Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Beatles: The Biography

I just finished a fascinating new book by Bob Spitz called "The Beatles: The Biography". While there have been literally hundreds of Beatles books available over the years (Nicholas Schaffner's "The Beatles Forever" was always one of my favorites), this maybe the largest of all books about the group. The book is 992 pages, but it is well worth the time and effort to check out.

Spitz is the one-time manager of Bruce Springsteen and Elton John, and has written music books previously about such artists as Bob Dylan. In this book he has done some painstaking and meticulous research on the group, talking to their oldest friends and colleagues. It took him over eight years of detailed research to write the book, and he originally wrote a 2700 page manuscript, which his publishers at Little Brown told him to cut back to just under 1000.

The heart of the book is how the Beatles came together as a group, and their early life as kids growing up in Liverpool. There's plenty of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll as the group proceeds to Hamburg, London, then on to worldwide fame. It shows the four lads, how they handled it all, and how it changed their whole lives. Even for the most devoted of Beatles fans (and I've always considered myself one), there will be things you never heard before. Some of it silly (such as when actor Leo Gorcey asked for $500 to be on the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band cover, and the Beatles refused and left him off), surreal (their first meeting with Elvis Presley and what really happened is quite fascinating), and some of it touching (John Lennon had a half-sister he never knew existed).

The book chronicles the trappings of fame and how it turned the Beatles into prisoners and how they longed to escape it. It also shows the jealousies inside the band and how it was the start of the eventual breakup. Spitz tells the Beatles story with a lot of insight and good humor. He also goes into detailed bios of the individual band members, along with manager Brian Epstein, Yoko Ono, Pete Best and some others. I did think there were some shortcomings to the book. Spitz did not do a good job on the photo captions, and I thought the endnotes section was way too short (only 1 1/2 pages on the group after their breakup in 1970). The ending seemed a little too rushed. But overall, it did not take away from my enjoyment of the book.

If you are a Beatles fan, I would suggest you read "The Beatles: The Biography". It definitely does justice and honor to the single greatest rock group of all-time, one that wiped clean the face of popular muisc and completely redrew it. It took me nearly two months to finish it (I do a lot of my reading on subway trains), but it was well worth my time.

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