What Are The Greatest Books About The Beatles?
With over eighty nine thousand books* now registered in The British Library that mention The Beatles in one way shape or form, I thought it would be helpful to present a buyer’s guide to the best ones.
This list of Beatles Books is the result of many happy hours of reading the best Beatles books – the ones that best told the story of John Paul, George and Ringo.
This was itself the result of many hours of research trying to avoid reading any of the less good books about The Beatles, albeit I have read quite a few of those also. I have filtered out most of these so what we are left with is what I hope is a pretty comprehensive, yet quality-filled list, all of which I have read.
As hard as it may be to believe, there are plenty of folk out there who know more about The Beatles than I do. If that’s you, or even if it isn’t, but you think I have just missed an obviously fantastic read, then please let me know in the comments section below!
The Best Books About The Beatles:
A Recommended Beatles Bibliography in chronological order:
Love Me Do: The Beatles Progress, Michael Braun One of the first Beatles books, this was a first hand account by an American journalist living in the UK of the early years which took The Beatles from Cambridge to the Carnegie Hall via Juke Box Jury and Ed Sullivan. It gets really close to the four protagonists and is fascinating in its account of the ever increasing interest in the band.
Why you should read it: One of the first accounts and one that gets close to the early Beatles.
A Cellarful of Noise, Brian Epstein (ghost-written by Derek Taylor). This is an interesting period piece that gave insights into Epstein’s life managing the Beatles at the height of Beatlemania. An official account, it ignores any of the more controversial aspects of Brian’s turbulent life.
Why you should read it: It’s Brian in his own words.
The Beatles: The Authorized Biography, Hunter Davies The first “authorised biography”, Davies visits the Beatles at their homes and provides some fascinating details behind the scenes. Again, it is quite sanitised, but with the benefit of hindsight, the picture of domestic “bliss” between John and Cynthia is easily seen though…
Why you should read it: The first official biography.
The Beatles Get Back, Jonathan Cott and David Dalton Released as part of the Let It Be LP package, this features many glossy photos of those album sessions.
Why you should read it: For the glossy photos.
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.
Why you should read it: It’s Lennon’s greatest interview. Incredible stuff.
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.
Why you should read it: It’s very funny, and Liam Gallagher wants to make it into a film. The film is unlikely to be as good.
Out of His Head:The Sound of Phil Spector, Richard Williams Included here because of the details included of Spector’s controversial handling of “Let It Be” and his later sessions with Harrison and Lennon.
Why you should read it: It’s an account of Spector before it all went wrong. A diary of a madman.
As Time Goes By: Living in the Sixties, Derek Taylor Derek Taylor spent six years as press agent for the Beatles. This book is something of a hotch potch of memories and episodes in Taylor’s life, including various incidents both Beatles and non-Beatles related – not least of which was being on the other end of the phone when the police busted the Beatles for drugs.
Why you should read it: A rare insider’s account: you don’t get much closer to The Beatles than being their press agent.
The Beatles:An Illustrated Record, Roy Carr and Tony Tyler The first of a series of books (Bowie, Dylan) that looked at the career of an artist through their records.
Why you should read it: It’s a discography, (including bootlegs and sings written by Lennon/McCartney but performed by other artists) has great press clippings, photos, concert posters and insights into the records.
An excellent early-ish career biography in a large format packed with photos of the band and their record sleeves, discography, memorabilia etc. different from the Illustrated Record as it was more than a discography – it actually told the full story of how The Beatles changed the world.
Why you should read it: One of the best books – because of the mix of words and over 400 pictures, including the infamous “Butcher” cover and one of George living in the material world – playing Monopoly.
Perhaps the first successful 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. NB. Philip Norman admitted in his subsequent McCartney biography he held something of a pro-Lennon bias when writing this book.
Why you should read it: A complete account and a great starting point.
The Playboy Interviews with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, David Sheff A compilation of a series of interviews with Lennon and Ono from September 1980. The interviews culminated in a song-by-song breakdown of who-wrote-what in each of the songs in the Lennon and McCartney canon.
Why you should read it: One of Lennon’s last interviews – and one that uniquely looked back at the music.
The Love You Make: An Insider’s Story of The Beatles, Peter Brown and Steven Gaines A thorough insider’s story of the story from start to finish – one of the first books (after Shout!) to attempt to do so.
Why you should read it: Another insider account – and one that is most comprehensive.
The Last Days of John Lennon, Frederic Seaman Beginning with the story of his own arrest for allegedly stealing Lennon’s private journals, 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. See also below – “The Covert War Against Rock” for a critical summary of Seaman’s role in a project to destabilise Lennon.
Why you should read it: A unique story of Lennon’s life – and tragic death – in New York.
The Complete Beatles Chronicle, Mark Lewisohn (incorporating 1986’s The Beatles Live and a condensed version of 1988’s The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions). A factual reference book detailing almost Every Day In The Life of The Beatles. Lewisohn worked for McCartney for a while sorting out his archives – and it shows. The bible for Beatle fans.
Why you should read it: Because you literally want a day by day account of The Beatles’ movements. Don’t you?
With A Little Help From My Friends, George Martin with William Pearson. Also known as “Summer of Love” – An account by George Martin of the making of Sgt Pepper. A look behind the scenes at the Abbey Road EMI studios during the summer of love.
Why you should read it: The fifth Beatle tells us what it was like to record one of the greatest albums ever made.
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.
Why you should read it: It’s all about the music: Every song analysed beautifully. File under “Essential”.
The story behind every Beatles song illustrated with over 200 photographs.
Why you should read it: It revealed the story behind “She’s Leaving Home” – a newspaper report (reprinted) about 17 year old runaway Melanie Coe.
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.
Why you should read it: It dispelled the myth that John was the avant-garde Beatle.
The Covert War Against Rock, Alex Constantine There’s a brilliant and well researched chapter in this otherwise rather paranoid book on how the FBI was spying on Lennon and how Goldman tried to trash Lennon’s reputation. Other chapters introduce some interesting theories on how “The Man” has bumped off a number of rock stars. Not all the chapters have quite as good evidence as the Lennon chapter however, which undermines its credibility overall. Fascinating stuff however.
Why you should read it: Because otherwise you might not think they’re all out to get us…
The Beatles Anthology by The Beatles A companion piece to the excellent documentary series. Coffee table style, it eschews controversy, being an “official” account, but a great starting place. Packed with amazing photos too.
Why you should read it: Because it is more detailed than the accompanying DVD and your coffee table looks bare without it.
A Ticket To Ride: Inside The Beatles’ 1964 Tour That Changed The World, Larry Kane A reporter’s inside view of the Beatles’ first two US tours in 1964 and 1965. There’s plenty of scandal, all handled with diplomacy: we may never know more about what exactly happened between Jayne Mansfield and John Lennon but this book is as close as we will ever get to knowing what those early mania-filled tours were like.
Why you should read it: I love books that cover tours. It’s like a (slightly) more genteel “Hammer of the Gods”.
Magic Circle: The Beatles In Dream and History, Devin McKinney McKinney attempts to deconstruct aspects of The Beatles in a series of essays. I thought the book occasionally threatened to disappear up its own backside. Good if you like that sort of thing…
Why you should read it: Some in-depth essays about the impact the Beatles had on the world.
John, Cynthia Lennon Cynthia Lennon’s first hand account of life with her husband and son, of growing up in Liverpool and of her being betrayed by John.
Why you should read it: An interesting insight into the early years from the lady that knew John best – at the time.
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.
Why you should read it: It’s very entertaining and is close to its subjects. Excellent stuff.
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).
Why you should read it: In case you thought George Martin was responsible for all that studio genius, here’s his assistant to tell you otherwise.
The Beatles: The Biography, Bob Spitz A huge volume that covers the whole story from start to finish. Very thorough and readable with more detail especially on the early days.
Why you should read it: it’s even more comprehensive than “Shout”.
The Unreleased Beatles Music & Film, Richie Unterberger A huge reference book of unreleased material – every take and every session. Impressive stuff.
Why you should read it: A take-by-take account of everything the Beatles ever recorded and didn’t release.
Can’t Buy Me Love, Jonathan Gould An excellent book similar in style to Philip Norman’s Shout! with the extra perspective that a gap of eighteen years between books can provide.
Why you should read it: Because it is every bit as good as “Shout” and Bob Spitz’s book, and you haven’t already read those two.
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.
Why you should read it: Doggett found the untold tale of why the Beatles split. Brilliant.
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…!
Why you should read it: Because when the third one is written and published, there may not be the need to read any of the rest….
Genuinely a Beatles book with a difference – a comic strip that is both factually accurate and very funny. See my review by clicking this link.
Over to you: Have I missed any? I mean, certainly I have. But are there any that are the equal of the ones mentioned above? If so – please let me know in the comments section below.
* Probably. I mean, I haven’t checked or anything, so this number might be nearer eighty eight thousand. Or three hundred and twelve. You get the point….
2018 edit: Rob Sheffield’s latest Beatles book looks like a cracker – more to follow…