The Top Ten Best Beatles Books

Pile of Beatles Books Top Ten Beatles Books

Want to know which are the best Beatles Books?

With the release of the first part of Mark Lewisohn‘s trilogy of books on the Beatles “Tune In” I thought it might be worthwhile taking a look at the plethora of Beatles Books out there to try to make sense of it all. I have already read far more books about the fab four than is healthy. I’m beginning to pluck obscure facts out of the air. Paul McCartney’s middle name? * Not a problem. The name of the club where Paul first met Linda? ** Easy. Who was playing a live set at the time?*** Child’s play. Of course, this is also extremely sad, and means I run the risk of turning into the most frightful bore at parties. It’s not a skill to publicise too heavily.

Does the world really need another book about The Beatles?

The answer to this question is of course “Yes” – especially if the author in question is perhaps the world’s foremost Beatles expert, Mark Lewisohn, a man whose knowledge of The Beatles is what the inventor of the word “Encyclopaedic” had in mind when he came up with it. His previous books “The Complete Beatles Live” and “Complete Beatles Recording Sessions” are already the go-to books for facts and figures, detailing in diary fashion what happened to The Beatles on just about every single day of the sixties. That attention to detail is the books’ strength and also their weakness, as they are better suited to dipping in and out of rather than reading from cover to cover. That’s why the trilogy is welcome. We get all the comprehensiveness that is Lewisohn’s trademark, only with a more reader-friendly writing style.

Another reason why more Beatles books is a generally good thing is that the quality of said books is improving as the years go by.

But how do we separate the wheat from the chaff? Or, the “Piggies” from the “Day In The Life”? I hear you cry. **** Never fear, and worry not. Not only am I going to give you a top ten list, but on a new permanent feature of the Every Record Tells A Story site I am also going to chuck in a list of other noteworthy Beatles-related reads – because let’s face it – no-one is going to agree on a top ten list, but if I include thirty, then the chances are your favourite is going to be in there somewhere. If it isn’t, then I congratulate you on finding a hidden gem, or chide you for wasting your time on something obviously sub-standard.

Completists and enthusiasts can read the full list of Greatest Beatles Books by clicking on this fab link, but for those otherwise reasonable folk who might feel that even ten books about the Fab Four might be nine too many, here’s a top ten which I hope will inspire you to read a little deeper into this most fascinating tale of how four young men from Liverpool became even more famous than Ken Dodd‘s Diddy Men. Split into different parts of The Beatles’ lives and careers (to justify why you need more than one book), here’s the Top Ten Greatest Beatles Books:

The One About The Songs:

Revolution_in_the_Head

Revolution In The Head, Ian McDonald

A classic of its kind, McDonald dissects every Beatles tune, providing a personal view of every one, and in many cases the background to each.

The One That Was The First Really Comprehensive Life Story of The Band:

Shout Philip Norman

Shout! Philip Norman

The first attempt at a full career biography that really achieved a level of comprehensiveness befitting the band. A classic, written a decade after the band split and released less than a year after Lennon’s murder.

The One About Paul:

barry.miles.paul.mccartney.many.years.from.now.

Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

This book was written with the full cooperation of Paul McCartney, so has the advantages and disadvantages of being “official”. What is of particular interest is reading how Paul developed his interests in the counter culture through the Indica Gallery and bookshop. We learn that it was McCartney rather than Lennon who initially showed more interest in the various causes and movements of sixties popular culture.

The Insider’s Account:

Magical Mystery Tours Tony Bramwell

Magical Mystery Tours: My Life With The Beatles, Tony Bramwell

A childhood friend of George, Tony Bramwell got the job of Roadie to The Beatles by offering to carry George’s guitar into a hall so he could get in for free. His book is both highly detailed, appears factually strong and is page-turningly readable.

The One About The Recording Of The Beatles’ Records:

Here, There and Everywhere My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles Geoff Emerick

Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles, Geoff Emerick

Geoff’s account of his time as an EMI engineer – during which he was effectively George Martin’s right hand man – is very readable, often funny and occasionally scathing (especially of George Harrison’s early prowess and George Martin’s claims to the credit for some of The Beatles’ best studio moments).

The One About The Apple Years:

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The Longest Cocktail Party, Richard DiLello

Consistently amusing account of the last days of Apple by the”House Hippie”. The Beatles are a mere side attraction compared with the arrivals of Allen Klein, Magic Alex…and Hells Angels.

The One With The Interview John Gave After He Quit The Beatles:

Lennon Remembers Lennon Remembers, Jann Wenner

Lennon Remembers, Jann Wenner

Just a brilliant explosion of John Lennon‘s thoughts and feelings as he looks back on his time with The Beatles. Endlessly quotable – this is the moment Lennon lifted the veil and gave a shocking and honest account of his life.

The One About John’s Days In New York:

The Last Days of John Lennon, Frederic Seaman

The Last Days of John Lennon, Frederic Seaman

Beginning with the story of his own arrest with threatening behaviour from New York City cops, Frederic Seaman – who for a time was Lennon’s assistant in New York – gives a serious account of his time with Lennon. An insight into Ono’s protection of Lennon and the level of (often justified) paranoia and suspicion prevailing over the period. Interestingly, Alex Constantine (in his book “The Covert War Against Rock” – see main feature) alleges that Seaman was part of a project to destabilise Lennon. Either way – it’s a very interesting account.

The One About How And Why The Beatles Broke Up:

You Never Give Me Your Money, Peter Doggett

You Never Give Me Your Money, Peter Doggett

Doggett achieved something extraordinary with this book – fresh perspective on how and why the Beatles split up in an entertaining and readable account of the last year of The Beatles – and the tangles between John, Paul and Allen Klein.

The One You Don’t Want To Drop On Your Foot:

Tune In - Mark Lewisohn The Beatles

Tune In – Mark Lewisohn

I think everyone else can put their pens down now. Lewisohn’s got it covered, with fresh perspectives and sources. The first part of the trilogy spans over 1700 pages and only gets to 1962. Let’s hope we (and Lewisohn!) all live long enough to read parts two and three…!

So there’s the Top Ten Best Books About The Beatles for you. For the big Beatles fans out there, there’s an extended version in the Best Beatles Books page on the site – and do let me know if you think I have missed out your favourite.

  • * Paul
  • ** Bag o Nails, Kingley Street
  • *** Georgie Fame (real name Clive Powell)
  • **** Metaphorically

Best Beatles Books

The Beatles On Air – Live At The BBC Volume 2 is out now

Mark Lewisohn’s unexpurgated version of Tune In is out now.

Read the whole list here

Record #266: The Beatles – Paperback Writer



Categories: Rock Music

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11 replies

  1. Nice list – though I have to put an asterisk beside ‘readable’ for You Never Give Me Your Money. There was nothing wrong with the prose – more that I had to put it down because I still wanted to like John & Paul!

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  2. I do not have any of these unfortunately.

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  3. You do have my favorite on this top ten — Many Years From Now — but I am a shameless McCartney fan, and I love how the book demonstrates his influence, which I think it misunderstood by more casual Beatles fans. (It is my belief if you are a music fan on any level, if you truly listen to the Beatles take their music in the context of when it was created, it is impossible for you to be a “casual” fan.)

    I just picked up the Rolling Stone special issue on McCartney. Nothing new in it, but it was cool to read the reprints of his major RS interviews since the Beatles’ break-up. I knew all of the information, but it was interesting to read it in the context of when it was happening. In other words, McCartney talking about Wings looking back is different from him talking about it in the thick of Wings Over America.

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    • That Rolling Stone special sounds like my kind of thing. I have a Rolling Stone collection of Keith Richards interviews and you’re absolutely right about reading interviews done at the time rather than with hindsight. Lennon’s interview with Jann Wenner is another case in point.

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    • Due to a flight cancelled because of bad weather, I was at an unplanned airport with a $25 voucher in my hand. So, got some Popeye’s chicken after a long day and the special issue of Rolling Stone about Paul McCartney.

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  4. YOU NEVER GIVE ME YOUR MONEY is a great book. My wife bought it for me, and I thought it would be really boring considering it was about The Beatles finances. Wrong. Turns out managing the money empire (and the animosity involved in the breakup) was great reading. I was really interested to learn that each of the band members got paid for each others solo albums. Great read.

    Of course, The Anthology is the greatest Beatles book…

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  5. Thoroughly enjoyed the Philip Norman. Great on the early days especially. Guess the true fan must go for MacDonald and Lewisohn. But life may be too short.

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  6. Thanks for narrowing the overwhelming amount of Beatles books down to the ten best. I gave up reading Beatles books years ago when they became so redundant. Now I can concentrate on reading the definite good ones.

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  7. Great piece. If anyone’s still finding their way to it, I’d only like to add my opinion that readers interested in Philip Norman’s Shout! are strongly advised to seek out the original edition from 1980 (or reprints thereof) and NOT the Revised and Updated edition published in 2005. There may be some factual inaccuracies uncorrected from the original, but fact-checking is what we have Lewisohn for, yes? And what is lost is the integrity of the book as originally published, very much a document of its time, as you rightly identify in your comments. If there had just been an additional epilogue tacked on to the original book, that would’ve been all right, but instead, Norman completely rewrote his original closing chapter, making it a too-glib overview of the post-breakup years (then counting 35, rather than the mere 10 at the time of original publication, which were suitable to treat as a relative afterthought), ruining the poetry of his original ending and burying what had been the book’s poignant final lines, raw with the then-recent loss of Lennon.

    Liked by 1 person

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