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The Beatles performance on the Ed Sullivan Show in February 1963 marked the musical beginning of the 1960s. Since then, critics and biographers have written hundreds of books to explain the group’s cultural and musical significance, not only to the sixties, but also up to present time. Notable biographies of John Lennon by Tim Riley, Paul McCartney by Howard Sounes, and George Harrison by Graeme Thomson, as well as group histories such as The Beatles by Bob Spitz might lead us to think that all there is to be revealed about the band has been uncovered. How wrong we are. Two more major works; the first volume in a proposed three part group biography entitled Tune In, by Mark Lewisohn and the encyclopedic All the Songs, by Frenchmen Philippe Margotin and Jean-Michel Guesdon are available on the shelves of the Kenosha Public Library.
In Tune In, Lewisohn meticulously traces the earliest years of the band’s prehistory up until their first British single, “Love Me Do” launched the initial stirrings of Beatlemania in 1962. Born during the Blitz and growing up in the grey and war-ravaged north of England in the 1950s, John , Paul, George, and Ringo lived in subtly different working class worlds from each other, but were each profoundly changed upon hearing the new rock and roll sounds from the U.S., like Elvis Presley, Little Richard and Gene Vincent. Their time as a group in Hamburg, Germany (Ringo was there too, playing for another Liverpool band) in the early sixties cemented their technique and established their onstage personalities even as they developed an entirely new look and made vital artistic contacts. The story of two early members of the group, drummer Pete Best, and the tragic Stu Sutcliffe also figure in these years when the Silver Beetles became the Beatles. When a young record store manager named Brian Epstein heard about the band’s local popularity upon their return to Liverpool in 1962 and spent a lunch hour at the Cavern Club basking in their enthusiastic music, he was the first to imagine the band’s potential and originality and quickly signed on as manager. This volume ends with their first recordings at London’s Abbey Road studio at the brink of stardom. Stay tuned for the next chapter.
All the Songs recreates the background, production, and minutia of every Beatle recording, including the day to day details that will fascinate Beatlemaniacs as well as novices to their 213 song catalog. Authors Margotin and Guesdon catalog each recording in order, listing principle songwriter (Lennon and McCartney did not collaborate on many of their songs), date, number of takes, along with inspiration and circumstances of writing and recording every song. Casual fans might not know that it was Eric Clapton who played the searing solo in George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, but it might surprise even those fluent in Beatle that Jimi Hendrix, only two days after the 1967 release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, played the title track to open a show in London. Such ardent detail combined with profuse illustrations make the book an irresistible read.
The legend and history of the fab four or any of the early rock and roll pioneers provides still more proof that popular music, with its toned bodied beauties and American Idol-style promotion, ain’t what it used to be.