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Paul McCartney – The Biography

mccarteny-the-biography

Paul McCartney – The Biography
By Philip Norman
Weidenfeld & Nicolson – £25.00

Having attended the premiere of The Beatles’ Eight Days A Week last Thursday, I couldn’t help but come away with a feeling of re-invigorated, inspired awe.

First off, there’s the relentless number of terrific songs, closely followed by the contagious sense of the fun and all encompassing, teenage induced mayhem. Then there’s the unavoidable sense of energy with which the four members of The Beatles performed – who, need we remind ourselves, were the same age as the all but manufactured, One Direction, during Beatlemania.

Indeed, there really is so much one could continue to write about Ron Howard’s documentation of the band’s period of live performance(s); most notably, the unquestionable abundance of high-octane, astonishing material.

But then there are the four individual Beatles themselves, each one of whom, to varying degrees admittedly, was responsible for making the Fab Four who and what they essentially were: the greatest band in the history of popular music. Period.

What also came across loud and exceedingly clear throughout the film, was the devastating song-writing prowess of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. They were the ones who were fundamentally responsible for separating The Beatles from the nine-hundred-thousand-million other (mighty average) bands of the day; which is just one of many, many reasons why Paul McCartney – The Biography, is as idiosyncratically important as it is.

Important for a number of very qualified and varied reasons, one of the most pertinent of which is how the book substantiates the fact that The Beatles were not an overnight success. This is something Sir Paul McCartney made very clear before Thursday’s screening of Eight Days A Week, when interviewed by fellow Liverpudlian, John Bishop.

To be sure, The Beatles honed their craft by having played every superfluous, stinking dive and toilet in Liverpool and Hamburg; before their eventual manager, Brain Epstein, even set eyes on them. A fact which partially accounts for their brilliance, but most definitely accounts for most of today’s artists being pointless and puerile, lacklustre and in truth, fucking awful in comparison.

Then of course, there’s the book’s actual writing itself.

With this being the first actual biography written with McCartney’s approval, and with access to family members and friends closest to him, it ought hardly be surprising that it is as good and quintessentially un-put-downable as it is. There again, it was written by Philip Norman, who, along with having written Fiction and a number of Plays and Musicals, previous books include Shout! The True Story of The Beatles, The Stones, Elton, Days in the Life: John Lennon Remembered, The Age of Parody, Buddy: the Biography, John Lennon: The Life and Mick Jagger.

So, a fine pedigree of a writer, but perhaps of more substantiation, one to be clearly be trusted.

Might it be said that at 816 pages – excluding Acknowledgements, Picture Credits and Index – trust and truth will endeavour to go a very long way; especially given all four Beatles’ penchant for having never held back and for having always told it as it truly was.

So as one can probably imagine, the five parts of this veritable tomb of information (‘Stairway to Paradise,’ ‘The Barnum & Bailey Beatle,’ ‘Home, Family, Love,’ ‘Carrying That Wait’ and ‘Back in the World’), covers nigh every aspect and period of McCartney’s rich and varied life. This also includes the good, the bad and the ugly. The latter of which is traversed amid chapter 53, ‘Even by British tabloid standards, the nastiness has been extraordinary’ – which is an overview of the degree to which the British tabloids had sunk whilst covering McCartney’s divorce from the vile Heather Mills.

But for me, and, I suspect many others, it’s the earlier sections of the book that covers and somewhat analyses the heady days of The Beatles, that invariably makes for the most compelling reading.

For instance, in chapter twelve (‘Did you know he sleeps with his eyes open?’), Norman writes: ”[…] Their innovative presentation, not as lead vocalist and sidemen but four (almost) equals, gave them a wholly unforeseen extra power. On top of their collective charm, each had a distinct character appealing to different sections of their audience: there was the ‘clever’ one, the ‘cute’ one, the ‘quiet’ one and what film producer Walter Shenson called ‘the adorable runt of the litter.’

Together they were more articulate, charming and intelligent – above all funnier – than any pop artistes before, but this alone doesn’t explain the British media’s fixation on them during that rainy summer of 1963. It was a season of unremitting hard news, including the Profumo scandal, the biggest train robbery in history, the thwarting of Britain’s attempt to join the European Economic Community, the resignation of Prime minister Harold Macmillan and the resulting turmoil within the Tory government. Fleet Street initially turned to ‘Beatlemania’ (a term coined by The Daily Mirror) for a bit of light relief, thereby discovering to its surprise that pop-obsessed teenagers read newspapers, too. From then on, there was no surer way to shift copies.

Today, the ‘-mania’ tag is attached to any pop star, or other sort of star, who draws an ardent crowd: ‘Justin Bieber-mania,’ Leonardo DiCaprio-mania,’ One Direction-mania,’ Prince Harry-mania,’ etc., etc. But in the sleepy, orderly Britain of the mid-twentieth century, Beatlemania truly did seem to verge on the psychotic. And it wasn’t just the Mach-speed rise of the band’s records in the charts, the multitudes who queued for their shows, the incessant shrieks that drowned out every song they played, the volleys of jelly babies that were flung at the stage or the rows of seats left drenched in female urine.”

A sanctified, pop-induced image of a bygone era, does the above most accurately depict – just like that of Ron Howard’s just released docu-epic, Eight Days A Week. But where Philip Norman’s Paul McCartney – The Biography differs, apart from the fact that it’s a book, is its overall appreciation and analysis of the Beatles, followed by a more than considered continuation of McCartney’s life since.

Other than being a read that is cool and commendable, analytical and ambitious, it’s simply breath-taking on scope.

Fantabulous. Yeah Yeah Yeah.

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

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
www.davidmarx.co.uk

Across The Universe – The Beatles On Tour And On Stage

Across The Universe –
The Beatles On Tour And On Stage
By Andy Neill
Haynes Publishing – £19.99


One has to only leaf through the pages of Across The Universe: The Beatles On Tour And On Stage to ascertain the sheer mayhem and madness that accompanied the band throughout their live touring schedule of the mid-sixties. Regardless of it being an altogether different era, there’s not a band in existence that has come anywhere near close to creating such a twist of testosterone induced chaos and excitement. Not The Who. Not The Stones. Not Led Zeppelin. Not The Clash. Not Nirvana. Not U2. Not Oasis. Not anyone.

To be sure, such a high-octane outbreak of genuine goose pimples and cathartic adoration hasn’t been seen since the band last performed at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park on August 29th 1966. As such, with the possible exception of the film A Hard Day’s Night, this book captures a piece of vital and frenetic rock’n’roll history – the likes of which will never again be repeated (simply because it can’t be repeated – but that’s another story altogether).

A life-long Beatles fan, Andy Neill has herein compiled a selection of predominantly black and white photographs that go a long way in substantiating the dictum: a picture paints a thousand words. By utilising over three hundred images – many of which haven’t been seen before – as well as rare memorabilia, Neill examines The Beatles frenetic existence as live performers. The result is a quasi-collision of innocence and expectation, as countless words and emotions leap forth off the pages.

From a 1964 press conference in the chapter ‘Rattle Your Jewellery,’ George Harrison is quoted as saying ‘’When we got back to Britain, after we’d been touring Sweden, this Beatlemania thing had started, but we didn’t hear anything about it because we’d been away. We just landed in London and everybody there was smashing the place up.’’ Indeed they were, and the accompanying photographs underline his words: hordes of screaming girls, hordes of fainting girls, hordes of concerned policeman, hordes of smiling policemen, broken barriers at gigs, no on-stage monitors, chaotic photographs in corridors, the lads running, ducking, diving, smiling, waving, playing, leaving theatres, arriving at theatres, boarding planes (besieged by fans), descending down the steps of planes (besieged by ground-staff), smoking cigarettes, drinking cups of tea, signing autographs, making yet another hasty retreat…

Were it not for the fact that Britain’s Daily Mirror has the world’s largest newspaper archive of Beatles images, many of the photographs within this book might never have been seen. On page 164 for instance, there’s a great photograph of The Beatles on the ABC Theatre fire escape in Blackpool (which I’ve never seen before), in which all four, seemingly content members of the band, look totally different from one another: Paul’s happily looking into the camera whilst George faces the lens with something of a far more serious gaze; a clearly haggard Ringo in jeans looks away as does a smoking and bemused John. Overlooking the lads is the town’s notorious tower, standing strong and proud – which takes up at least half of this more than poignant, yet telling shot.

Suffice to say, there’s the usual plethora of posed photographs, but it’s the slightly off-guard moments that accounts for Across The Universe: The Beatles On Tour And On Stage being a very worthy addition to that of any serious Beatles collection.

David Marx
www.davidmarx.co.uk

Treasures of The Beatles

Treasures Of The Beatles
By Terry Burrows
Carlton Books – £25.00


Terry Burrows’ Treasures Of The Beatles is a veritable treasure trove of Beatles memorabilia, guaranteed to bring the largest of smiles to the largest of fab four fans – and I ain’t talking those of the rotund persuasion. Put it this way, upon its arrival, my partner couldn’t help but comment upon the sheer glee etched all over my face…

Indeed, with the current fiftieth anniversary of the band’s stint in Hamburg being celebrated throughout Germany (not to mention the mighty successful musical All You Need Is Love that is continuing to pack ‘em in in Berlin), there appears to be no let up in sight so far as Beatles paraphernalia is concerned. But what makes this Carlton collection a tad different, is the fact that it’s at the vanguard of something new, something special.

It’s not so much a book as a lavish, chronological assortment of bits’n’pieces that make up a sort of quintessential, highbrow and necessary scrapbook. Commenting on the song ‘Not A Second Time’ from the With The Beatles album on page twenty-one for instance, Burrows writes: ‘’Written by John, who double tracks the vocals, ‘Not A Second Time’ is another soul-influenced number. This led to William Mann, the music critic of The Times, writing an over-enthusiastic article entitled ‘What Songs The Beatles Sang.’ He gushingly compares the track to Gustav Mahler’s ‘Song of the Earth,’ saying: ‘’One gets the impression that they think simultaneously of harmony and melody, so firmly are the major tonic sevenths and ninths built into their tunes.’’ He continues in this vein, going on to discuss the Aeolian cadence at the end of the song. John thought Aeolian cadences sounded ‘’like exotic birds.’’

Replete with black’n’white, hardback cover within a box, Treasures Of The Beatles’ colourful contents takes the reader by smokescreen surprise.

Even though the whole thing consists of only sixty-three pages – many of which are laden with inserts containing a wealth of literary facsimiles (among them: the Koschmider contract for the aforementioned Hamburg gigs in 1960, a 1963 signed flyer for Parlophone Records and a hand-written set list from the same year, a 1964 poster of the band’s tour of New Zealand and a hand-written USA tour itinerary from the same year, a 1965 signed postcard from the set of Help! and a 1967 Invitation to The Magical Mystery Tour plus a whole lot more besides) – it’s the actual layout and design that traverses the norm.

From the early days of 1957 to the demise of the band in 1970 and the aftermath thereof – via a brief assessment of each individual band member and album – this Terry Burrows collection is akin to that of a much deserved bar of chocolate. It might not enlighten beyond what we already know nor be that good for our collective complexions, but so far as a sure-fire, literary sugar-fix-hit is concerned: it’s the dog’s under-carriage.

David Marx
www.davidmarx.co.uk

The Mammoth Book of The Beatles

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.

David Marx


www.davidmarx.co.uk