By David R. Altman
Did you know that two of the Beatles most popular songs—John Lennon’s “A Day in The Life” and Paul McCartney’s “She’s Leaving Home"--were inspired by stories they read in the newspaper?
And, that John Lennon wrote “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” (often thought of as being about the drug LSD, due to the song’s initials) was actually written about the death of a little girl named Lucy who was his son Julian’s friend.
Or, did you know that it was Ed Sullivan himself who noticed the throngs of teenagers waiting for the band at London’s airport when they were returning from playing in Hamburg, Germany in 1963? He then booked the band for their (now) historic appearance in February 1964.
The interesting facts in this book just keep coming.
When Paul introduced “the one and only Billy Shears” in his song “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” he was actually referring to drummer Ringo Starr, whom Paul and John wanted to help promote.
These stories are but a few of those in perhaps the most exhaustive book ever written about history’s greatest band. The book is called All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Beatles Release.
It’s a fascinating look at the genesis of every Beatles song, ranging from the number of takes it took to record each song to the inspiration behind each lyric. Beyond that, it’s full of behind-the-scenes drama that made the Beatles far more than just history’s greatest selling band.
The book was written by two musicians and artists in their own right: Philippe Margotin, who has written biographies of U2, Radiohead and the Rolling Stones and Jean-Michel Guesdon, a musician, composer and sound engineer. In addition, Rock & Roll Hall of Famer and author Patti Smith wrote a memorable preface for the book. These distinguished individuals, who also have an encyclopedic knowledge of the Beatles, have blended the music, production and personalities of the Fab Four into a book that Beatles fans will forever be referencing.
You will learn the cutting-edge sophistication that the Beatles brought to the recording studio. Despite the Beatlemania frenzy they created on tour, it was their ground-breaking studio albums, starting with the sounds created for the 1967 Album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, that created some of the group’s most memorable arrangements.
The authors said as ground-breaking as “Sgt. Peppers” was, it “…bore within itself the promise of the end of the group: Paul assumed ascendency over John, whose bossiness and work ethic irritated his colleagues. Nothing would ever be the same again.”
The book doesn’t shy away from the controversy. You will read how the group, particularly after giving up concerts and recording the Sgt. Peppers album, slowly began to lose the original closeness they had back in Liverpool, England in the late 1950’s.
You will also read how Yoko Ono’s presence was clearly a disruptive one for the group, although she inspired John to write “Imagine”, which he recorded apart from the Beatles, and which arguably became his most famous composition.
For those of you who are production-savvy, you will find detailed notes on how each song was produced, what instruments were used, how the tracks were mixed and who played what instrument. Too much information? Only if you are a Stones fan (and, yes, there are similar anthologies about the Stones and about Bob Dylan, the latter of which I’ve already ordered).
The Beatles book discusses the “devastating” impact the death of their beloved manager Brian Epstein had on the group. Epstein, a business executive who first signed the Beatles back in 1962, died of a “fatal cocktail” five years later, a drug and alcohol overdose that was ruled accidental.
While Epstein was the marketing genius behind the Beatles (he told them to get rid of their “scruffy” look and wear nice suits and similar haircuts), the other major figure in their success was the brilliant engineer and producer George Martin, who was credited for creating the Beatles unique “sound” and for many of their brilliant studio production techniques.
Martin was often thought of as the “fifth Beatle”, as he wrote the orchestration for most of their songs. Perhaps Martin was best known for the extraordinary recording of “A Day in The Life” where a 40-piece orchestra was brought in and asked to play one section of the song “…randomly during 24 beats reaching to their highest level” which was then boosted to create the sound of 160 players. The unforgettable final note to that song, which is credited to Paul, had the Beatles play the exact same chord on four individual pianos.
It’s hard to believe that the Beatles, who released their first single “Love Me Do” in 1962 (written by Paul at the age of 16) to the group’s final song “The End” in their final recording session in 1969, were active for less than ten years, but still sold 183 million albums, more than Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones combined.
For the last song on the last album the group would ever record, Paul wrote the now famous final line: “And in the end/The love you take/Is equal to the love you make.”