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The Beatles: Will You Read My Book? (May 2016): The Recording Studio, the Albums, and Apple Corps

By Paul O. Jenkins

The Recording Studio, the Albums, and Apple Corps

As their producer, George Martin was vital to the Beatles’ success.  Martin formed a remarkable bond with the group and was able to transcribe their vague and uneducated musical ideas into notation.  Martin was also an artist himself; his arranging ideas, especially in the band’s early years in the studio, helped set them apart from their peers.  Martin’s memoir (written with Jeremy Hornby), All You Need Is Ears, is valuable, but his skills and stature are best described by others.  Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Beatles, by recording engineer Geoff Emerick (one Martin’s chief lieutenants) and music journalist Howard Massey, is fascinating.  The book makes no secret of Emerick’s admiration of McCartney (and his disdain for Harrison’s abilities as guitarist), and it provides numerous interesting details about how Emerick and Martin were able to coax such amazing sounds out of four- and eight-track equipment.  Kevin Ryan and Brian Kehew’s Recording the Beatles: The Studio Equipment and Techniques Used to Create Their Classic Albums is excellent and serves as a nice complement to Emerick’s book.  Andy Babiuk’s Beatles Gear, edited by Tony Bacon, catalogs all the instruments the band used in the studio and is a useful resource.  Although it has since been superseded, Allen Wiener’s The Beatles: A Recording History was important when it first appeared in the mid-1980s.  Mark Lewisohn’s The Beatles Recording Sessions, which includes an introductory interview with Paul McCartney, established Lewisohn as an expert on the group and provides details many had waited years to learn.  It remains essential.  John Winn’s The Beatles’ Recorded Legacy, which comprises two chronological volumes (Way beyond Compare, covering 1957–65, and That Magic Feeling, covering 1966–70) and features an introduction by Lewisohn, includes the particulars of the Beatles’ many interviews, press conferences, film clips, and radio and television performances.  Richard Unterberger’s The Unreleased Beatles, Music and Film—which does for the unreleased tracks what Lewisohn does for the material that is already familiar—is commendable, particularly for more advanced scholars.  Thomas MacFarlane’s The Beatles and McLuhan brings the group together with another influential voice of the 1960s.  This complex study explores the relationship between the multitrack technology employed by the Beatles and Marshall McLuhan’s notions of, as MacFarlane writes, quoting McLuhan, “an electrical world of ‘all-at-once-ness.’”

Among their many contributions to popular music, the Beatles raised the album to a true art form.  In the early 1960s, when the group began recording, the single was king.  Albums often came out simply to exploit the success of an artist’s single and too often consisted of filler tracks.  The Beatles, however, took each track seriously and began to craft LPs that had distinctive and recognizable sounds.  Their efforts raised the bar for contemporaries like the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Byrds, the Kinks, and the Beach Boys.  Brian Wilson, in fact, is said to have been inspired to record the groundbreaking Pet Sounds (in 1966) after hearing the Beatles’ Rubber Soul (released in 1965).  For years, fans and scholars alike agreed that Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), which was unprecedented when released, was the acme of the Beatles’ career, and the album inspired numerous books.  Among these is Sgt. Pepper and the Beatles, a collection of essays edited by Olivier Julien.  The best of the essays is Michael Hannan’s “The Sound Design of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”  Other titles about the album include Belmo’s The Making of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which is more popular in nature and describes how the album and its songs were created; George Martin’s With a Little Help from My Friends: The Making of Sgt. Pepper (written with William Pearson), which provides valuable details on the production of the album; and The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, by musicologist Allan Moore, which sets the stage for the production of the album and provides detailed analysis of its music.

In recent years, some have begun to make the case for Revolver as the group’s most important and innovative album.  Robert Rodriguez’s book on the subject, Revolver: How the Beatles Re-imagined Rock ‘n’ Roll, is readable and enlightening, but Russell Reising’s edited collection Every Sound There Is: The Beatles’ Revolver and the Transformation of Rock ‘n’ Roll is more scholarly.  Thomas MacFarlane’s The Beatles’ Abbey Road Medley: Extended Forms of Popular Music looks at the song suite that makes up side two of the band’s last album and is quite valuable (if uneven).  Other titles are interesting but of varying quality.  These include David Quantick’s Revolution: The Making of the Beatles’ White Album; Steve Matteo’s Let It Be (part of the “33 1/3” series); and John Kruth’s This Bird Has Flown: The Enduring Beauty of Rubber Soul Fifty Years On.  Dave Marsh’s book The Beatles’ Second Album should also be mentioned here.  Marsh is one of rock’s most distinguished journalists, and he celebrates the R&B tracks that dominate the second album the group released in the United States.  Unfortunately, he is also intent on disparaging Capitol Records executive Dave Dexter Jr., the man responsible for repurposing the Beatles original UK albums into additional LPs to make more money for his company.  Though many of Marsh’s points about Dexter are well taken, the book is most useful when it sticks to its purported subject.

At the height of their fame, the Beatles experimented with what they called “Western communism.”  Their idea was to form a company that would encourage and promote young musicians and other artists.  Apple Corps, founded in 1968, was that company.  Among those employed at Apple Corps from the beginning was Richard DiLello, who began working there as a teenager and eventually rose to the position of director of public relations.  In his remarkable book The Longest Cocktail Party, DiLello provides wonderful material about this piece of Beatles history.  Stefan Granados updates DiLello’s work in Those Were the Days: An Unofficial History of the Beatles Apple Organization, 1967–2001, in which he examines the group’s influence on other bands, among them Badfinger (the first group Apple signed).  In Beatles for Sale, John Blaney adroitly examines the myriad business deals made first by Brian Epstein and then by manager Allan Klein.  Peter Doggett’s You Never Give Me Your Money dutifully details the sordid business details of the group’s breakup.  Fans’ hearts may break while reading of the infighting that went on during these negotiations, but the book is required reading for scholars.

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