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Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties
     

Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties

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by Ian MacDonald
 

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As dazzling as the decade they dominated, The Beatles almost single-handedly created pop music as we know it. Today, their songs are cited as seminal influences by stars like Oasis, Blur and Kula Shaker. Eloquently giving voice to their time, the Beatles quite simply changed the world.

Updated with material from The Beatles Live at the BBC and the Anthology

Overview

As dazzling as the decade they dominated, The Beatles almost single-handedly created pop music as we know it. Today, their songs are cited as seminal influences by stars like Oasis, Blur and Kula Shaker. Eloquently giving voice to their time, the Beatles quite simply changed the world.

Updated with material from The Beatles Live at the BBC and the Anthology series, this acclaimed book gets to the heart of The Beatles — their records. It draws on the author’s unique knowledge and experience to “read” their 241 tracks chronologically — from their first amateur efforts in 1957 to Real Love, their final “reunion” recording in 1995. With this engrossing classic of popular criticism, Ian MacDonald shows exactly why the extraordinary songs of the Beatles remain a central and continually surprising presence.

Editorial Reviews

newsblaze.com
A valuable resource.
newscritics.com
I have worn out three-yes three-copies.
Booknews
MacDonald, popular and classical music critic, chronicles the influences that bound the Beatles to the '60s, placing them in the context of the cultural meltdown that took place. An extensive introduction is followed by a history and analysis of their 186 recorded songs organized chronologically by album. A 62-page chronology follows, listing Beatles history alongside UK pop music history, current affairs, and cultural history. Includes a glossary but no subject index. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Anthony DeCurtis
...revel in Mac Donald's wry humor, cutural range, and unsentimental fondness for the lads.

Rolling Stone

From the Publisher

“A triumph—compelling, seductive, delightful.”  —Nick Hornby, author, High Fidelity

“A brilliant electrical storm of a book.”  —Newsweek

“The most astute piece of Fabs exegesis ever published—brilliant on the group’s triumphs, refreshingly scathing about its shortcomings . . . One of the twenty greatest rock & roll books.”  —Blender

“The finest piece of fabs scholarship ever published.”  —Mojo

"Among the few essential commentaries on their music and its meaning."  —Shepherd Express

"Dipping into [this] book will make you want to rush to put on a set of good headphones and really listen to what MacDonald points out. . . . This is a great read both for old fans and younger generations seeking to see what the fuss was all about."  — Law Practice Magazine

"A valuable resource."  —newsblaze.com

"I have worn out three—yes three—copies."  —newscritics.com

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780099526797
Publisher:
Random House UK
Publication date:
01/27/2009
Pages:
544
Product dimensions:
5.03(w) x 7.75(h) x 1.26(d)

Read an Excerpt

Revolution in the Head

The Beatles' Records and the Sixties


By Ian MacDonald, Terry O'Neill

Chicago Review Press Incorporated

Copyright © 2005 The Estate of Ian MacDonald
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-883052-84-3



CHAPTER 1

Part 1

Going Up


- Where are we going, fellas?

- To the top, Jimmy.

- And where's that?

- Why, the toppermost of the poppermost!


John Lennon and Paul McCartney met on 6th July 1957 at a Saturday evening fete in St Peter's Church, Woolton, in Liverpool, where the 16-year-old Lennon's skiffle group, The Quarry Men, was performing. McCartney, nearly two years his future partner's junior, impressed him with his knowledge of chords, obscure rock-and-roll lyrics, and the correct way of tuning a guitar. Quickly enrolled into The Quarry Men, McCartney showed Lennon his early efforts at songwriting, startling him into trying his own hand at composition. Their songbook grew steadily over the next five years.

Consisting mainly of Lennon's school cronies, The Quarry Men were amateurish, perpetually losing and gaining members, and winning fewer and fewer engagements during 1958 and 1959. The only notable event of this period was the recruitment, in March 1958, of the 15-year-old George Harrison, who - along with Lennon, McCartney, John Lowe (piano), and Colin Hanton (drums) - appears on The Quarry Men's sole surviving artefact: a ten-inch shellac 78 made, during the summer of that year, at Phillips Sound Recording Service, Liverpool, for the sum of seventeen-and-sixpence (87.5p). Lennon sings lead on both tracks - a version of Buddy Holly's 'That'll Be The Day' (a UK hit from late 1957) and a McCartney-Harrison composition [El] In Spite Of All The Danger, both available on Anthology 1. The latter, a dreary doo-wop pastiche, has little to recommend it, but [Elb] That'll Be The Day offers some reasonably nifty lead guitar (whether by Harrison or McCartney is unclear).

By the end of 1959, The Quarry Men existed chiefly as a name, the only survivors being Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison. As if to celebrate the new decade, March 1960 saw the birth of 'The Beatals', as Stuart Sutcliffe, Lennon's best friend and their reluctant new bass-player, rechristened them. For the moment drummerless and therefore largely gigless, they kept things going by rehearsing and recording rough home demos, three of which appear on Anthology 1: a McCartney rendition of Eddie Cochran's version of [Elc] Hallelujah, I Love Her So, a McCartney-Lennon spoof of The Ink Spots entitled [E2] You'll Be Mine, and a McCartney instrumental called [E3] Cayenne, which, again, features some capable Shadows-style lead guitar.


[E3b] My Bonnie(trad. arr. Sheridan)

Tony Sheridan lead vocal, lead guitar; Harrison lead guitar, backing vocal; Lennon rhythm guitar, backing vocal; McCartney bass, backing vocal; Pete Best drums

Recorded: 22nd June 1961, Friedrich-Ebert-Halle, Hamburg.

Producer: Bert Kaempfert. Engineer: Karl Hinze.

UK release: 21st November 1995 (2-CD: Anthology 1)

US release: 21st November 1995 (2-CD: Anthology 1)


Joined in August 1960 by Pete Best on drums, The Beatles toiled through two years of poorly-paid and physically demanding gigs in Liverpool and Hamburg, gradually putting on musical muscle. Three tracks dating from their three-month stint at Hamburg's Top Ten Club in summer 1961 appear on Anthology 1. Taped in the assembly hall of a local infants' school, they come from a batch of seven The Beatles made for Polydor as a backing group for Tony Sheridan. The latter, then regarded as the 'guvnor' of British rock-and-roll, was a useful guitarist and The Beatles were happy to grab the chance of occupying a stage with him at the Top Ten. Sharing a similar humour and thirst for German beer, they reputedly played hard together and some say that it was during this season of their Hamburg apprenticeship that the group acquired their rock-and-roll 'chops' (and general life experience) most intensively.

Sheridan and The Beatles were jamming together one night when the former's German publisher Albert Schacht dropped in to arrange a recording date for him. Enthused by what he heard, Schacht prevailed upon his friend composer/producer Bert Kaempfert to sign The Beatles on a short-term contract to enable them to back Sheridan on the session. (Because of this, they were still contracted to Kaempfert in April 1962 when Brian Epstein was hustling the deal with Parlophone. As his condition for an early contractual release, Kaempfert stipulated a second date - fulfilled somewhere between 23rd and 27th April 1962 in an unknown Hamburg venue - at which The Beatles recorded versions of 'Sweet Georgia Brown' and 'Swanee River'.)

My Bonnie was selected because of incessant requests for it from drunken sailors. (The Beatles kept it in their set for the same reason.) A Scottish 3/4 ballad grotesquely unsuited to rock-and-roll treatment, the song required a fundamental adaption. Sheridan's characteristically full-tilt answer was to strum an A major verse in waltz-time before jumping randomly into a fast Twist-beat in C, his frenetic two-chorus guitar solo driving a performance entertaining enough to have penetrated the local German top five. The late-teen Beatles - energy hopeful, background vocals scrupulously rehearsed - are clearly aware that, here, opportunity (of a sort) knocks.

[E3c] Ain't She Sweet(Ager-Yellen)

Lennon lead vocal, rhythm guitar; Harrison lead guitar; McCartney bass; Pete Best drums

Recorded: 22nd June 1961, Friedrich-Ebert-Halle, Hamburg.

Producer: Bert Kaempfert. Engineer: Karl Hinze.

UK release: 21st November 1995 (2-CD: Anthology 1)

US release: 21st November 1995 (2-CD: Anthology 1)


In the last hour of the Tony Sheridan session, The Beatles - presumably on a quid pro quo basis - had the opportunity to record a couple of numbers of their own. Considering that this was a chance to gain exposure as songwriters, it's odd that they didn't choose to record one of their originals - say, McCartney's [E5] Like Dreamers Do or Lennon's [E6] Hello Little Girl. Instead, Lennon stepped up to take the vocal on another incongruous Twist-beat arrangement of an undistinguished standard. Written in 1927 by Milton Ager and Jack Yellen, Ain't She Sweet was originally recorded by The New York Syncopators, although The Beatles would have known it from Gene Vincent's version made in 1956. While it presumably went down well with the raucous clientèle of the Top Ten Club, it made little sense as a choice for The Beatles' first professional recording and fails to reward attention in hindsight.


[E4] Cry For A Shadow(Harrison-Lennon)

Harrison lead guitar; Lennon rhythm guitar; McCartney bass; Pete Best drums

Recorded: 22nd June 1961, Friedrich-Ebert-Halle, Hamburg.

Producer: Bert Kaempfert. Engineer: Karl Hinze.

UK release: 21st November 1995 (2-CD: Anthology 1)

US release: 21st November 1995 (2-CD: Anthology 1)


The Beatles' first professionally produced original composition is an instrumental roughly in the style of The Shadows. Dating from their three-month stint at the Top Ten Club in Hamburg in summer 1961, it was taped in the assembly hall of a Hamburg infants' school in the last hour of the session during which they backed Tony Sheridan on five tracks made for Polydor.

With Stuart Sutcliffe and probably Astrid Kirchherr present in the hall. The Beatles chose to record two tracks: the Lennon-led 'Ain't She Sweet' and Cry For A Shadow. A Simple C major affair built on the most basic guitar changes, the only musical point of interest in Cry For a Shadow is Lennon's recurrent strumming between B diminished and F major seventh, holding the low F with his thumb - a performance accomplished on a thru-pickup Rickenbacker 325 bought in Hamburg in 1960 (his sole electric guitar until 1964). McCartney plays his later famous Hofner 500/1 violin bass, purchased in Hamburg at the beginning of 1961. Using a twin-pickup Gretsch Duo Jet, the eighteen-year-old Harrison does a passable Hank Marvin impersonation on the middle eight; apart from that, his only idea is to play the tune an octave down on the third chorus. Roughhouse teenage fun.


[E5] Like Dreamers Do(McCartney-Lennon)

McCartney lead vocal, bass; Lennon rhythm guitar; Harrison lead guitar; Pete Best drums

Recorded: 1st January 1962, Decca Studios, London.

Producer: Mike Smith. Engineer: Unknown.

UK release: 21st November 1995 (2-CD: Anthology 1)

US release: 21st November 1995 (2-CD: Anthology 1)


Their seasons in Hamburg built The Beatles into what their then-drummer Pete Best describes as 'a charismatic powerhouse' - something wild at the fringe of British pop, uninhibited by the fixed ideas and anaemic politeness of the dominant London scene. Unfortunately, their manager Brian Epstein, a mere month in the job, misguidedly tried to court this outmoded convention by making his 'boys' play a versatility-demonstrating showbiz set at their audition for Decca in January 1962. The strategy backfired. Forced by the Decca engineers to use the studio equipment rather than their own battered Vox amps, The Beatles were unable to reproduce the energy and dirty, overdriven sound which made their stage-act so exciting. Nor were they helped by a recording regime which budgeted for one take per song and no overdubs. Unbewitched by the group's facetious manner, and refusing in any case to believe that a Liverpool act could appeal to a national audience, Decca turned them down.

Like Dreamers Do, written by mccartney in 1957, kicked off the ill-fated Decca session with its ear-catching intro, in which unison guitars play an ascending chromatic scale from C sharp minor to A major before reaching a verse which disrupts a standard doo-wop sequence (I-vi-IV-V) by adding jazzy sixths in the bass. Sadly, this devious originality isn't matched by the unctuous melody and lyric, which are entirely of their Brylcreemed era. In June 1964, when everything Beatleoid was bankable, The Applejacks invested in a version of this number, but ran out of credit at No. 20.


[E5b] The Sheik Of Araby(Smith-Wheeler-Snyder)

Harrison lead vocal, lead guitar; Lennon rhythm guitar, backing vocal; McCartney bass, backing vocal; Pete Best drums

Recorded: 1st January 1962, Decca Studios, London.

Producer: Mike Smith. Engineer: Unknown.

UK release: 21st November 1995 (2-CD: Anthology 1)

US release: 21st November 1995 (2-CD: Anthology 1)


Passing swiftly on via versions of [13c] Money and [13e] Till There Was You, The Beatles tried the cheeky chappie approach with this vaudeville song written in 1922 by Irving Berlin's New York sidekick Ted Snyder. The Sheik Of Araby was a typical banjo/ukelele novelty number which wouldn't have been out of place in the mouth of Harrison's cult-fancy of the 1930s-40s, George Formby. During the Fifties, English parents still sang music-hall songs to their children and this tradition consequently permeated English pop throughout the Sixties, peaking with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the 'East End soul' of The Small Faces, the pastiches of The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, and the 1966-9 output of The Kinks (the only group to rival The Beatles for variety of form and style). By 1970, this tradition was dying and, despite a limp attempt to revive it by Cockney Rebel, played little part in the theatrical 'glam rock' era of 1971-3. During the late Seventies, the London groups Madness and Ian Dury and the Blockheads resuscitated the music-hall theme and echoes of it can be heard in the Nineties output of Blur. However, this style, like folk music, is no longer an organic part of English popular culture, much to the latter's detriment.


Sadly, the present track is a poor example. A dull song finds Harrison frequently off-key, the pseudo-cockney interjections of Lennon and McCartney grate, and Best is forced to trundle out his only snare 'fill' (a press roll) half a dozen times too often.


[E6] Hello Little Girl(McCartney-Lennon)

Lennon lead vocal, rhythm guitar; McCartney bass, harmony vocal; Harrison lead guitar; Pete Best drums

Recorded: 1st January 1962, Decca Studios, London.

Producer: Mike Smith. Engineer: Unknown.

UK release: 21st November 1995 (2-CD: Anthology 1)

US release: 21st November 1995 (2-CD: Anthology 1)


Sweating to impress the Decca executives, The Beatles followed The Sheik Of Araby with versions of The Teddy Bears' 'To Know Her Is To Love Her', Bobby Vee's Take Good Care Of My Baby', Chuck Berry's [U13s] Memphis, Tennessee, and Carl Perkins' [U11c] Sure To Fall (In Love With You). They then turned to this, Lennon's first original song, written in 1957 as a response to his partner's early efforts at composition. As with [E5] Like Dreamers Do, Hello Little Girl is in A major, a consciously 'pop' creation based on the obvious chords and lacking Lennon's trademark blue notes. Then the most blatantly commercial thing in their repertoire, it's sung with hardly a trace of the group's Northern tang, presumably to suggest to Decca's A&R men that The Beatles could, if required, fit into the prevailing Southern pop ethos.


[E6b] Three Cool Cats(Leiber-stoller)

Harrison lead vocal, lead guitar; Lennon rhythm guitar, backing vocal; McCartney bass, backing vocal; Pete Best drums

Recorded: 1st January 1962, Decca Studios, London.

Producer: Mike Smith. Engineer: Unknown.

UK release: 21st November 1995 (2-CD: Anthology 1)

US release: 21st November 1995 (2-CD: Anthology 1)

Having dashed off Buddy Holly's [U13m] Crying, Waiting, Hoping, McCartney's 'Love Of The Loved', Dinah Washington's 'September In The Rain', and a version of [E6d] Besame Mucho, The Beatles concluded proceedings with two numbers written for The Coasters by the New York partnership of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Harrison does better with Three Cool Cats than with [E5b] The Sheik Of Araby, but this is far from Leiber-Stoller's finest hour and his exertions are palpably in vain.

[E6c] SEARCHIN'(Leiber-Stoller)

McCartney bass, lead vocal; Lennon rhythm guitar, backing vocal; Harrison lead guitar, backing vocal; Pete Best drums

Recorded: 1st January 1962, Decca Studios, London.

Producer: Mike Smith. Engineer: Unknown.

UK release: 21st November 1995 (2-CD: Anthology 1)

US release: 21st November 1995 (2-CD: Anthology 1)


McCartney gives it his all on The Coasters' American top 5 hit of 1957, but the song soon wears thin and Best's limitations as a drummer are nakedly apparent. All in all, Decca's coolness about The Beatles in January 1962 is quite understandable. Though Mike Smith, the producer who oversaw the audition, had seen the group in action at The Cavern, there was no precedent for signing an act merely because they could whip up their home crowd. The first prerequisite for an early Sixties recording contract was presentability: potential 'artistes' had to be 'professional', i.e., musically competent, groomable, and acquiescent to the demands of their producers who, it was assumed, would select their songs for them from batches circulated by writing teams through the normal channels. Loud, long-haired, and seemingly incapable of desisting from laughter, The Beatles did not meet these requirements. Nor, at this stage, did they have much going for them as songwriters. It didn't help that, while there was nothing wrong with his managerial instincts, Brian Epstein lacked musical judgement. Left to his own devices, he would have been at a loss to develop the group's creativity. Doing that would require someone highly qualified yet unhampered by the hidebound UK studio scene of 1962. By a coincidence so unlikely as to be positively mind-boggling, The Beatles were about to encounter such a man.


[E6d] Besame Mucho(Velazquez-skylar)

McCartney vocal, bass; Lennon rhythm guitar; Harrison lead guitar; Pete Best drums

Recorded: 6th June 1962, Abbey Road 2/3?

Producers: Ron Richards/George Martin. Engineer: Norman Smith.

UK release: 21st November 1995 (2-CD: Anthology 1)

US release: 21st November 1995 (2-CD: Anthology 1)


On 9th May 1962, The Beatles were in the middle of their third residency in a Hamburg 'beat cellar' (seven weeks at the Star- Club) when a telegram arrived from Brian Epstein in London. He was delighted to inform them that he'd secured a recording contract and an initial studio date with an EMI subsidiary called Parlophone. This was a canny lie. The agreement, brokered with Parlophone's chief producer George Martin, was actually for nothing more than a try-out. After the flop of the Decca audition four months earlier, Epstein seems to have wanted his 'boys' to go into the Parlophone session with no qualms, and was perfectly happy for them to turn up at Abbey Road under the false impression that this was to be a full-blown recording session.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Revolution in the Head by Ian MacDonald, Terry O'Neill. Copyright © 2005 The Estate of Ian MacDonald. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Ian MacDonald was born in 1948. He was Assistant Editor of the New Musical Express from 1972-75. He also worked as a songwriter and record producer, and is the author of The New Shostakovich, The People’s Music and The Beatles at No. 1. He died in 2003.

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