I started collecting Beatle reads about four years ago, around the same time that I began amassing a hipster-inspired shirt collection which featured the legendary band. Here’s a short list of some of the books that I have had the pleasure of reading, and others that I hope to have in the near future, complete with mini-review.
I consider these books ‘definitive’ because even if you aren’t a die-hard Beatles fan like myself, reading at least one of these books gives you a full idea of the Beatles history in the most comprehensive way possible. I chose to write about 9 books instead of the ideal ten mainly because of the significance of the number 9 in Beatle lore. If you’re as die hard a fan as I am, then you’ll know what I mean. Anyways, on to the countdown (not in any particular order).
DISCLAIMER: Forgive the bias on Lennon-centric works. 😉
1. John Lennon: The Life By: Philip Norman
This was the first (and the longest) book in my present collection, spanning almost 900 pages in length. It tells a complete and detailed story of Lennon’s life, starting from the birth of Alfred Lennon (John’s father) right down to the faithful day in 1980 when Lennon passed. Unlike other biographies written about Lennon, this one is particularly credible because of the thorough research work put in by its author, also the author of a definitive Beatles biography entitled Shout!
It’s an ambitious read for any non-Beatle fan, but will prove to open the eyes of die-hard Lennonnites eager to know more about their idol.
2. Beatles Gear: All The Fab Four’s Instruments from Stage to Studio By: Andy Babuik
A complete account of all the instruments used by the group written by the official technical consultant to the makers of Beatles Rock Band, Beatles Gear is the ideal book for the more musically-inclined Beatles fan. For less musical Beatlemaniacs, Beatles Gear offers a particularly unique perspective to the band’s history told through the progression of the instruments that they used during the decade of their prime.
I have yet to have the good fortune of encountering a copy of the book, although it is one of the top books on my wish list of Beatle reads to collect in the near future. Other notable books by Babuik include a definitive history of the instruments used by another legendary British rock band: the Rolling Stones.
3. The Beatles Anthology
One of the more definitive works on Beatle history, The Beatles Anthology book accompanied the documentary series that was released in 1995. It paralleled, in book form, the content of the documentary, a three-part series that chronicled the history of the Beatles through archival footage and actual quotes from all four band members. The book, the documentary and a three-volume set of double albums were collectively referred to as the Anthology project back in the mid nineties.
This is one of the more expensive (and particularly rare) Beatles books out there. But it is probably one of the most definitive works as well, considering the fact that it involves extensive input from members of the band and their entourage. Definitely an investment for any Beatle fan interested in amassing a valuable collection.
4. The Beatles By: Hunter Davies
Another particularly elusive find is The Beatles by Hunter Davies, the only authorized biography of the band which was released in 1968. Although it does not hold other notable value besides being the sole authorized work about the Fab Four, the Beatles is still one of the first books that have been written about them. It makes for a perfect read for the new Beatlemaniac eager to know more about the band in the most non-biased way possible.
5. The Beatles: Stories Behind the Songs (Volumes 1 and 2) By: Steve Turner
This two volume release by longtime Beatles admirer Steve Turner gives the reader a background of each and every Beatles song ever written. It tells the story behind the inspiration for some of the band’s most memorable songs, including “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, “A Day In the Life”, and so many others. The songs are arranged chronologically and further categorized based on the years in the Beatles’ career: the Red volume takes on songs from 1962-1966, while the Blue volume takes on songs from 1967 onwards.
Stories Behind the Songs is the perfect book (or rather, books) for the Beatle fan wiling to delve beyond the lyrics for the deeper story behind the music. It’s also perfect for the lyricist looking for tips on how to write their own iconic songs! Unlike Anthology, the volumes of Stories Behind the Songs are relatively less pricey yet do not come in a single set. Yet trust me when I say that the content of each volume is priceless.
6. The John Lennon Letters By: John Lennon Edited By: Hunter Davies
There is no better way to get to know the legend himself than through reading this compilation of letters Lennon sent to family, friends and loved ones throughout the course of his life. Edited by Beatle biographer Hunter Davies, the book is the practical definition of a ‘definitive read’ about the man the world has come to know and love.
Another pricey read, another die-hard fan worthy investment, the John Lennon Letters is a book that should be on EVERY serious fan’s wishlist. Thankfully, it happens to be one of the more common reads easily found in bookstores around the country.
7. The Beatles: 10 Years That Shook The World By: DK
10 Years that Shook the World could almost pass for a textbook on the history of the Beatles. Complete with everything from essays on Lennon and McCartney to reviews of their iconic studio albums, this book is second to the Anthology in offering the new Beatle fan a comprehensive history of the Fab Four.
I was fortunate enough to receive a used, yet still extremely useful copy of this book from a dear family relative, and I have to say it is definitely a priceless read. Although not as extremely comprehensive as other Beatle works, The Beatles: 10 Years that Shook the World offers a treasure trove of new perspectives to aspects of the band that made them iconic. Examples of such include the Lennon and McCartney songwriting partnership, Apple, and George Harrison’s interest in Hindu music and culture.
8. The Mammoth Book of the Beatles [Edited By: Sean Egan]
‘Mammoth’ is the perfect word to describe this book. With over 30 written accounts about the band, this book offers a wide perspective that does not center solely on praising the Beatles. In fact, it also happens to include accounts written against the Beatles and their music. It even includes the infamous article by journalist Maureen Cleave that got John in trouble back in the mid sixties, wherein he claimed that the band was ‘Bigger than Jesus’. Now, you can read the article for yourself and decide whether or not the backlash John received was even worth it in the first place. But that’s not all. The Mammoth Book of the Beatles also includes accounts post-Beatles and memoirs written by people who were close to the Beatles during their heyday.
Any fan looking for a comprehensive collection of past articles written by the band will find this book particularly entertaining. It also proves to be handy for anyone who might be doing Beatles-related research because of the vastness of the pieces included in this volume.
On a personal note, this was one of the ‘treasure trove’ books that I had the fortune of finding. The fact that it’s jammed with useful content yet is not as pricey as more iconic releases makes it nothing short of valuable in its own right. The Mammoth Book of the Beatles is a worthy addition to any Beatle fan’s book collection.
9. The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions By: Mark Lewisohn
Written by one of the leading authorities on the Fab Four, the Complete Beatles Recording Sessions outdoes the word ‘extensive’. The book presents every single recording session that the band ever did, from their early days recording Please Please Me, to the recording of their final release Let It Be. It also includes remarks from all four band members and an introduction written by Paul McCartney himself.
Another elusive find that I have yet to see in local bookstores. In case you’re wondering, YES: already on my wishlist. 🙂 This book combines definitive with extensive: it’s a comprehensive book written by an expert on the Fab Four… what more could you ask for? Any fan looking to immerse themselves in one of the most important parts of the Fab Four’s career should pick up this read for a better idea on how life was like in Abbey Road for the band that made the studio iconic in the first place.
Photo Source: Google Images and amazon.com