Sunday, January 28, 2007
The Complete Beatles Chronicle by Mark Lewisohn
I started The Complete Beatles Chronicle by Mark Lewisohn, which is a nearly day by day account of the Fab Four's professional activities from 1957 to 1970, back in early December after I found it on a sale table at Borders. It took me nearly eight weeks of reading a few pages a day to complete the 349 double-column pages. Now I know nearly everything about the group's playing clubs and skating rinks, recording in studios, dubbing and editing, visiting radio and television studios, and shooting movies.
Lewisohn based his book on documents from Apple Records, the BBC, Capital Records, EMI studios, theaters, newspaper ads, and interviews. It starts with Paul attending a church fair in Liverpool where he heard John's group the Quarry Men. The early part of the book shows how far fetched the idea of the evolving group of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Best becoming musical stars was in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Many hours were spent in the Cavern Club and then in really tough clubs in Hamburg. The act nearly dissolved, but Brian Epstein kept booking the band into any venue that would take them, sometimes three shows a day.
I was struck by how often the Beatles were on British radio and television in 1963 and 1964. The funny thing is that radio performances were usually live performances (or recorded live performances) while the Beatles usually mimed to studio recordings on television. There are 36 songs recorded for radio that did not appear on studio albums, only one of which was an original Lennon and McCartney composition.
Lewisohn's book is filled with fascinating details. The Beatle's last concert was in San Francisco. George is the only Beatle on the recording "Within You Without You." A twenty-seven minute version of "Helter Skelter" remains unreleased. Ringo's only drum solo is on "The End," the last song on the last album (if you ignore the snippet of "Her Majesty"). Beatles fans want to know this stuff. The book has much reference value. It includes a discography, list of radio and television programs, a song index, an index of concerts by country and city, and a lengthy personal name index. There are also many photos.
I enjoyed discovering what the Beatles were doing on specific days. On my seventh birthday they played a lunchtime show at the Cavern Club and two nighttime shows in other clubs. John and Paul wrote "From Me to You" on a bus in York on my ninth birthday. They recorded a radio special for the BBC on my tenth birthday. When I turned eleven, they were in the Bahamas shooting a beach scene for Help! The day I became a teenager, they were rehearsing "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." On my sixteenth birthday, when the group was never getting together again, George was in the studio mixing a recording that was never released.
I feel that reading through The Complete Beatles Chronicle has given me a much better understanding of the group. Other books and documentaries have always seemed to skip over some periods, leaving gaps in the story. Though not totally complete, Lewisohn's book comes close. Now the breakup seems very understandable. How could any group keep up the pace the Beatles maintained from 1962 into 1968?
The Complete Beatles Chronicles (with an s on the end) was first published in hardback in 1992, but it came out in paper (without an s) in England in 2000 and the U.S. in 2003. A Japanese edition also exists. Baker and Taylor lists an edition for $12.99 before discount but shows no copies in stock. Borders has its own edition which I bought for $7.99. Get it if you can.