The Best Beatles Books

Stephen Thomas Erlewine at Pitchfork chooses the ten best books about the Beatles, from Philip Norman’s Shout! to Rob Sheffield’s wonderful Dreaming the Beatles.

M.I.A. (fully cognizant of the fact that there are probably 25-30 “best” books on the Beatles):

  • Mark Shipper’s Paperback Writer (cf. the back and forth email chat between Richard Riegel and myself on this)
  • Tim Riley’s Tell Me Why (listen to my 2008 discussion with Riley in which he counts down his favourite Beatle books)
  • Devin McKinney’s masterful Magic Circles: The Beatles in Dream and History
  • Richard Meltzer’s The Aesthetics of Rock (only as much of a stretch as your own imagination; in his foreword to the ’86 reprint, Greil Marcus calls it “both the best and most obsessive book about the Beatles ever written”)

cf. “Top 10 Beatles books” lists in: Rolling Stone, The Guardian, and Barnes & Noble.

On deck: Top 10 books about Sham 69.


5 thoughts on “The Best Beatles Books

  1. Leave us not leave out books by the Beatles, though I know/knew only two, Lennon’s In His Own Write and A Spaniard In The Works, both of which I found very tasty in thee Sick Sixties, no doubt worth a look now (haven’t read his others, all of which may well be posthumous)

  2. Well, and George Harrison’s behemoth, I, Me, Mine.

    I’ve flipped through one of the Lennon books (Spaniard, I think) and did find it fairly entertaining for its wordplay in a way that Dylan’s Tarantula was decidedly not.

    Surprising that, given the current rage for rock autobiographies, no one has convinced McCartney to take up the challenge. I wouldn’t bet against it still happening.

  3. Beatles Forever by Nicholas Schaffner, 1978, was the first and last pure Beatles one I read, when I was a teen obsessive. Surprised it isn’t on any of these lists.

    I did watch the whole Beatles Anthology video series though much later and came away with these thoughts:

    1) Paul McCartney can claim to have thought up “the idea” for various acclaimed Beatle albums (hey you can have Abbey Road, pal) but when he claims to have invented rock video. Uh, no. Sorry, no. There will never be enough acclaim in the world for Paul, he’s going to show up and claim to have invented the pogo stick before it’s all over.

    2) The visuals tell something I never would have guessed: a huge drop off in group energy circa 1966, when they were exhausted from world touring. It’s simply amazing that they could channel their energy into the amazing recordings they made that year, because they look tired as hell.

    3) George Harrison saying “we gave up our nervous systems” or something like that is very sad given his early death; I believe it, RIP.

    4) I think if I had been around at the time I would have found the international live television event when they released All You Need Is Love an incredibly obnoxious spectacle. Given that that song is incredibly obnoxious too. Hi we’re the Beatles, just here to tell you we figured it out, nothing you can do that can’t be done, we already did it, here’s our new single, which you don’t literally “need” because in fact love is all you need. Yikes. Beginning of the end right there.

  4. My favorite Meltzer bit on the Beatles runs from 25-28, the Shea Stadium concert reminiscence (“four arrogant men might suddenly emerge from the heavens”) including the reproduction of the handwritten note from Pam to John that “never came within a hundred yards of him.” “Girls cried and girls pretended to cry, and both responses were valid.” So great.

  5. Oh speaking of books by the Beatles–well, The John Lennon Letters is a selective collection—not too selective in the non collector’s-fetish sense, since it does incl. shopping lists, then again only two pages from a seven-page self-scold for neglecting Julian—and def. posthumous, so not “by” him, in the preferred way. Xgau finds the first two thirds frustrating, but likes the last third so much he says this is one “for my A shelves” (what a relief eh Johnny): Appealing description, caveats and all.

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