Jonathan's Reviews > The Beatles: The Biography

The Beatles by Bob Spitz
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's review
Oct 29, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: biology, non-fiction, music
Read from September 26 to October 29, 2010

Finally finished the nearly 1000 page behemoth that is The Beatles. And, actually, it was worth it. Never really a huge Beatles groupie (before my time - honestly!), but I have most of their albums and really like their later stuff. The earlier music, while catchy, just isn't sophisticated enough for me.

In this massive biography, Spitz starts with John Lennon and then Paul McCartney growing up in Liverpool, a grungy industrial backwater. Both had pretty tough childhoods - Lennon's father left the family when Lennon was very young, and Paul's mum died of cancer. Both turned to music as a refuge, as neither was a very good student. They quickly bonded and even began writing songs as teenagers, despite very little exposure, as during that time, only a few foreign stations carried any interesting music.

George, a few years younger, starting hanging with them and they formed a band with some other mates. The music business was even more insular and hard to crack than it is today, but they persevered and were off to Germany for some hard living and hard playing. 8 hours a day on stage, they honed their craft to a fine point. After they got back, they canned their drummer, Pete Best and hired Ringo. Some say it was due to a lack of technical prowess, although Spitz also claims that part of it was jealousy on McCartney and, especially, Lennon's part as Best was drawing too many fans.

Spitz then chronicles the rapid rise of Beatlemania and just how crazy things got, as The Beatles tried to survive their crazy fandom. It is a wonder they toured even as little as they did, as it must have been very exhausting. Then, as they made money like the printed it, they spent it on various endeavors, from clothing to plays to music.

The book ended as they split up, in the late 60s, as jealousies really tore the band apart. John was mad at all the control Paul was trying to take, while George was tired of being the 3rd, unappreciated wheel. Even Ringo got tired of the bickering, so it was a relief to all when they went their separate ways.

A very readable book with only a few nitpicks. I got tired of all the armchair psychology Spitz went into. Some of it was possible but plenty of it was junk. I just didn't believe the part about being jealous of Best, and a few other times. I realize these guys are high strung "artists", but they must have been a little more confident of their own strengths than Spitz makes them out to be. I also thought he delved into the childhoods of too many peripheral characters. While I realize Brian Epstein, their first manager, is an integral part of the story, there was just too much detail of his background, going back a couple of generations.

It was really eye opening just how little control The Beatles had over many things, from financial to even music. It was amazing how mangled their US releases were. The record labels just kind of picked and choose the songs that went on what albums, packaged new ones, all willy nilly and without anything The Beatles could do, especially in the early years, But even later, when they were the biggest thing on the planet, their music was turned over to Phil Spector for "production" without any of their input. It was crazy.

Spitz did an excellent job describing the music, though. Each album's creative process as described in fascinating detail, from the early days of just 4 of them playing intensely, to the wildly creative days of Rubber Soul, Revolver and then, of course, Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road, where they were just breaking new ground in music every song, or even every bar. What a heady time that must have been!

I really enjoyed the background into the phenomenon that was The Beatles. Certainly, it was a book that had its own soundtrack, as the songs constantly played in my mind while reading. Highly recommended!

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Reading Progress

09/26/2010 page 200
20.0% "Fascinating insight into The Beatles. The boys have just left Hamburg in disgrace."
09/27/2010 page 280
28.0% "Enjoying this in depth study, even if I find some of the backstories a little boring."
10/27/2010 page 795
80.0% "We're up to the final Abbey Road sessions. A book with a constant soundtrack!"

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