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 impoA 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 goes bullet-point through every Beatles song, ever. Each track has at least one paragraph dedicated to it, with some of the most interesting ones given multiple pages; further writing is dedicated to an introductory essay on the importance of The Beatles to '60s culture and their impact on it since, and brief overviews are given to their studio albums (mostly contextual information - what was happening to both The Beatles, and music as a whole, when they were released, as well as a few relevant policial or newsworthy events). It's a basic format, and MacDonald takes advantage by doing the basics right; his feel for which songs deserve more analysis than others sometimes looks a little askew at first, but is always well-judged. Luckily for me personally, he saves his best and most expansive writing for my favourite Beatles songs, "Tomorrow Never Knows" and "Revolution #9" in particular. He's probably a little too effusive in his praise for the latter, but it becomes hard not to agree with him as you're reading what he says.
The sheer scope of this book, not just in the detail and the minutiae it takes in but also in the way it paints a fuller picture of The Beatles and their work than anybody else ever has (MacDonald is certainly not afraid to criticize them, which is both greatly appreciated and a vital reason why this book is so great), is breathtaking. As valuable as a bedtime read as it is an academic source, it's one of those works that everything else in its genre must be compared to. Just a brilliant, brilliant book.
Oh, and as a final point, I should probably address the perfectly sensible idea that you have to be a fan of The Beatles to enjoy reading this. There's some truth to it, in the sense that there's no point in forcing yourself to read it if you hate their music, but I enjoyed all of it and not only are there large swathes of The Beatles' back catalogue that I couldn't care less about (pretty much everything earlier than Help!, most of The White Album, the second side of Abbey Road, Let it Be and Sgt. Peppers in general), but there are songs they released that I actively despise ("Act Naturally", "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da", "When I'm Sixty-Four", "Wild Honey Pie"). Yet still, I happily read about them - in fact, the book encouraged me to revisit a few tracks (memorably "Glass Onion"), because it just about convinced me that my opinion was probably wrong. It wasn't, but the fact that this book even has the power to make you doubt yourself is a hell of a recommendation....more