic is everywhere apparent.”

Indeed, the fact that Stephen Glynn is so knowledgeable and enthused about his subject, makes this book a veritable joy to read, learn from and ultimately enjoy.

David Marx

Working Class Hero – The Stories Behind Every Lennon Song

Working Class Hero –
The Stories Behind Every Lennon Song
By Paul Du Noyer
Carlton Books – £16.99

This is a profoundly fascinating and compelling book. It covers a period of John Lennon’s work between the years 1970 and 1980 that is all too often (surprisingly) overlooked. There has after all, been hundreds, if not thousands of books written on The Beatles – the most photographed and written about band on the planet. But when it comes to the extraordinary solo work of its initial inspiration, leader, spokesperson and all round beating heart, one has always had to delve a little deeper. Until now.

In Working Class Hero: The Stories Behind Every Lennon Song, we have a thorough investigation into Lennon’s solo work that sheds more than just a little informative light on the songs themselves. Each and every song’s description/analysis may come as a surprise to many readers, as author Paul Du Noyer not only depicts its musical setting and influence, but social background and historical trajectory.

As such, it’s possible to literally open the book at random and stumble upon something truly interesting, if not enlightening. For instance, I randomly opened the book at page 47, on which there’s a black and white photograph of the former American President Richard Nixon shaking hands with Elvis Presley. The song in question just so happens to be ‘Gimme Some Truth,’ which in itself couldn’t be more apt nor persuasive in relation to juxtaposition of pride and prejudice; let alone truth, or, in Presley’s case, myopic and xenophobic stupidity. Beneath the photograph Du Noyer has written: ‘’Richard Nixon meets Elvis at the White house on 21 December 1970. Presley advised the President that The Beatles were ‘’a real force for anti-American spirit.’’ He also offered his services as a narcotics agent, and presented Nixon with a handgun.’’

Turning elsewhere without rhyme or reason, I landed on page 59, most of which is in reference to ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’ on which the author writes: ‘’With the disaster in Indo-China dragging on, John and Yoko felt their message had not lost its relevance. Most important was the ‘’If you want it’’ component, which echoes the ‘Imagine’ theme of a future depending on our collective ability to visualise it. John would re-state his belief in the ‘’projection of goals’’ in his 1980 Playboy interview. Peace, he said, was our responsibility and could not be assigned to some outside agency: ‘’We’re just as responsible as the man who pushes the button… As long as people imagine that someone is doing something to them and that they have no control, then they have no control.’’’’

In light of British soldiers dying everyday in the current un-winnable war that is Afghanistan, not to mention the inflammatory crisis in North Africa and the Middle East – how prophetic the above words are.

And how enlightening this book is.

Free of both the confinement(s) and invariable restraint(s) of The Beatles, Lennon’s work was to become ever more confessional by way of blatant soul searching. The mesmerising results of which was some great music, the considered analysis of which is herein captured magnificently.

David Marx

The Beatles VS The Rolling Stones

The Beatles vs The Rolling Stones
Sound Opinions On The Great Rock’n’Roll Rivalry
By Jim Derogatis and Greg Kot
Voyageur Press – £20.00

Apart from the fact that this book is ever so lavishly designed: great (black and white as well as colour) photographs and chronological pullout time charts that lend it an intrinsically infectious persuasion; it invariably fuels an elongated debate in such a way as to either re-confirm or re-consider ones’ staunch standpoint. It’s something of a literary template, a premise of sorts, from which to embark howling from the rooftops that either The Beatles or The Rolling Stones reigneth supreme.

Even though in my opinion, there’s no real competition – as for every one decent song the latter wrote, the former wrote perhaps twelve great ones – The Beatles Vs the Rolling Stones – The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Rivalry still makes for a terrific read. Even if only to marvel at some of the aforementioned ace photography and take on board some of the (more interesting, questionable, fraudulent, myopic, dismissive, weak, suggestive, colourful and indeed sound) arguments both for and against.

To be sure, throughout the book’s 183 pages, Jim Derogatis and Greg Kot argue their case in a manner that’s perhaps more discursive than it is academic.

Rather like a more focused Mark Radcliff and Stuart Maconie (only without the Northern charm and the petulant flippancy), it’s clear from the outset that the two authors are clearly in the Stones camp. In Chapter Three’s ‘Nothing Is Real – Two Divergent Paths Toward The While Light’ for instance, Derogatis writes: ‘’When it comes to the psychedelic years, I have to say that it always bugs me that the Beatles are portrayed as the Acid Apostles of the New Age, leading rock’n’roll into the psychedelic flowering of the mid-Sixties. The Rolling Stones are considered to have sneered at the genre – the drugs, the sounds, and the whole ‘’peace and love’’ hippie movement – dabbling in it reluctantly, at best, and laughing at it, at worst.’’

If such is the case, then why did The Stones release the tenuous Their Satanic Majesties Request a mere few months following The Beatles release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band? Did it not have something to do with the ever so simple fact that whatever The Beatles did, The Rolling Stones did? Usually six months after the fact might I add. John Lennon was even known to have quipped as much to Mick Jagger – who had (unsurprisingly) yet again managed to ‘drop by’ yet another Beatles recording session at Abbey Road.

That the authors absolutely root for The Stones throughout, is absolutely fine by me; although it does reveal a certain amount of dissent amid what ought to have surely been a thesis more considered. That said, The Beatles Vs the Rolling Stones is a lot more fun than it is scientific, which, if truth be known, is what it’s all about.

Thus, making any thorough examination a tad superfluous. Reason being, idiosyncratic inspiration, not to mention escapism and a feel-good foreboding were what the two bands in question, during the sixties at least, were fundamentally all about. Certain qualities of which, are magnificently captured within these eight chapters; none more so than in perhaps the book’s first premise: ‘’[…] in the end, the only real answer to the question ‘’Beatles or Stones?’’ is ‘’Both!’’

A sound opinion? That’s for you to decide.

David Marx
www.davidmarx.co.uk

A Hard Days Write – The Stories Behind Every Beatles Song

A Hard Day’s Write –

The Stories Behind Every Beatles Song

By Steve Turner

Carlton Books – £20.00

‘’’This Boy’ was written by John and Paul in a hotel bedroom as an exercise in three-part harmony, which they had never attempted on record before, and was inspired, as so much else was at the time, by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. ‘’The middle eight,’’ said George, ‘’was John trying to do Smokey.’’’’

I don’t know about you, but as a Beatles fan, this is the sort of stuff that I never tire of reading about: golden nuggets of truly inspiring information regarding how some of the greatest pop songs ever written came into being. And this absolutely fabulous book, written by insatiable Beatles fan Steve Turner, is invitingly crammed full of the stuff from beginning to end.

Simply written and a joy to both behold and read, A Hard Day’s Write – The Stories Behind Every Beatles Song does indeed touch on every song during every era. It admittedly, doesn’t delve into the recording techniques of The Beatles, nor does it bequeath any major (new) analytical analysis upon the band’s extraordinary catalogue of material; something Turner makes clear at the outset of his Preface: ‘’[…] this is not a book about how the Beatles recorded the songs, nor about who played what on which sessions. Mark Lewisohn has done that job definitively in The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions and anyone who writes about the Beatles now cannot fail to refer to Lewisohn’s book. I have only mentioned production details where they have had a significant bearing on the actual construction of a song, such as where George Martin suggested beginning a song with the chorus, or when lyrics were written or altered in the studio.’’

Due to this approach, A Hard Day’s Write may well appeal to the layman Beatles fan, rather than the tried and tested and read it all before Beatles fan. Many of whom, not only (think they) know all there is to know about the band, but are quite often unprepared to rediscover any of the initial madness and mayhem of Beatlemania – a period during which so many truly great songs were written.

As the author goes on to further qualify, the descriptions herein don’t necessarily stem from that of a dense and academic persuasion either: ‘’Neither is A Hard Day’s Write a book of in-depth musical analysis. I haven’t attempted to describe to the reader what he/she has been listening to for all these years in the language of pentatonic melismas and syncopated stresses. For a musicological approach to the Beatles, see Twilight Of The Gods by Professor Wilfrid Mellors (Schirmer Books, 1973) or the definitive The Songwriting Secrets Of The Beatles by Dominic Pedler (Omnibus Press, 2003).’’

In short, this is the sort of read that gleans all that was and still is great about The Beatles, without traipsing into too much dry or scientific detail. It’s brimming with the sort of information quoted at the outset of this review and – as well as being littered with many black white/colour photographs of the band during the several stages of their career – there’s also something special about the way in which this book has been written and compiled. Whether or not this is partly due to it being a new and updated edition, is hard to tell. That it’s already sold in addition of 250,000 copies however, does in a way suggest there’s a certain quality amid these 217 pages. As Q Magazine’s Johnny Black is quoted as saying on the back cover: ‘’Written with the meticulous integrity of a first-rate journalist.’’

To quote and agree with Mojo’s Paul du Noyer, simply ‘’invaluable.’’

David Marx
www.davidmarx.co.uk

A Day In The Life Of The Beatles

A Day In The Life Of The Beatles

By Don McCullin

Jonathan Cape – £20.00

Where pictures tell a thousand words, pictures of The Beatles tell several thousand. Naturally, this is somewhat dependent upon several differing factors: the degree to which one is a fan, the degree to which one is still yearning to find out more, the degree to which one is able to read between the lines.

As regular readers of this site might by now have ascertained, I am in indeed, an unquestionably serious fan of The Beatles. Along with Liam Gallagher – who, at the mere mention of the magical words John Lennon, devolved into childlike wonderment before my very eyes when I interviewed him – and several thousand (possibly million) others, The Beatles are intrinsically special. Special beyond reason. Special beyond determination. Almost special beyond special in fact.

And why is this?

More importantly, why does it continue to continue as such? Why can one still venture into the deepest depths of no-where, almost anywhere on the planet, and still make some kind of a connection by way of partaking in a Beatles song? The power and the persuasive potential of their musical majesty, is (relentlessly) beyond all comprehension – which may partially explain my unceasing quest to continue finding out more.

A Day In The Life Of The Beatles is made up of a sparkling collection of images by hardened war photographer, Don McCullin, who, prior to taking these photographs, covered the bitter fighting during the Tet Offensive in Vietnam in 1968 – the same year The Beatles recorded The White Album. But on Sunday July 28th, he met the band at the Sunday Times studio in London, and photographed them in colour for a Life magazine cover.

The day that followed has, for whatever reason, become known in Beatles lore as ‘The Mad Day Out.’

Looking at some of these jocular photographs, in which all four-band members appear to be openly having a lot of fun, it’s hard to contemplate the impending doom that was about to descend within the next eighteen months. Although for McCullin, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity: ‘’It was a strange Sunday. I drove in from Hertfordshire to be with the most famous group of people in the world. In a way, I did it in a haze […]. I’m not a studio photographer. I’m a battlefield photographer. I knew how to deal with certain photographic calamities, but not on this scale. I was slightly in awe and out of my depth. I wasn’t accustomed to the speed of their world. I was used to running street battles and this was something different. These four, at the height of their power, were very different personalities. John Lennon and Paul McCartney were clearly the leaders. George Harrison was the most subdued, and Ringo appeared to step back a little. The wind machine was throwing their hair around and their famous faces looked like the figures on Mount Rushmore. To my amazement it worked and we got a beautiful cover.’’

Indeed, some of these photographs – both colour and black and white – are rather beautiful in as much that they capture a certain moment and a certain poignancy, a certain mood and, dare I say it, a certain innocence. As Paul McCartney touches on at the outset: ‘’At this point, in 1968, we were looking for something different. We were working on the ‘White Album’ and it was a dark period. It was a great album, but difficult to make […]. We knew of Don McCullin from his war photography. We were all interested in photography. It was at the forefront of the culture at the time.’’

A Day in the Life of The Beatles contains a wonderful selection of photographs, which more than anything, substantiates both of the above view points made by Messrs. McCullin and McCartney. Thus making for a very worthy addition to that of any serious Beatles library/collection.

David Marx
www.davidmarx.co.uk