The Beatles are the Citizen Kane of rock n’ roll bands. Out of context, someone watching that classic film for the first time might shrug and say, what’s the big deal? That’s because the film innovated, invented, and refined the cinematic techniques we take for granted today—what was incredible and fresh in 1941 has simply become normal. Similarly, younger music fans might think of The Beatles as a perfectly fine band that wrote some great songs—removed from the context of the pop music scene of the 1960s, it’s difficult to appreciate their incredible impact. The Fab Four innovated, invented, and refined songwriting, recording, and performance techniques that revolutionized music so much that the effect became invisible, infiltrating the landscape of the pop music scene across the five decades that followed. If you’re discovering, rediscovering, or a die-hard fan of the most influential band of all time, here are 10 essential books about the biggest band ever.
Here, There and Everywhere, by Geoff Emerick
Emerick was the sound engineer on two of The Beatles’ most popular albums, Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which arrived after the band gave up live performances to focus on working in the studio. The sound of these two albums reverberates through pop music today. Emerick offers a nice balance of engineering geekery and straightforward explanation that will make you hear the music differently.
The Beatles Anthology, by The Beatles
The definitive infodump of Beatles information, the Anthology is a comprehensive review of the story of the band from their formation to their breakup, littered with behind-the-scenes photos, personal recollections from the Fab Four and the people who worked with them, and other incredible resources. Just about any trivia question ever asked about the group is answered here, making it an absolute must-have.
Shout!, by Philip Norman
Norman’s book was once controversial because he was perceived as looking down on his subjects, but in retrospect, he’s just being honest: The Beatles was a band made up of human beings—and not the silly, harmless moptops or the serene, intellectual gurus they presented themselves to be over the years. Norman’s propulsive book details the good and the bad about these four men, and the result is revelatory.
Lennon Remembers, by Jann Wenner
The legendary Rolling Stone interview Wenner conducted with Lennon on the eve of Lennon’s first solo album release remains a watershed moment in pop history. In this expanded version of an article that was originally severely truncated, a bitter and angry Lennon is a captivating and brutally honest interview subject. If you’re looking some idea of what being more famous than Jesus can do to a man, this book explains it perfectly.
A Cellarfull of Noise, by Brian Epstein
Although ghostwritten by his assistant, this account of the early days of the band is packed with insights from memories of their long-time manager, Brian Epstein. While a bit self-serving and lacking any mention of the more controversial aspects of The Beatles’ early history, it’s a fascinating document that manages to encapsulate what it was like to be there to experience the band’s completely unexpected, improbable rise.
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All the Songs, by Philippe Margotin and Jean-Michel Guesdon
Simply put, The Beatles wrote songs you can sink your teeth into. From the music theory involved—the tunes frequently bent and rewrote the rules of what was permissible in a pop song at the time—to the inspirations behind them, this songbook offers hours of investigation, analyzing every Beatles song with extensive essays about some of the most famous songs in history.
The Beatles, by Bob Spitz
Another deep dive into the history of the band, with a focus more on their personalities and personal lives. It’s an intimate, detailed examination of four men whose private lives and personal demons informed the music that made them famous. Spitz combines clear, energetic writing with a journalist’s touch for research, the end result being one of the best books out there for understanding who The Beatles really were.
All You Need is Ears, by George Martin and Jeremy Hornsby
You can’t really study The Beatles without learning about their producer, George Martin, the man who shaped their sound, taught them the fundamentals of music theory and recording technology, and often arranged and wrote out scores for their orchestral and string tracks. Martin’s influence over the band’s creativity is legendary, and his perspective on their work is absolutely indispensable.
The Beatles: Six Days that Changed the World, by Bill Eppridge
Discussions of The Beatles often beginwith their seismic arrival in New York in 1964. Bill Eppridge was there, and photographed Beatlemania as it unfolded in real time. Not only is this collection of photos—and the personal account that accompanies them—a snapshot of a seismic moment in history, it’s also a breathless examination of a pop-culture phenomenon the likes of which we may never see again.
Best of the Beatles, by Spencer Leigh and Baby’s in Black by Arne Bellstrof
Finally, for the completist, these books examine the two men who were in The Beatles before they broke big: original bassist Sutcliffe and original drummer Pete Best. Sutcliffe dropped out of the band voluntarily—he was never fully committed—and died suddenly of a brain aneurysm. Best was famously replaced by Ringo Starr just as The Beatles were getting somewhere. Anyone looking for the full story needs to know the real story behind these two footnotes in music history.