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Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties

4.23  ·  Rating Details ·  3,711 Ratings  ·  164 Reviews
This “Bible of the Beatles” captures the iconic band’s magical and mysterious journey from adorable teenagers to revered cultural emissaries. In this fully updated version, each of their 241 tracks is assessed chronologically from their first amateur recordings in 1957 to their final “reunion” recording in 1995. It also incorporates new information from the Anthology serie ...more
Paperback, 544 pages
Published September 1st 2007 by Chicago Review Press (first published 1994)
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Paul Bryant
Sep 26, 2007 Paul Bryant rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: any fan of pop music
There's a generalised kneejerk cultural reaction against the Beatles by some members of the popular music audience and it's quite understandable. What a pain in the ass to have the giant four-headed shadow of the perfect pop monster forever looming over today's epigones, like looking up out of your window in the fresh morning of your youth and in the clear blue sky someone has skywritten "we did it first, we did it bigger, and we did it better" every fooking day. Then all these books pour forth ...more
Oct 14, 2009 Luke rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
FANTASTIC. You can actually read a paragraph or two a day, because it's basically a long list of Beatles tracks with all the details of how/when/why each one was recorded. I always thought they cut an album and then hung out for a while, but hells bells, their whole catalog now seems like one long continuous spew of music. And MacDonald's tone thru most of this is decidedly NOT reverential. I confess some annoyance when he called While My Guitar Gently Weeps a "lazily strummed throwaway" or some ...more
Apr 24, 2008 Bruce rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Beatles aficionados, fans of books about music and culture
I'd really like to give this book 3 1/2 stars, and need to point out that this reading follows my consumption in the summer of 2007 of Lewissohn (Chronicles), Hertsgaard (A Day in the Life, Turner (A Hard Day's Write), and the incomparable Pollack (whose work on the Beatles can be found online at I think this covers the landscape of serious, published track-by-track analyses of the Beatles' output circa 2008 and would like therefore to propose a hierarc ...more
Scott Collins
Jul 06, 2012 Scott Collins rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beatles fan? Stop worrying about why Paul's barefoot on the "Abbey Road" cover ("28IF! Ooooh!") and get this into your life now. There's some hard sledding at the top, with a long-ish essay on how the group's music changed the culture. MacDonald's main point is that the music was a revolution in the head in more ways than one - specifically, that The Beatles used a lot of drugs to create some truly innovative music (and, he argues, some truly sloppy lyrics - a point that becomes depressingly per ...more
May 08, 2010 Jonathan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A must read for any Beatles fan. MacDonald is very objective in his analysis of the band's discography and doesn't shy away from calling bullshit; but he also points out a lot of subtle details I wouldn't have noticed myself. I definitely gained a deeper appreciation for the band's music.
Jul 26, 2012 Tim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music
I’ve spent most of my life around radio and music and the artists of the 60s and 70s just mean more to me all the time. I listen to and love music from all eras, and constantly listen to as much new music as possible. It might even be that we’re again entering a unique cultural period that could produce music like that specifically of ’65-’75. But as Macdonald expertly shows through his examination of The Beatles' songs, there was a perfect storm of culture, politics, inspiration, social issues ...more
Adam Crossley
If you ever wondered how the Beatles crafted their tunes, this is the book for you.

I enjoyed its detail and some of the musical analysis. The author is sparing with his praise and blunt with criticism, which I enjoyed. The way he dressed down some of the tracks in particular had me laughing out loud (although that was not the author's intention.)

I found this book difficult to read straight through. It is long and drags in many points. As a musician, I appreciated some of the musical analysis but
Jan 12, 2017 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is my third time through this book and the first time that it, written in the early 90s, has seemed dated to me. MacDonald writes thoughtfully and only occasionally technically about each officially released Beatles song (this was written before the Anthology releases, so that information is lacking). He is guilty of propagating false information (for example, he repeats the old line that the original title of "Tomorrow Never Knows" was "The Void," which it wasn't) and makes some unsupporte ...more
May 12, 2008 Monica marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music, wish-list, priority
I'm interested because MacDonald writes: "Like the Rolling Stones, Led Zeplin and other pop rock artists of the time, The Beatles became fascinated by the multi-instrumentalist Scottish folk duo, "The Incredible String Band," whose album "The 5,000 Spirits " emerged in 1967 as an acoustic equivalent of The Beatles own "Sgt. Pepper" album. The duo Robin Williamson and Mike Heron, at the height of their creativity, were amongst the most imaginative of British songwriters." Revolution probably won' ...more
Jun 25, 2009 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A life-changing book. I'm not exaggerating-- it changed the way I listen to music. Brilliant not only as an examination of the Beatles' songs but also the culture of the 1960s and the state of popular music since. Whether one agrees with MacDonald's conclusions or not (chiefly that pop music has steadily declined in quality since the late 60s), they're always exceedingly well-formulated and eloquently argued.
Josh Carswell
Jul 02, 2013 Josh Carswell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Stumbles at the final hurdle

This book was more than just an excellent account of The Beatles' recorded output, but a telling historical document of the Sixties in general: the sociological factors coming into the decade, the increasing cultural divide between the old and new generations, the political upheaval on both sides of the Atlantic and the lasting impact of these consequences are dealt with in the introduction alone. This is by far not the sole reason MacDonald should be commended for ta
David Manns
Oct 16, 2011 David Manns rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music
What a book.

Ian MacDonald has written the definitive book on the music of the Beatles, but more than that, he manages to put their music back in the context of 'The Sixties'. Every song The Beatles recorded is written about in the order that they began recording them. This gives the book a clear story to follow, from the tidal wave of Beatlemania, to the creative peaks of Revolver and Sgt. Pepper, to the slow decline as division and acrimony set in.

The book begins with a fairly heavyweight essay
Nick Butler
Nov 16, 2011 Nick Butler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, 4-5, music
A game changer. There will, of course, never be a Revolution in the Head written about every band in existence, not even every good band or every important band, but MacDonald's writing, his attention to detail, and his obvious love of his subject matter will make you want to read similar books about every band you love - and in turn, it will probably make you never want to read another book about The Beatles again. None of them stack up.

Over the course of Revolution in the Head, Ian MacDonald g
Roy Lotz
I first received this book as a birthday present from my Dad, three years ago. It was one of the best presents I’ve ever gotten.

That summer, I devoured it. What a perfect excuse to go through The Beatles’ repertoire, song by song, listening to them with new and sharpened ears. It was a revelation. I had heard that music hundreds of times. Yet, with MacDonald guiding me, the songs seemed so new. He just hears things. I thought I had receptive ears, but his ears are monstrous. He rips into the son
Michael D
Aug 06, 2011 Michael D rated it it was amazing
Impressive piece of scholarship and cultural criticism. MacDonald definitely does not follow the party line and is not afraid to slaughter what he sees as sacred cows in The Mop Tops catalog and sometimes he comes out with, for me, astonishingly wrong-wrong-WRONG headed opinions but still, this is one of the finest books you will read about popular culture and pop music in general. Non-Beatle-interested parties may not care much about the main bulk of the book which discusses the Beatles' record ...more
Dec 29, 2011 Iain rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The story of the Beatles, told through analysis of their songs in the order they were recorded. This book is just wonderful. The format allows MacDonald to jump smoothly from keen observation of musical details to events of the day to tracing lyrical allusions to stark psychological insights. This is as close as we can possibly get to understanding the influences that pulled this group together and enabled them to record such amazing music.

A couple of warnings (which should definitely not stop y
Dave Wharton
May 20, 2013 Dave Wharton rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If I had a dollar for every book I've read about The Beatles, I'd have retired long ago and would now be sitting in some sun-kissed armchair listening to my Beatles records on endless repeat. However, this work by Ian MacDonald is right at the very top of that very tall and ever-growing mountain of books about the Fab Four, on a par with the books of Mark Lewisohn.
It begins with a superb extended essay about the Sixties, and proceeds to a detailed analysis of every Beatles song. Later editions i
Nov 11, 2016 Michael rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, 2000s
An extremely articulate and closely argued song-by-song analysis of the Beatles catalog, always engaging although often more than a little cranky. Strongly expressed opinions on individual songs range from the conventional to the iconoclastic. The mood is marred by a few unambiguous, unironic diatribes about how music just went to hell after the Beatles and how the crap the kids listen to today isn't even music, GET OFF OF MY LAWN!! ...which is to say that Ian Macdonald really liked the close-ha ...more
Jun 07, 2014 Dave rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
You would've thought that I'd like this book, but it was a slog. I like it for its accumulation of facts--there's really no other book that's so detailed about who plays what on what song (and I find that McCartney plays some of my favorite and some of my least favorite Beatles guitar solos). Were I able to appreciate music theory, I would revel in which songs use the Mixolydian mode and so forth; as it is, it's cool to see how musically experimental they were. And the details that Macdonald acc ...more
Simon Reid
Aug 26, 2011 Simon Reid rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: the-beatles
I've long been interested in the details of The Beatles' music - who wrote what, how the chords work, how the tune is typical of its writer, what they were ripping off, how the arrangement evolved in the studio, and so on. This book rewarded my time with plenty of fresh observations along those lines.

Ian MacDonald presents his opinion on each recording as a firm fact, and although there's much I disagree with, it's oddly compelling to see some fine Beatles songs so confidently trashed or quickly
Tyler Jones
Apr 26, 2010 Tyler Jones rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One should not read this book the way I read it - from cover to cover without having the Beatles albums at hand to listen to along the way.

The bulk of the book is an examination of every Beatles song in the order in which they were recorded. MacDonald goes into incredible detail ,noting the exact time of every mistake, and as read I wished I could listen to each song as I read about it. But Revolution in the Head goes far beyond technical critique- MacDonald goes into the influences of the song
Amy Laurens
Feb 14, 2013 Amy Laurens rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, music
I'm not up to writing a detailed review on this. It's been years since I read it. But I couldn't sign up to Goodreads without rating the book that basically taught me what it means to think critically about pop music.

Back in the day, I leafed through this book so often that the spine broke. It was the track-by-track analysis that kept bringing me back; I never re-read the opening essay. It's not that it wasn't good, but I take **MAJOR ISSUE** with his declinist view of pop music since the 1960s
Aaron Arnold
Nov 03, 2016 Aaron Arnold rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, read-in-2016
The Sixties have left a cultural hangover that we haven't slept off in 50 years, and The Beatles were one of the strongest drinks of that decade. Even if you're not a superfan, it's worth pondering why so many people keep coming back to the bar for another round, and MacDonald produced an incredibly well-researched look into their music and its place in that decade and beyond that actually discusses the music itself, as well as its social context, without devolving into Baby Boomer navel-gazing ...more
Dec 01, 2011 Austin rated it it was amazing
I've read a lot of books about The Beatles. I have an entire shelf devoted to them. And I can say without hesitation that this is the best of them all.

The band's songs are addressed in chronological order, based on the date they began recording -- a strategy deemed "a fallacy" by the similarly detailed song-by-song appreciation Tell Me Why: The Beatles: Album By Album, Song By Song, The Sixties And After. But while this decision takes the songs out of the order in which the band chose to present
Danny Ritter
Jan 17, 2016 Danny Ritter rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An in-depth analysis of every Beatles recording, this book is an awesome read for Beatles diehards, like myself. I loved hearing about the writing process for all those classic tunes, and I learned so much about what made the Beatles' music so revolutionary, both in form and in the recording techniques they pioneered. The book contains a lot of the nitty gritty, so there may be too much music theory and recording analysis for casual fans, but there is enough narrative here to help you get a sens ...more
Jul 08, 2013 Tuck rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
neat book detailing every song they recorded (from a short paragraph up to a couple of pages) from 'love me do" about 1958, officially 1962 to the end "polythene pam' july 1969 ; 'because' august 1969 ; 'i me mine' april 1970. it's neat to read about some of the technical and musical aspects of each song, and the synergy of the four plus george martin (and some others too like clapton, tony tunstall (horn player) .....) but what i especially like is the social, political, and pop analysis of the ...more
Welbeck Kane
Aug 10, 2010 Welbeck Kane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In a way this is quite an odd book for me: I find I disagree with a fair amount of what the author says and yet I come back to it often. Ian MacDonald presents quite a lot of opinion as irrefutable fact and also throws in some ridiculous guesswork as fact too (we are told at precisely which second in "When I'm 64" you can 'hear' Paul McCartney smile... really? Is that a fact or just a nice idea?) His dismissal of some songs is written in a style that suggests a contradictory opinion would be emb ...more
Oct 10, 2012 Jeroen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wat een fantastisch boek! Ik kocht het ooit en passant en lichtjes twijfelend in een Londonse boekenwinkel. Had ik wel zin om een boek te lezen dat gewoon de discografie van een groep bespreekt en commentaar geeft per opname.
Maar wat een topper... Om te beginnen mooie referenties rond de muziekscene in de sixties, bands rond de Beatles. Daarnaast ook de interne werking van de Fab Four. Hoe werkten ze samen, hoe maakten ze muziek (wat voor mij als huis-tuin muzikant ook vaak verhelderend was).
Michael Anderson
Detailed commentary about every Beatle song, in order of its recording date, this book is perfect for the technically minded Beatles fan. Song structure, authorship, participants, and the circumstances of its recording and placement on an album or single give a relatively complete picture of the Beatles evolution over time. The author criticizes some songs as much as he admires others, and I admire his honesty while often disagreeing with him. I particularly enjoyed the 100-page timeline, which ...more
Mark Walker
Jan 04, 2014 Mark Walker rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Many of the greatest songs popular music has known. It gives a good feel for the dynamics that created that music. There are many things learned from this book. I think I can identify any of the Beatles songs as being either Lennon or McCartney. The author praises both the main protagonists and also makes very critical comments about them both. The inventiveness of the studio work and the contribution of George Martin come out. A very interesting and thought provoking insight into what it is tha ...more
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