Beatles Books Recall Pop’s Golden Age Print
Music - Music News
Written by John M. James   
Wednesday, 19 December 2007 02:15

Yesterday With so many recent pop albums offering up only one or two decent, memorable songs and top-selling artists taking years upon years between mediocre releases, it's no surprise that music continues to slide into nothing more than computer files shared between MP3 players, personal computers, and 10-cent blank CDs. Not to sound like a crusty ol' curmudgeon, but sheeeee-it, I can feel my cerebellum shake when I think that over the course of 28 months, from August of 1965 to November of 1967, the Beatles released Help!, Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Magical Mystery Tour. Imagine my joy, when my teenage son's pals' Christmas wish lists are yearning for "real" copies of The White Album or gift certificates to buy "classic" used vinyl LPs at the ever-dwindling local record store. Wanna save American youth? Pick up any working turntables you might come across at yard sales, and place them at the feet of the next generation.

Not too late as a stocking stuffer to prime the pump of the young and musically malnourished, or as a treat for you to rev up the old engines of days gone by, a quartet of new books on the original Fab Four and their legacy has mellowed my savage, annoyed breast. The mighty Hal Leonard imprint has offered up Fab Four FAQ, a terrific starting point for new fans to connect the dots of politics, myths, friends, and foes that surrounded the band. The 500-page paperback by Stuart Shea and Robert Rodriguez breaks it all down in 50 chapters ranging from the band's myriad record labels, 10 acts that bumped the boys off the number-one chart positions, songs written by others about the Beatles, and the stories behind their iconic photo sessions. More than just the melody of "Scrambled Egg," I got a kick out of the originally conceived titles for a handful of songs, and tracks that slyly feature the lads trading instruments and roles with each other.

If Fab Four FAQ is the high-school text on the band, then the revised third edition of Revolution in the Head by Ian MacDonald is the graduate-school tome, bursting with 500 pages of critically analyzed information. Subtitled "The Beatles' Records & the '60s," the Chicago Review Press' newly released paperback is awash with academic footnotes and savvy fly-on-the-wall wonderment. Don't take this one on holiday as a soft, nonchalant read, as you'll most likely ache to be within reach of your stereo system and a stack of original albums to play in real time. These pages of session details, harmonic intellectualism, intricate signature-key analysis, and other passionate dope demand some serious headphone commitment. Pick a favorite Beatles song. Do you think you really know it? Plug what you think you know into the depth of description and connective tissue MacDonald brings to the table, and you'll swear the book literally vibrates in your hands. Most fascinating, the decade's history in the UK is broken down chronologically over 70 pages, cross-referencing the Beatles' month-by-month development, the British pop charts, political affairs across the globe, and cultural touchstones in fashion, fiction, poetry, science, and the stage.

Revolution in the Head Taking the more classic, biographical approach with a history professor's mindset, the new hardback Can't Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, & America also puts the band's accomplishments (and tragedies) in relationship to the slippery changing times under their feet. Author Jonathan Gould paints a vivid picture of the generation growing up - and apart - alongside the band members united and eventually shaken by the turbulent times, warts and all. Published by Harmony Books, the 660-page road from inception to dissolution is keenly observed in ways only a former professional musician can feel, blending the truth and mystery into a pleasantly forgiving tale without harsh blame. Highly recommended.

Putting aside the written word and getting lost in the playful innocence of Liverpool squalor and the Cavern Club teen mania, a gorgeous new book of rarely seen black-and-white photos is mesmerizing as a companion to the band's earliest recordings. Culled from the intimate access over four years by personal friend Astrid Kirchherr and German magazine photographer Max Scheler, the Vendome Press' hardcover Yesterday: The Beatles Once Upon a Time collects 170 pages from those lost silver-golden days. From dreamy tailored suits and soiled street urchins from the working-class streets, highlights include interiors of the bands' childhood homes and their stiff upper-lipped parents, quiet train-travel moments during the filming of A Hard Day's Night, and Merseybeat peers including a very young Brian Jones and his Undertakers. Guitar nuts, be prepared to swell with warm, soft envy at the double-page spread of young rockers packing Frank Hessy's music shop with dreams of being the next hometown boys to make it big. Sweet dreams, young souls, sweet dreams ... .

 

Television Alert:

The Late Show with David Letterman presents Madonna from 2005 on Thursday and Rod Stewart from 2002 on Friday; The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson boasts RZA and Brian McKnight on Friday overnight; Last Call with Carson Daly hosts David Gray on Thursday overnight; Jimmy Kimmel Live welcomes Talib Kweli on Friday overnight; The Ellen DeGeneres Show is all new with Soulja Boy on Monday; The View chats with Mary J. Blige on Thursday; and Tavis Smiley gushes with Patti Labelle on Friday and Roger Daltrey on Tuesday.