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The Beatles: Will You Read My Book? (May 2016): The Beatles as Phenomenon

By Paul O. Jenkins

The Beatles as Phenomenon

A. J. Millard’s interesting Beatlemania: Technology, Business, and Teen Culture in Cold War America studies the social phenomenon of the Beatles.  He explores how Beatles music was marketed and consumed by young Americans.  Steve Turner’s The Gospel according to the Beatles is one of several similarly titled books from Westminster John Knox Press examining spiritual dimensions of icons of contemporary culture.  Turner argues that the lives and music of the Beatles can be seen as a kind of spiritual narrative—that their music represents a quest for transcendence shared by many of their fans.  Larry Kane’s Ticket to Ride provides a personal view of the 1964 concerts that brought Beatlemania to the United States.  Kane covered the tour as one of his first major assignments as a journalist, and his valuable insights often run contrary to established treatments.  A CD that features interviews he conducted is included with the book.  Martin King’s Men, Masculinity, and the Beatles explores how the Beatles, via fashion, music, and particularly their films, influenced social change in the 1960s.

In Artificial Paradise: The Dark Side of the Beatles’ Utopian Dream, Kevin Courrier makes a persuasive argument that the inevitable disillusionment that resulted from the failure of society to realize the group’s vision of a life devoted to love and peace indirectly led to the attacks on first John Lennon (1980) and then George Harrison (1999).  Michael Frontani’s The Beatles: Image and the Media examines how the quartet evolved from teen idols to significant agents of cultural change.  Frontani, a professor of communications at Elon University, utilizes a wide range of sources in this useful study.  Yury Pelyushonok’s Strings for a Beatle Bass: The Beatles Generation in the USSR offers an Eastern perspective on the group and illustrates its considerable influence on young people living behind the Iron Curtain.

Reading the Beatles: Cultural Studies, Literary Criticism, and the Fab Four, edited by Kenneth Womack and Todd Davis, is an excellent, wide-ranging collection of essays that probe the band’s intellectual and cultural significance.  Though rather misleadingly titled, The Beatles Literary Anthology, edited by Mike Evans, is a fascinating selection of more than ninety book excerpts, essays, and magazine articles spanning four decades.  Evans followed that up with another edited volume, The Beatles: Paperback Writer, which covers much the same ground.  In My Life: Encounters with the Beatles, edited by Robert Cording, Shelli Jankowski-Smith, and E. J. Miller Laino, is more “literary” than Evans’s earlier work: its fifty-five pieces on the Beatles include twenty-five poems and fifteen short stories about the group.  In Read the Beatles: Classic and New Writings on the Beatles, Their Legacy, and Why They Still Matter, editor June Skinner Sawyers collects work by Allen Ginsberg, Gloria Steinem, Philip Glass, and more than forty other luminaries who plead the case of the book’s subtitle.  The Beatles, Popular Music, and Society: A Thousand Voices, edited by Ian Inglis, is another important collection that demonstrates the group’s influence beyond the world of music.  The Beatles Reader: A Selection of Contemporary Views, edited by Charles Neises, includes good essays on the group’s albums and movies.  Mike Evans’s The Art of the Beatles is evidence of another discipline the group influenced—the visual arts.  Based on Evans’s 1984 exhibition of the same name at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, the book is the only one of its kind and concisely examines the Beatles’ influence on all the visual arts.  In his Fab Gear: The Beatles and Fashion, Paolo Hewitt uses more than 200 photos to illustrate the Beatles’ impact on how people dressed in the 1960s.

Several titles explore Beatles fans.  Garry Berman’s “We’re Going to See the Beatles!” is an enjoyable collection of fan memories, some of which will astound those who were not part of the phenomenon.  The Beatles Are Here!, edited by Penelope Rowlands, is similar but includes contributions from journalists, critics, and musicians.  Sociologist Candy Leonard did hundreds of phone and face-to-face interviews to write Beatleness: How the Beatles and Their Fans Remade the World, in which she explores the unique relationship between the group and its fans.  This valuable book goes well beyond the usual study of Beatlemania.

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