Recently, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ arrival in the U.S. — Feb. 7, 1964 — with a nostalgic scrapbook of reader memories of the first Beatles concert in Seattle, which happened at KeyArena (then the Seattle Center Coliseum) on Aug. 21 that year. To continue our celebration of the Fab Four, we offer a look at some of the new (and reissued) books about the Liverpudlian lads.
“The Beatles: All These Years Vol. 1 Tune In,” by Mark Lewisohn (Crown/Archetype, $40).
Ever since his publication of “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions” in 1987, Mark Lewisohn has been one of the clearest voices among Beatles’ historians. Lewisohn received the biographer’s dream gift for that book — the chance to listen to all the Beatles’ Abbey Road session tapes — and his concise and levelheaded reporting was welcome.
“Tune In” is his first attempt to write a full-on Beatles biography, and this book is a marvel. It’s also a tome: “Volume 1” stretches 900 pages and only covers the band’s first five years. In this way, Lewisohn’s work is reminiscent of Robert Caro, whose planned five-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson has consumed most of Caro’s adult life.
There are other Beatles biographers who write with more flair than Lewisohn, whose style is naturally dry, but if you truly want the facts on how Lennon met McCartney, and how the band began, no other book tells that story with the authority and scholarship of “Tune In.” The endnotes even include an “Appeal” from the author asking resources for future volumes, something you’d never find from a presidential biographer.
That’s an admirable approach, and one that should serve future volumes of Lewisohn’s history well.
Charles R. Cross, Special to The Seattle Times
“Some Fun Tonight: The Backstage Story of How the Beatles Rocked America, Vol. 1 and 2,“ by Chuck Gunderson. (Gunderson Media, $160).
This lavishly illustrated set tells the story of the Beatles’ U.S. tours in two volumes, each running to over 300 pages, packaged in a handsome slipcase. Gunderson has tracked down dozens of people involved with the shows, and each date is crammed with information, such as the fact that Seattle DJ Pat O’Day was one of the first jocks to play a Beatles record in the U.S., when “From Me to You” came out in the summer of 1963, while local journalist Lou Guzzo groused that the group was a “noisy brigade of mediocrity” in his review of the band’s 1964 Seattle appearance.
Gunderson has also managed to unearth a wealth of photos, including many rare and previously unseen shots, including pictures of a complete ticket for every single show.
Gillian G. Gaar, Special to The Seattle Times
“The Beatles: The BBC Archives 1962-1970,” by Kevin Howlett (Harper Design, $60).
This beautifully designed book, placed in a box mocked up to look like a box of a recording tape, details every one of the Beatles’ appearances on BBC radio and television. The schedule in the early years was formidable — in 1963 they chalked up 57 appearances — and though the number tailed off later in the decade, they continued their association with the institution the Brits affectionately call “the Beeb” throughout their career.
The story is embellished with interview transcripts and reproductions of contracts, news releases and other memorabilia. The box also includes facsimile reproductions of other documents, including a letter from the BBC’s director of broadcasting explaining that the song “A Day in the Life” needed to be banned because of its use of the phrase “turn you on.”
Gillian G. Gaar
“It Was Fifty Years Ago Today,” by Harvey Kubernik (Otherworld Cottage Industries, $21.95).
Veteran rock journalist Kubernik draws on his extensive archive of interviews to produce what’s essentially an oral history of reminiscences from musicians and performers inspired by the Fab Four (Davy Jones, Roger McGuinn, Al Kooper), those who worked for them (documentarians Albert Maysles and D.A. Pennebaker, Beatles producer George Martin and his son Giles) and others who had close encounters with the group. DJ and perennial L.A. scenester Rodney Bingenheimer writes a passage, “My Day With George Harrison.
Gillian G. Gaar
“Baby’s in Black,” by Arne Bellstorf (First Second, $15.99).
Arne Bellstorf’s sad, magically charming graphic novel about the Beatles in Hamburg — when the band’s then-bassist Stuart Sutcliffe fell in love with German photographer Astrid KirchherrCQ — evokes the innocence and romantic hunger of youth with quiet, heart-tugging grace. The period is 1960-62, when the Beatles were playing nightly in a rathole on the Reeperbahn, Hamburg’s tough red-light district, the crucible in which the band’s world-shattering sound was forged.
Bellstorf tells this fated love story in black-and-white panels, conjuring John Lennon’s pointed nose and Astrid’s doe-eye gaze with caricaturelike lines. There are some great scenes, including Lennon snarling at the (non-English-speaking) crowd, “And don’t forget, we won the war.”
Paul de Barros, Seattle Times music critic
“All the Songs,” by Jean-Michel Guesdon & Philippe Margotin (Black Dog & Leventhal, $50).
Ever wonder who sings the lead on “Baby’s in Black”? How the Beatles made those weird sounds on “Strawberry Fields”? Guesdon and Margotin provide the answers in this handsomely laid out, well-indexed, bright-red 672-page doorstop, a record by record, album by album exposition of everything the Beatles released from 1962 to 1970.
The book includes terrific photographs, musically informed commentary and yellow sidebars dubbed “For Beatles Fanatics” pointing out various glitches and idiosyncrasies. Like Lewisohn’s earlier “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions” (Sterling, $19.95), an indispensable reference work.
Paul de Barros
“When They Were Boys,” by Larry Kane (Running Press, $24.95).
Reporter Larry Kane had the privilege of traveling with the Beatles on their 1964 and 1965 U.S. tours, which gave him the unique and intimate perspective he put to use in “Ticket to Ride” and “Lennon Revealed.”
But this overwritten, melodramatic rehash, though affectionate, drips with sentimentality and is built on the flimsy premise that since Kane hung out with the Beatles he knows all about them. Nope.
Paul de Barros
Mark Lewisohn’s first book, “The Beatles Live!” (1986) firmly established him as a Beatles authority. “Love Me Do! The Beatles’ Progress” by Michael Braun (1964), one of the first Beatles biographies, was surprisingly frank for its time. “He wrote how we were, which was bastards,” was John Lennon’s assessment. “The Beatles” by Hunter Davies (1968), the only authorized biography of the group, has been regularly updated, the most recent edition in 2010, from W.W. Norton. It gave the first in-depth look at the group’s career from the inside. The lively “Shout!,” (1981, reissued in a revised edition by Fireside in 2003), was considered the definitive take on the Beatles’ saga before Lewisohn entered the fray.
“The Beatles in America,” by Spencer Leigh (Sterling, $12.99)
“Beatles vs. Stones,” by John McMillian (Simon & Schuster, $26.00)
“The John Lennon Letters,” edited by Hunter Davies (Little, Brown and Company, $25).
“100 Things Beatles Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die,” by Gillian G. Gaar (Triumph, $14.95).
“The Beatles in 100 Objects,” Brian Southall (Sterlineg, $19.95)
“The Beatles Are Coming: The Birth of Beatlemania in America,” Bruce Spizer (498, $34.99)
“The Beatles: Six Days That Changed the World,” (newly released) photographs by Bill Eppridge (Rizzoli, $29.95).