Tag Archives: The Beatles

Images Of England Through Popular Music

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Images Of England Through Popular Music –
Class,Youth and Rock’n’Roll, 1955-1976
By Keith Gildart
Palgrave Macmillan – £15.99

[…] the Sex Pistols themselves were the personification of particular aspects of Englishness that could be found in working-class radicalism, humour and populism. They shared Orwell’s view that England remained ‘a land of snobbery and privilege, ruled largely by the old and the silly.’

The tension of class, authenticity, stardom and recognition were a constant source of tension between Lennon and McCartney in their formative years and throughout their subsequent career.

And so it came to pass that popular music as we once knew it turned into huge, regular dollops, of mere money-spinning horse manure.

Where once upon a time England actually had exciting, rebellious, inventive artists and rock’n’roll bands (The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and David Bowie among many others), we now have far too many wailing tarts with microphones of whom all rather fancy themselves as Etta James; but are in fact, pure hogwash of the first degree (the ghastly Pixie Lott of whom, surely wails at the vanguard).

In essence, the country no longer has a music industry any more.

That there are but three main record companies left in London (Universal, Sony and Warner) should come as no surprise. They all subscribe subscribe to the ideology of Satan himself, Simon Cowell – which is to say, here today, gone tomorrow, who gives a toss about what it sounds like, so long as it generates money – and they all behave in such a way that is detrimental to music as we once knew. As depicted in this very readable book by Keith Gildart.

Its eight chapters capture something of a magical, bygone period in British music, a time when artists and bands weren’t being groomed by accountants, but by musical instinct (and in some instances, intellect).

Indeed, Images Of England Through Popular Music – Class,Youth and Rock’n’Roll, 1955-1976, not only traverses the musicality of said time period, but also the degree to which class and geography played a part: ”In the post-war period, North West England in particular became closely associated with popular music and produced a multiplicity of groups and solo artists. Some performers retained particularly northern traits in terms of accent, style, humour and an identification with the broader working-class that purchased their records and danced to their rhythms (‘Coal, Cotton and Rock’n’Roll’).

In three parts (‘Teddy Boy England,’ ‘Mod England’ and Glam/Punk England’), the book as a whole casts an intrinsically ideological net, which goes some way in deciphering how and why things came about the way they did.

A good example being John Lennon’s position within all of this, as addressed in the chapter ‘Liverpool, The Beatles and Cultural Politics: ”Lennon’s ambiguous position within the class structure of Liverpool was familiar to a generation of working and lower-middle class children who experienced social mobility through eduction, but retained an affiliation to aspects of working-class structure. His rebelliousness was rooted in his negative reaction to formal schooling and the class nature of the English education system […]. The division between rock’n’roll and jazz was demarcated through class lines in Liverpool and other English towns and cities. Some writers have tended to focus on Lennon’s art school experiences as his entry point into the more esoteric elements of American rock’n’roll […]. Yet they underestimate the resilience of class and locality in the roots of English popular music. Lennon personified the complexity of class identity with his bridging of both working and middle-class cultures.”

To say the above is a mere tip of the literary dissertation that this most worthy critique of (English) youth culture has to offer, is an understatement.

The more it unfolds, the more one is compelled to both read and investigate ever further.

David Marx

This Is Anfield

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This Is Anfield –
The Official Illustrated History of Liverpool FC’s Legendary Stadium
By Mark Platt with William Hughes
Carlton Books – £25.00

It’s there to remind our lads who they’re playing for and to remind the opposition who they’re playing against.

Bill Shankly

With Liverpool FC at the top of the league for the first time in a while, it does have to be said, German manager, Jorgen Klopp, is clearly doing something (exceedingly) right. There again, when I lived in Berlin, he did win the Bundesliga back to back with Borussia Dortmund in 2011 and 2012.

So all told, he’s a more than qualified, and lest it be said, rather feisty manager to lead one of the finest teams in the land to some sort of silverware.

It’s just a shame his star wasn’t/hasn’t fundamentally been brought to bear in This Is Anfield – The Official Illustrated History of Liverpool FC’s Legendary Stadium. A fine and altogether lavish, coffee table book, which charts the development of Liverpool’s football ground from its initial establishment in 1884 (as the home of Merseyside rivals, Everton Football Club) right through to it being something of a Red fortress. A place where the teams of Shankly, Paisley and Dalglish developed Liverpool FC into one of the finest of premier clubs in world football.

Replete with more than 150 historic, rare photographs, This Is Anfield explores the football ground’s rich and eventful history, as well as a range of iconic themes forever linked to the stadium. Among them: the famous Boot Room, the Shankly Gates, the legendary Kop – not to mention of course, many a fabled, European night.

Its ten chapters – along with a section aptly entitled, ‘A Timeline of Anfield’s Significant Changes, Moments and Games ‘ – more than qualifies this robust book as being the real deal.

The Introduction alone, sets the record straight nigh immediately: ”From humble origins it has gradually risen and now looms large over the surrounding rows of back-to-back terraced houses that have been there as long as the ground itself. The towering stands dominate the local skyline and it’s become as much a symbol of the city as the Liver Buildings or St. George’s Hall […]. A swaying Kop singing along to songs by The Beatles in the mid-1960s and a portly policeman laughing out loud as the ecstasy of another title erupts around him a couple of years later.”

In fact, it reads more like a celebration of Anfield’s existence, rather than a mere literary nod to its existence. So much so, I’m convinced each of its 188 pages will undoubtedly bring something special to each and every fan; a book where there’s many a drop-quote-deliberation (which many might not actually know):

When the Kop start singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ my eyes start to water. There have been times when I’ve actually been crying while I’ve been playing.

Kevin Keegan

There’s not one club in Europe with an anthem like ‘You’ll never Walk Alone.’ There’s not one club in the world so united with the fans.

Johan Cruyff

Gerry [Marsden] told me that they used to play the top 10 records before kick-off at Anfield but when YNWA fell out of the chart, lots of people complained. So it carried on being played and just snowballed from there.

Anfield announcer George Sephton

Suffice to say, if there’s ONE name that is and shall forever be synonymous with Anfield, it is surely that of the legendary Liverpool manager, Bill Shankly. So it’s only right he should claim and be credited with the majority of quotes:

”We have great grass at Anfield… Professional grass!”
”The very word ‘Anfield’ means more to me than I can describe.”
”Anfield isn’t a football ground, it’s a sort of shrine. These people are not simply fans, they’re more like members of one extended family.”

Still are.

David Marx

Paul McCartney – The Biography

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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 in 100 Objects

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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 Complete Beatles Songs

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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.

David Marx

1965 – The Year Modern Britain Was Born

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1965 – The Year Modern Britain Was Born
By Christopher Bray
Simon & Schuster – £20.00

An enlightening and emphatically liturgical book – from that of a quintessentially artistic and political persuasion at least – 1965: The Year Modern Britain Was Born covers a colourful and expansive terrain, while in so doing, making for occasionally terrific reading.

From said year’s deaths of Winston Churchill and T.S.Eliot, to the still felt debauched debacle that was Dr. Beeching’s ‘The Reshaping of Britain’s Railways (”For the Beeching axe was nothing more than an exercise in market-driven ideology – one of the most naked in the history of post-war Britatin – and one that was bound to disappoint. In an increasingly post-industrialised age, the railways were never going to be profitable.”); from Sylvia Plath and Pink Floyd to the Vietnam War (”You only had to turn the box on during the mid-sixties to be confronted with imagery from this distant, bloody turmoil. Beyond the impression of naked chaos, it was also easy to notice that America’s part in the war was largely fought by black troops and white officers”), to Roy Jenkins, quite possibly the finest Foreign Secretary Britain has ever had (”Jenkins once called his stint at the Home Office ‘the liberal hour.’ It has turned into a liberal half-century, and there is no prospect of our turning the clock back on his reforms”); 1965 is a book that travels at quite a literary speed, yet never takes its eye off the ball of the year’s gargantuan influence.

Already in the book’s Introduction, former Fleet Street journalist and author, Christopher Bray already makes as much clear wherein he writes: ”We are talking of 1965, the year the old Britatin died and the new Britain was born. Because 1965 planted bomb after bomb under the hidebound, stick-in-the-mud, living-on-past glories Britain that preceded it – and gave us the country we live in today. Everywhere you looked, from the House of Commons to the school common room, from the recording studio to the television screen, from the railways to the rear-view mirror, from the inner space of the tortured mind to the outer space of the moon, the country was (as Bob Dylan put it that year) ‘busy being born.’ Change wasn’t just in the air – it was the air, the air everyone breathed all day long.”

Moreover, a relatively easy yet compelling read, these ten chapters are, if nothing else, a pertrinent reminder of how very, very influential and artistically creative 1965 was. And throughout the book, there’s one inexorable reminder, after another, after another.

Although I have to say, it is chapter five (‘Something Is Happening Here’), which fundamentally focuses on Bob Dylan’s visionary, if not astounding output throughout the year – during which he released the highly influential albums Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisted – that I personally found the most eye-opening, the most interesting and unsurprisingly, the most intrinsically captivating: ”There was, though, no humour to be found in the first great masterpiece of Dylan’s post-political work, ‘Like A Rolling Stone,’ a hectoring, haranguing, humiliating diatribe that is less a song of protest than it is a song of detestation […]. Far from reasurring them that all was right with the world because God – and, of course, Dylan – was on their side, the song told everyone that they were alone in a universe more hostile than anyone bar a few philosphers had ever dare let on. ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ was a kind of aural judgement day, a howling threnody from an Old Testament prophet counselling – decreeing? – that none shall survive […]. It is easy to forget – given the song’s barbarous reputation – that this is joyous music, music that was originally conceived in waltz-time, music that for all the hellfire and damnation histrionics of its lyric never strays out of the key of C major. (Long after the event – and perhaps wise after it, too – Dylan would call C major ‘the key of strength, but also the key of regret). Joe Macho Jr.’s bass line hops and bounces gleefully along, while Al Kooper’s organ – astonishingly, a last-minute addition to the mix – is so offhand and blasé, so honeyed and viscous, it oils much of the grind and friction out of Dylan’s cawing invective.”

Other than just some of the ultimately very well considered description(s) mentioned above, I for one, never knew Dylan thought of C major as ”the key of strength, but also the key of regret.”

So, for (certain) Dylanologists alone, this book is exceedingly well worth purchasing and reading. But Sir Bob aside, 1965 also profiles and analyses the more than important/captivating year in such a manner that is in a way, poetically robust and all resounding in more ways than one.

David Marx