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THE TOP 6 ESSENTIAL BEATLE BOOKS

There have been hundreds (thousands?) of books written about The Beatles over the decades, and there appears to be no sign of the publication of new tomes slowing down any time soon.

I must confess I have not read anywhere near all of them, but I do have a fair few on my bookshelf, maybe about sixty all told, including books about the solo Beatles.

So here in ascending order, are my top six books about the Fab Four:


6. GET BACK - The Beatles Let It Be Disaster (Helter Skelter Publishing 1997) by Doug Sulphy & Ray Schweighardt. Not to be confused with the recent spate of "Get Back" related books, this 25 year old book lays out in forensic detail the sessions in January 1969 that resulted in the "Let It Be" album/film/rooftop concert, with an almost minute by minute account of proceedings, making it an invaluable reference for this period in the bands history. The book goes along with the then accepted narrative that the sessions were a miserable experience for all involved, reinforced by the now infamous picture of the band (+Yoko) sat looking dejected and bored listening back to a performance in the studio.

This angle has been somewhat usurped by Peter Jackson's almost breezy presentation of the same events, but despite this, the book is essential reading for any fan who wants a rounded account of the "Get Back" sessions.


5. THE BEATLE WHO VANISHED (Rock & Roll Detective Publishing 2013) by Jim Berkenstadt.

I picked this up cut-price at "The Works" book store, and had pretty low expectations. On the surface it looked to be one of those "cash-in" type books, focussing on a very brief chapter in the Beatles story, namely the two weeks (actually one day short of that) where jobbing drummer Jimmie Nicol found himself thrust into a whirlwind of fame when he deputised for a sick Ringo on part of their 1964 international tour. However, the book's scope is cast a lot wider, it aims to tell the reader what happened before his "15 minutes" of fame, and, more importantly, what happened afterwards, when the madness of touring with the band ended suddenly, and he was left to deal with the aftermath, and how he made sense of his life going forward. It turns into a detective story, with the author following leads, some of them going cold, as Nicol increasingly becomes a reclusive figure. It's a fascinating read.


4. THE BEATLES ANTHOLOGY (Apple/Cassell & Co 2000) by The Beatles.

This is an obvious choice, it has the advantage of being told by the Beatles themselves, so one expects the narrative to be at least factually accurate, with, one assumes, many of the myths surrounding the well trodden story to be debunked and corrected as we go along. This view has been questioned by some, who point out that each band member frequently recalls the same incidents differently, leaving the reader occasionally perplexed as to what exactly happened. This is a minor point, and to have this substantial book in all it's glory is an essential addition to any fan's collection.


3. THE COMPLETE BEATLES RECORDING SESSIONS (Octopus Books 1988 (updated 2018)) by Mark Lewisohn.

There are various books that attempt to document aspects of the bands career, whether it be live gigs, films, lyrics etc. - but it is the time spent in the hot house of the recording studio that attracts the most attention. The band recorded most (thought not all) of their historic, magical music at Abbey Road (aka EMI) Studios in London, and Mark Lewisohn was certainly the right person for the job. It's a perfect book for dipping into and you soon become engrossed in the minutia of the recording process, particularly the ever increasing sophistication of the techniques used by the band alongside George Martin to create the music.


2. REVOLUTION IN THE HEAD (Vintage 1995 (updated 2005)) by Ian MacDonald.

This is many fans favourite book on The Beatles, and it's easy to see why. The Daily Telegraph noted: "MacDonalds analyses of the Fab Four's output, mixing anecdote with serious scholarship", and The Independent stated: "A pinnacle of popular musical criticism".

The author seamlessly blends facts with sometimes brutal criticism giving food for thought for the reader. There is no fawning, but it's clear that Macdonald was a huge fan (he passed in 2003), and where he feels it is deserved, he heaps praise, but he also points out where they could have done better.

The book starts with several essays on the general theme of the sixties, and The Beatles place in the wider world of music, politics and popular culture, these are a little hyperbolic, but the meat of the book is the 338 pages devoted to a chronological run through all the songs, and that is what makes this book essential reading.


1. ALL THESE YEARS VOL.1 - THE BEATLES TUNE-IN (Little Brown Book Co. 2013) by Mark Lewisohn.

Mark Lewisohn decided that there should be a "definitive" history of The Beatles, and who better to create one? Even though there's only been part one of a trilogy published so far (the latest release date for Vol.2 is 2023 - possibly) it is clear from the first volume that this is a serious book, that surely will become the supreme reference work about the band.

The first volume only takes the story up to the end of 1962, and goes into painstaking detail about every aspect of John, Paul, George and Ringo's history (and pre-history) going back several generations to put into context the kind of community in which the boys grew up. Obviously all the other characters in the story are given substantial space as well.

Many anecdotes that have been included in the many book that have gone before are one by one dismissed as half-truths and downright fiction, as the author attempts to correct the narrative once and for all.

There is even an expanded box set that offers TWO hardback volumes in a slipcase - it is this that I would advise you seek out, even though the price at the time of writing was around £85 - it is worth ever penny.



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