The best books on the Beatles

From The Gaurdian:

The-Beatles-in-London-196-0085 October is the 50th birthday of the Beatles' first single, released back when Harold Macmillan was the PM, and the Cuban missile crisis was only weeks away.

“Love Me Do” sounds like the world in which it was made: tentative, still feeling the pinch of post-war austerity. Ian MacDonald's wonderful song-by-song history of the group, Revolution in the Head, reckoned that the song's “modal gauntness” is subtly cunning, serving notice of the Beatles' “unvarnished honesty”, and – via John Lennon's wailing harmonica part – the “blunt vitality” of their native Liverpool. In the surviving Beatles' own account, the huge Anthology, Paul McCartney recalls that the song was meant to sound hard and authentic: “blues” rather than “la de da de la”. Many Beatles books barely mention “Love Me Do” at all. But there it is: a number 17 hit, long rumoured to have been propelled into the charts thanks to bulk-buying by manager Brian Epstein. If, like me, one of your first experiences of Beatles music was the collection 1962-66 (known as “The Red Album”, as against 1967-70 “The Blue Album”), you will probably have experienced it as a strangely muted opening to a listening experience that quickly flared into spectacular life: a prologue, rather than a first chapter proper.

The Beatles' second single, “Please Please Me”, was released in January 1963, in the midst of a legendarily biting British winter, to which its giddy sound was an antidote. “Congratulations, Gentlemen, you've just made your first number one,” said their producer, George Martin. And he was right. By early the following year, their songs were crowding the US charts, and they were about to play to 73 million Americans on The Ed Sullivan Show. Once again, they were adopted as a panacea for cold and grim times – this time less a matter of the weather than the pall cast by the murder of President Kennedy. Only two years later, they would reach the apex of their fame, chased around the Deep South by fundamentalist Christians outraged by John Lennon's claim that they were “bigger than Jesus”, while their music took on the textures and expanded horizons traceable – at least in part – to Lennon and George Harrison's use of LSD. Such is the remarkable pace of a story that has been told by scores of writers, a story about four young musicians but no end of other things: the cities of Liverpool, Hamburg and London; class, and the shaking of English hierarchies; pop's transmutation into a global culture; and the western world's passage from a world still defined by the second world war and its aftermath, to the accelerated modernity we know today. Everything in the tale pulses with significance and drama. It seems barely believable, and in the best Beatles books, it still burns.

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