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Meet the Beatles: A Cultural History of the Band That Shook Youth, Gender, and the World

Meet the Beatles: A Cultural History of the Band That Shook Youth, Gender, and the World

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by Steven D. Stark

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Rob Sheffield, the Rolling Stone columnist and bestselling author of Love Is a Mix Tape, offers an entertaining, unconventional look at the most popular band in history, the Beatles, exploring what they mean today and why they still matter so intensely to a generation that has never known a world without them.

Meet the Beatles is


Rob Sheffield, the Rolling Stone columnist and bestselling author of Love Is a Mix Tape, offers an entertaining, unconventional look at the most popular band in history, the Beatles, exploring what they mean today and why they still matter so intensely to a generation that has never known a world without them.

Meet the Beatles is not another biography of the Beatles, or a song-by-song analysis of the best of John and Paul. It isn’t another exposé about how they broke up. It isn’t a history of their gigs or their gear. It is a collection of essays telling the story of what this ubiquitous band means to a generation who grew up with the Beatles music on their parents’ stereos and their faces on T-shirts. What do the Beatles mean today? Why are they more famous and beloved now than ever? And why do they still matter so much to us, nearly fifty years after they broke up?

As he did in his previous books, Love is a Mix Tape, Talking to Girls About Duran Duran, and Turn Around Bright Eyes, Sheffield focuses on the emotional connections we make to music. This time, he focuses on the biggest pop culture phenomenon of all time—The Beatles. In his singular voice, he explores what the Beatles mean today, to fans who have learned to love them on their own terms and not just for the sake of nostalgia.

Meet the Beatles tells the story of how four lads from Liverpool became the world’s biggest pop group, then broke up—but then somehow just kept getting bigger. At this point, their music doesn’t belong to the past—it belongs to right now. This book is a celebration of that music, showing why the Beatles remain the world’s favorite thing—and how they invented the future we’re all living in today.

Editorial Reviews

Joseph Rosen
An acclaimed pop culture commentator for NPR and CNN, Stark has produced a volume worthy of his subjects, treating the band with the seriousness that a phenomenon of its magnitude warrants. Thus highbrow literary allusions (Keats, Wordsworth, Paglia) find easy companionship alongside quotations from rock periodicals such as Mersey Beat and Crawdaddy. Stark also spent considerable time in Liverpool and conducted more than 100 interviews with figures ranging from Yoko Ono to screaming fans relegated to the upper tiers of Shea Stadium (both surviving Beatles declined to be interviewed).
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Journalist Stark wants to tell the story of John, Paul, George and Ringo in a "somewhat new way," focusing as much on the cultural trends that produced the Beatles-and the trends they created-as on the Fab Four themselves. He explores how the band's 1964 arrival in America coincided with both the adolescent explosion of the baby boomers and the cultural void left by Kennedy's assassination. He then backtracks to the Beatles' childhoods in Liverpool, a city with traditions of absent fathers, strong mothers and permissive attitudes toward androgyny-all major elements in the Beatles' music. Their moptop haircuts? A combination of "mild gender-bending" and German art college chic. Their trademark wit? Inspired by the Goon Show, a popular BBC radio program. Their long-term impact? Practically impossible to overestimate, as Stark finds their influence on '60s protest movements, drug culture, women's liberation and more. Stark provides a thorough biography of the band and includes bits of trivia, such as the band's 1960 gig playing backup to a stripper. Throughout, Stark is sharp and insightful, even when he wades into the psychoanalytic waters of the John/Yoko and Paul/Linda relationships. Photos. Agent, Nat Sobel. (June 1) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
With so many Beatles books published each year, it's refreshing when a title emerges that sheds new light on the Fab Four. National Public Radio commentator Stark (Glued to the Set) has written such a book, forgoing a regurgitation of well-documented facts and dates and focusing instead on the forces within and outside the group that helped it become an unmatched cultural phenomenon. Often glossing over details, Stark draws on a vast range of resource materials and includes well-selected quotes from scores of Beatles associates (surviving band members Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr declined to be interviewed) to set up and support his arguments in the book's first half. Of particular note here are his theories exploring the Beatles's role in the feminist movement and counterculture of the 1960s. For the second half, however, Stark relies too heavily on speculation and stacks his deck with overly selective quotes to support his spin on the Beatles's final years. But where most other books on the topic obsess over the whats, wheres, whens, and hows, Stark's work explores the whys, an avenue of approach that has been sorely lacking in the vast Beatles literature. The extensive source listing stands on its own as a more than adequate Beatles bibliography. Recommended for most collections.-Lloyd Jansen, Stockton-San Joaquin Cty. P.L., CA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Yet another scribe takes a run at the Fab Four's legend and comes up empty. "Why on earth would anyone need another book about the Beatles?" A very good question, posed without irony by National Public Radio commentator and author (Telemania, 1997, etc.) Stark at the outset of his ultimately pointless cultural history of the English quartet. The title-also the title of the Beatles' first American album-portends much, as if we're going to encounter the band for the first time. But Stark brings little that's fresh to the table and relies heavily on the work of such earlier, astute Beatles chroniclers as Hunter Davies, Philip Norman, Mark Lewisohn, Tim Riley and the late Ian MacDonald. The story is now so familiar that it virtually tells itself. Beginning with the Beatles' sensational arrival in the U.S. in February 1964, Stark slogs through the tale even casual readers will know by heart: Liverpool roots, Hamburg trial by fire, nurturing by manager Brian Epstein and producer George Martin, worldwide fame and acclaim, and the flameout of utopian dreams in a bitter breakup. Stark, who displays an encyclopedic knowledge of the more engaged writers who have come before him, tries to dress things up by emphasizing certain aspects of the saga: the band's androgynous appeal, the role of women (fans, girlfriends, wives) in the group's image and success, the impact of Epstein's homosexuality and of the band members' drug use. But all those roads have in fact been traveled before, and the slim insights Stark provides in no way justify another trek down Penny Lane. The author lived in Liverpool for a spell and interviewed several dozen witnesses, but his original research likewise unearths nothingblazingly original. To quote the Fabs: "Dear sir or madam, will you read my book, it took me years to write, will you take a look?" No, thanks.
“Insightful . . . Stark embeds the band in ideas and movements”
Buffalo News
“A clear, new picture of the Beatles as pop-culture phenomenon. . . . thoughly entertaining and engaging”
Washington Post Book World
“A volume worthy of its subjects . . . thoughtful, provocative, and valuable”
Knoxville News-Sentinel
“[A] remarkably fresh perspective . . . Stark’s style, though scholarly, is incisive and altogether entertaining.”
Boston Globe Sunday Magazine
“At the forefront of a ‘new wave’ of Beatles studies”

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Meet the Beatles
A Cultural History of the Band That Shook Youth, Gender, and the World

Chapter One

The British Are Coming!

In the beginning there was the scream.

It was high-pitched, wailing, the sound of pigs being slaughtered, only louder. So me in England compared it to the air raid sirens that had been so prevalent during the war only two decades before. Oddly, it was both joyous and hysterical; it could be heard sometimes over a mile away. It was continuous, yet punctuated by crescendos. Its decibel level was so high that it broke the equipment measuring it, and the next day, some found their ears still continued to ring.

"I've never heard a sound so painful to the ear," one observer at the time said. "Loud and shrill. It was like standing next to a jet engine. It physically hurt."

Of course, years earlier there had been stories about the girls who shouted for Sinatra and then for Elvis. But this screaming was different -- the beginning of a new era, an expression of cultural change.

"We screamed because it was a kick against anything old-fashioned," remembered Lynne Harris, a fan of the Beatles at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, where they were essentially the house band in the early sixties. "They represented what we could do with our lives."

"It seemed to me a definite line was being drawn," said Bob Dylan. "This was something that never happened before."

At first, the screams were triggered whenever the Beatles played their music, especially when they sang falsetto together and shook their long hair; the screaming was a kind of similar answer to the high tones the girls were hearing. Soon, however, it grew to encompass anything connected to the group -- their impending arrival at a hotel or airport, their appearance on a movie screen. Without it, at least initially, the group might well have been seen as just another flash in the pan. It became so much a part of the trademark of the Beatles that when the band produced its own Anthology history series in the 1990s, the episodes began with just the screams and everyone knew exactly what they were, what they were for, and what they referenced. Years later, Neil Aspinall, their confidant and roadie, would say of their tours, "It was just a permanent scream."

"You literally had to hold on to your seat," said Marcy Lanza, a fan at the time." The noise was so loud that everything swayed and vibrated."

It drove some in the inner circle a bit crazy. "Shurrup!" John Lennon, all of twenty-three in 1964, would yell at the top of his lungs in response, but no one could hear him. George Harrison, then only twenty, was the first Beatle to begin to succumb to the pressure of the constant screaming mobs."He was a dedicated musician, and he would spend his time in the dressing room tuning everyone's instruments," remembered Tony Barrow, their press agent. "And then they went on stage and no one could hear and it didn't matter what they did. His personality changed; he became a less tolerant person -- snappish. H e couldn't come to terms with it at all."

But that would come the following year. On February 7, 1964, George was still happy at the sight of more than a thousand screaming British fans at Heathrow Airport outside London to see the Beatles off on Pan Am Flight 101 for New York at 11:00 a.m. The screams were so loud that some in the Beatles' party initially mistook the sound for jet engines. Unbeknownst to the group, the band's arrival at the newly renamed Kennedy Airport eight hours later was already being announced nonstop on the airwaves to a shivering New York beginning to awaken to a gray day. "It is now six thirty a.m. Beatles time," the DJ on WMCA said." They left London thirty minutes ago. They're out over the Atlantic Ocean, headed for New York. The temperature is thirty-two Beatle degrees."

The group was already the biggest entertainment phenomenon Britain had ever known. The British knew all about the reaction the Beatles engendered in their listeners, which had started unexpectedly at a dance outside of Liverpool in Litherland at the end of 1960 and had eventually come to cover the whole of their island three years later. In the past year, the Beatles had sold more records in Britain than anyone ever, with four number 1 singles -- "Please Please Me," "From Me to You," "She Loves You," and "I Want to Hold Your Hand" -- and two hit albums. They had been the stars of their own thirteen-week series on BBC radio -- Pop Go the Beatles -- and in 1963 they had already toured their own country four times, playing to sellout, clamoring audiences everywhere.

In October 1963, the group had headlined on TV's Val Parnell's Sunday Night at the London Palladium -- England's version of The Ed Sullivan Show -- and the riotous fans outside had prompted one tabloid wag to label the new phenomenon "Beatlemania." Three weeks later, they were the stars of the prestigious Royal Command Performance in London, where John Lennon had delighted the upper-class audience and members of the royal family by announcing, "For our last number, I'd like to ask for your help. Would the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands? And the rest of you, if you'll just rattle your jewelry?" By the end of the year, they dominated their nation's airwaves, newspapers, and conversations. One British newspaper announced that the name of the Beatles was "engraved upon the heart of the nation."

But that was Great Britain, which in 1963 was in a different universe as far as the United States and the world entertainment market were concerned. And the Beatles knew it too. Rock and roll was virtually the exclusive province of American musicians, and no English rock act had ever come close to "making it" in the States ...

Meet the Beatles
A Cultural History of the Band That Shook Youth, Gender, and the World
. Copyright © by Steven Stark. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Steven D. Stark is a writer and cultural commentator. He has been the popular culture analyst for National Public Radio's Weekend Edition Sunday; a contributor to The World, a daily public radio show coproduced by WGBH and the BBC; and a commentator for CNN's Showbiz Today. The author of Glued to the Set and Writing to Win, he has written extensively for the Boston Globe, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the Atlantic Monthly. He has been a Beatles fan since he was a boy and the Beatles first hit America on February 7, 1964.

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Meet the Beatles: A Cultural History of the Band That Shook Youth, Gender, and the World 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Bookworm1951 More than 1 year ago
The first 50 pages were absolutely compelling and I thought this would be a 5-star book. In the first few chapters, the author gave an informative account of the Beatles in their early lives. However, after a great start, the author took to describing everyone and everything British, American and European whether or not it had anything to do with the Beatles including what these people said or didn't say. It got so boring and loaded with names of people that I never heard of and didn't care about, that I simply couldn't get past the half way point. The Beatles seemed to have disappeared from the book excepts for a sentence here and there. It was almost as if the author was looking for a way to simply make the book longer. I rarely delete a book but this one was simply too boring to finish in the first place and certainly doesn't merit a re-read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The song "When I'm 64" is what ur talking about...LOL!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I get it !!#
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
GO BEATLES! have not read the book but might "When I'm 64" get it?