Friday 6 July 2012

News, Views and Music Issue 151 - AAA Books (A Special Edition!)

Hello and welcome to our fourth special edition of our newsletter. Our past special editions have looked at AAA compilations (News and Views 59), solo albums (news and Views 71) and live albums (News and Views 76), but this week we’ve decided to have a look at what other people have had to say about AAA bands – and what the AAA members themselves have said. With Graham Nash, Neil Young and Pete Townshend all writing their memoirs, music books have never been under more scrutiny – alas we don’t have proof copies of these three (that’ll be the day) but we can tell you about another 165 books all written about or featuring our AAA artists. The following reviews (featured here alphabetically by AAA artist) are divided into primary source materials (autobiographies, interviews and books of quotes) and secondary source materials (biographies) by the great and the good and sometimes the ghastly. This is, of course, only our opinion – just as all the reviews on this site are our opinion – and it is certainly true that other music scholars love and adore books that I hate and are left cold by the ones I re-read over and over again. But if you are desperate to learn more about the bands featured on our site – and our billions of words still aren’t enough – then you could do worse than purchase some of our recommends (though to be fair we do miss out some of the biographical details in favour of concentrating on albums).

Some of these books are out of print, some are available as I write but will no doubt go out of print soon and others will never, ever be out of print – (most bookshops should be able to find the ones in print – if not have a try looking on our partners Amazon!) It’s also fair to say that, no matter how hard I try, several AAA books do pass me by – whether because of poor sales, poor publicity or horrendous cost (yes I’m looking at you cloth-bound limited editions!) so if you don’t see your favourite tome listed here it’s not because I don’t value it – it’s more likely I just haven’t come across it yet (buying up just the books published on the Beatles would take me several decades and millions of pounds!) I certainly hope to add Pete Shotton’s biography of childhood friend John Lennon sometime in the future, Mike Nesmith’s poor selling short story ‘The Long Sandy Hair Of Neftoon Zamora’(now selling at £30 on Amazon!), Ian Mclagan’s tale of life with The Small Faces. Hopefully I’ll be able to update this page periodically (editor's note - we have, twice now!), though that said I haven’t added much to the other three specials yet have I?! Some artists, like the Beatles and surprisingly The Kinks have been well covered, while others like The Hollies, Cat Stevens and The Moody Blues haven’t had a single music book published on them yet (a great shame, as all these people have great stories to tell!) Incidentally, if you really are after a decent set of reference material for a particular music group, your other best bet is to look out for the relevant back issues of Record Collector Magazine (issues 1-200 1979-1999 or so are particularly fine) or Mojo Magazine (issue 150-current 2002-2012), which should give you all you need – and more (together with the info from this site, anyway!) There is an awful lot of info here, especially on the Beatles section, so feel free to browse and skip and use this list to write down some Christmas Present lists (that’s how I got most of mine in the first place!) Think of this list as a rather generous bibliography should you wish to read more about any of the AAA artists – and see for yourselves where many of the facts and insights (though not all by any means) on this site have come from. Happy reading!


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Perhaps surprisingly, to date only one of the Beach Boys has written an autobiography – and amazingly, given the sheer amount of horrible things that happen to him within it, it’s the elder Wilson brother who lived to tell the tale:

“Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” (Brian Wilson, Harper Collins, 1991)

Brian has since disowned this book, claiming that it was all an exaggeration written without his consent by ‘ghost-writer’ and all round abusive doctor, Eugene Landy. That’s a shame, not just because this is one of the most seemingly informative and moving books on the list (catching Brian’s slightly nervous and eccentric but courageous air well), but also because ‘us’ fans who ‘believed’ in it for the year or two after publication now don’t know what to believe. Is the real Murray Wilson the selfish tyrant of a father who used to take pleasure yelling into Brian’s ‘deaf’ ear (something allegedly caused by a punch after a row) and forced him to defecate onto a newspaper or the kindly figure in the ‘white washed’ version of events, that has him proudly watching his sons and nephew become global icons? Naturally enough Dr Landy comes out of this book rather well, becoming Brian’s saviour not once but twice (the band allegedly balked at his bill and refused to pay it the first time round) – but there’s an uncomfortable feel to the second half of the book as Landy, through Brian, pleads with the audience not to ‘let’ the Beach Boys take over and dominate Brian for their own evil ends, wiping Landy from history. The Beach Boys come out of the book predictably badly (this is the time of their split and they’ve only just got back together now in 2012, partly because of the fallout from this book), with Dennis an uncaring drug addict, Al Jardine a lucky whinger, Carl duplicitous and cousin Mike Love a total monster. There’s a grain of truth in all of this, but bear in mind just how difficult Brian’s breakdown was for everybody involved and how impossible the situation was and you come to realise that, up till the mid 70s at least, the band actually cope admirably and only the 1980s Wilson vs Love-Jardine battles sees them come out really badly. Even if most of this book is untrue (if highly plausible), it is still a remarkable tome, full of moving passages such as Brian leaning out of his window ledge pondering suicide before getting back in because ‘there wasn’t any music in death’ to falling head over heels for first wife Marilyn when accidentally spilling his hot chocolate down her blouse. Sadly there isn’t as much emphasis on the music as you’d hoped (like many of these autobiogs the emphasis is on the drugs not the sounds) and even with using the index Brian hops around with dates so much it’s hard to look things up if you need them quickly. Still, Brian has quite a story to tell and his descent from a 22 year old with the world at his feet to a broken 30 year old and his miraculous rise against all hope as a 50 year old is moving and memorable, whoever actually wrote this book. Overall rating: 7/10.

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“Heroes and Villains” (Steven Gaines, MacMillan, 1986)

This was the first real analysis of the Beach Boys story and caused a huge outcry when it came out. For many fans it was the first evidence that this band of brothers and cousins didn’t actually get on too well and the first time the full extent of Brian Wilson’s bed years had been described in full detail. Many people treated this book with horror, but given what the band members themselves have admitted since it all sounds quite sanitised nowadays, with the worst attacks being saved for manager Jack Rieley (who did go a bit loopy in the 70s, moving to Holland to conduct the band’s business proposals and flying them out to record an album there) and Mike Love’s many brothers (two of whom worked as ‘minders’ for Brian, probably the worst experience all three of them ever had). The story is well told and considering its getting on for 30 years old now is well researched, although understandably the book ends on rather a downbeat note with Brian out the band and back to his bad drug and alcohol abuse ways and Dennis drowning just before publication. The Beach Boys really were in a sorry state in 1986 and at the time many fans didn’t want to know about the problems – here in 2012, with the band back out on the road and, temporarily at least, overcoming their differences, this book makes for a much easier read. The title by the way is an excellent one taken from the name of the song that did more than any other to split the band up during their ‘Smile’ days, though in the end this book is pretty fair, arguing that all five members were both heroes and villains at some point during the band’s life. 7/10.

“Brian Wilson: The Nearest Faraway Place” (Timothy White, Henry Holt and Co, 1994)

Another re-telling of the familiar Beach Boys story, this one packs in the detail (it takes the whole of the first chapter until the Wilson brothers are born) but doesn’t have the flair of ‘Heroes and Villains’. The emphasis on Brian Wilson’s story rather than the others, while understandable given that Brian is the most interesting figure in the band, suffers from turning the rest of the band into bit-players and bystanders rather than real three dimensional human beings. The book is also a little bit dry, pausing every now and then for some rumination on something not directly connected with the band – a whole sequence on life growing up in California, for instance, which would have been relevant had the Beach Boys been typical rather the exception to the rule and another on how Brian’s parents were part of the ‘depression’ era (something that might have lost Murray ‘Dad’ Wilson his eye and hardened his heart but had no direct impact on the Wilson boys’ upbringing). The author also has eyes only for ‘Pet Sounds’, something most fans reading this book will no doubt share but for me that album is horribly over-rated and over-discussed anyway and I’d much rather read about ‘Smile’ or ‘Friends’. 3/10.

“The Complete Guide To The Music Of...” (Andrew Doe and John Tobler, Omnibus, 1997)

The first of many entries in our list from the excellent CD-sized guides to every single song released by a whole range of AAA artists, in this case The Beach Boys. Considering their brevity all these books are excellent introductions to the canon of each artists and I’ve had great fun down the years reading about releases before getting the chance to whittle down the ‘wants’ list to nothing. Like most people Doe and Tobler prefer the early stuff to the later stuff, although they still have the open minds enough to recognise the improvements shown in ‘L A Light Album’ (although their review of the truly awful ‘Summer In Paradise’ is the funniest moment in the book). There’s also a great section on the Beach Boys songs still not available on CD at the time of writing (many of which still aren’t – something that beggars belief for a band that has such a following). Personally I’d have liked more space given over to the solo LPs (both ‘Brian Wilson’ and Dennis’ ‘Pacific Ocean Blues’ are key musical texts for the Beach Boys’ progress and they’re given short shrift compared to the lesser dross released under the band’s name in the 1980s). Still, like all these books, this Beach Boys study in miniature is both comprehensive and accessible for newcomers, making it one of the best introductions to the band you can buy. 8/10.

“Pet Sounds – The Greatest Album Of The 20th Century” (Kingsley Abbott, Helter Skelter, 2001)

The problem many books and documentaries about ‘Pet Sounds’ face is that, whatever you think of the album (I don’t like it that much), the stories behind it aren’t interesting enough to make a full book. At this point in Beach Boys history – 1966 – the band have navigated their way through Murray Wilson, Beatlemania and surfing shirts and haven’t yet fallen apart in a sea of acrimony and breakdowns. Unfortunately, for the most part of the book, it’s the before and after picture you get – and one with far less pages dedicated to the usual story compared to the other Beach Boy entries on this list – so that by the end you still don’t know anymore about Pet Sounds than you did when you started. There are some interesting interviews made for the book and some of the comments made by the session musicians who worked on the album are illuminating and out of the ordinary. But given how little space is actually spent talking about the band rather than the album, most fans would be better off watching the ‘Classic Albums’ series documentary on DVD. And isn’t calling the album ‘the greatest album of the 20th century’ going a bit far? I wouldn’t even put it in the Beach Boys top five! Something of a shame. 4/10.

"The Lost Beach Boy" (David Marks with Jon Stebbins, Virgin Books LTD, 2007)

There are three main difficulties with this book that prevent it from becoming essential. The first two are understandable though: David Marks was all of 13 when he joined his next door neighbours The Wilsons in becoming a fully fledged Beach Boy and 15 when he left. That unfortunately means that when we as readers want Dave to be hanging out with Brian and seeing what makes him tick or watching the Beach Boys genius writing songs or honing his craft in the studio he's out having fun with Mike and Dennis, completely missing the experience of a lifetime because he's a young kid who doesn't know any better. Worse, he leaves the story in 1964, when the Beach Boys have barely got going, after one row too many with manager Murry Wilson, so for most of the book he's huffing in the sidelines and talking about what he could have been missing rather than what he saw. Thirdly, unforgivably, Dave seems to have been little involved in his own book, which comes across as a single interview filled in by his co-writer and amazingly is written in the third person almost throughout (which surely makes it unique as an autobiography!) All that said, Marks is a likeable character who deserves his chance at putting his side of the story straight after so many years of 'official' books giving him a bad name and his ability to sum up characters in a few sentences is uncanny. There are quite a few titbits here that no other book on the Beach Boys has got too, although sadly most of them are on the savoury, unrepeatable side (best moment: getting nagged endlessly by room-mate Mike - which idiot put those two together? - into writing home, Dave writes under Mike's watchful eye: 'Dear mum and dad, I'm having a fucking great time on the road! We're drinking lots of whisky and screwing whores in every town! Mike has asked me nicely to write it all down for you, which I will when I see you soon!')The book certainly picks up when Dave starts speaking personally - and goes downhill again when he's a washed up has been (although the info that an angry and rejected Murry Wilson once tried to build his band into rivals to the Beach Boys makes for a fascinating twist). Against all the odds, dave seems to have fallen on his feet, playing with his old band and - some five years after the book was published - touring as a fully fledged Beach Boy with Brian for the first time since 1965. After reading this book you want to wish him well - but it's honestly not the best or most revealing Beach Boys tome out there on the market. 4/10

“Catch A Wave” (Peter Ames Carlin, Rodale Books, 2006)

A fine and fascinating re-telling of a rather complicated and splintered tale, this book is less heavy-handed than ‘Heroes and Villains’ and a bit more interesting than ‘The Nearest Faraway Place’. Unsurprisingly  most of this book centres around chief composer, singer, producer and lyricist Brian Wilson and one criticism you could make of the book is that little time is left for telling ‘other’ opinions. There is, however, lots of detail, all lovingly re-told along with some pretty spot-on song analysis and opinions (again I’d like to see a Beach Boys reviewer who finds the gems in the later period albums instead of just dismissing the whole lot, but at least albums like ‘L A Light Album’ get a mention this time around).  Thankfully the timing mean this book ends not with the law-suit of Brian’s own book or the split of ‘Heroes and Villains’ but with Brian back to making music again and as close to full health as anyone whose led the alarmingly difficult life detailed in this book can be. 8/10.


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“A Cellarful Of Noise” (Brian Epstein, 1964, Out Of Print)

Ghosted by Derek Taylor, this book is more Taylor’s work than Brian’s but nonetheless is a fascinating chance for the manager to get ‘his’ view of the Beatles phenomenon across just a year after the breakthrough and sadly just three years before his death. As a result, it’s an invaluable document and the only place really you can hear Brian talking about his four charges compared to hundreds of interviews the other way around. Naturally, its sanitised to the point of pointlessness, with Epstein afraid to make any mention of his homosexuality (still illegal in Britain in the1960s) and therefore treating the Beatles’ magnetism as all musical, despite having very little knowledge of rock or pop at all. His points about the Beatles’ beginnings in Liverpool and Hamburg are almost painfully censored too, although you can’t really blame Brian (or Derek) for that – had he lived to write a ‘proper’ book around, say, 1980 he’d have been the first to write from the heart. Where this book comes alive is in the pre-Beatles description of Brian’s background, firstly as a failed actor kicked out of RADA and later as the head of the music department at his family’s NEM Stores, one where Brian first found peace of mind and confidence and so begging the question why he gave it all up to run a pop group despite having no experience or qualifications. The world over will be eternally grateful that he did, however, because without Epstein the Beatles would undoubtedly have drifted apart and the world would not have burst into glorious technicolour the way it did in 1963. The other key part of the book is the part between signing the band and trying to get them a record deal, with one rejection after another – his tale of a bitter and broken Beatles travelling through the New Year’s Day snow in 1962 after failing their Decca Audition is a marvellous piece of writing. Not the book it could – and should – have been, perhaps, but we’re very grateful to have this tome around at all. 7/10.  

“In His Own Write”/ “A Spaniard In The Works” / “Skywriting By Word Of Mouth” (John Lennon, Penguin, 1964/65/82)

I’m a moldy moldy man, I’m moldy thru and thru, I’m moldy till my eyeballs, I’m moldy to my toe, I will not dance I shyballs, I’m such a humble Joe’. No not a Coalition manifesto but one of the many wonderfully unreadable slices of anarchy brought to you by the awful (Lennon’s speech catches after you’ve read it for a time). What to make of simple wimple pimple Lennon’s most loony writings? The amazing thing is that so many were written so young (at least since Lennon started secondary school) and that such a unique and eccentric turn of phrase had been used by one so young. So-called critics of the day were amazed that a simple pop writer could come up with such a logical natural extension of Lewis Carroll and James Joyce (the closest to Lennon’s writings, which Lennon called ‘like finding daddy’ after reading in his house husband years) But then we always knew that Lennon loved messing around with language; it’s there in ‘I Am The Walrus’ and ‘I Dig A Pony’ particularly, although even early songs like ‘Not A Second Time’ and ‘There’s A Place’ hint at it too. For me these writings are the avant garde side of Lennon trying to fight their way to the surface in the days before he met Yoko (the first book, especially, has the wit and wordplay of her own ‘Grapefruit’), but channelled by Lennon through the flippant throwaway lunacy of The Goon Show, the closest John could get to letting out these leanings at the time. Lennon got a huge kick that Quarry Bank School in Liverpool, the very establishment that laughed at Lennon years before, were now studying his work as part of the curriculum (he is thought to have written ‘Walrus’ in direct response to confuse the teachers even more!) and its criminal that no English teacher recognised the obvious talent within. Had Lennon not become a Beatle these writings would still have created a stir, although I doubt they’d still be in print this many years after Lenon’s death.

For the record the best book by far is the first one, collected across several years and featuring marvellous spoofs on Enid Blyton’s hideously establishment Famous Five (like Lennon, I much preferred The Secret Seven who were far more ‘street’ considering they were only nine years of age!), the Wordsworth spoof ‘I Sat Belonely’ and little Bobby, whose so pleased with the hook he gets for Xmas he saws off his good hand in the hope of receiving another. The best piece in the book might well be Paul McCartney’s forward, however, with his youthful questioning of Lennon ‘is he deep?’ and arguing that making sense doesn’t matter ‘as long as its funny then that’s enough’ (the two Beatles really were closer in spirit than many of their biographers make out). The second, ‘A Spaniard In The Works’ was written on thwe run, as it were, in a tearing hurry between gigs and records (mainly ‘Beatles For Sale’ period) and the weariness shows, with even more uncomfortable references to disabilities than the first book (where the joke tended to be on people who laughed at them). It still has its moments (‘The Fat Budgie’ might well be the best or at least the most delightfully Lennonish piece here and ‘The General Erection’ is the first political reference any of the Beatles ever made), but the 10 page Sherlock Holmes spoof is awful, without any links to the original and with double the number of puns per line so that you struggle to make out a single sentence. The few people who know it don’t rate ‘Skywriting By Word Of Mouth’ much either, but considering its an unfinished piece of work never intended for publication (and written by a bored Lennon towards the end of his househusband years) its actually a surprisingly good and rose-tinted look back at his life that’s rather moving. Long out of print, this third book misses the sparky wit and effortless energy for the first two volumes, but it’s replaced by a kind of worldly wise maturity that makes it the least funny but the most moving of the three. My copy of these books has the first two combined in one Penguin volume – its a shame the publishers couldn’t get the rights to the third which is quite a rarity nowadays. 7/10 for the first, 5/10 for the second and 6/10 for the third.

“Paul McCartney In His Own Words” (editor: Paul Gambacinni, Omnibus Press, 1976, Out Of Print)

Traditionally John has been seen as the Beatles with more to say over the years, but actually its Paul’s compilation of interview snippets and ideas that’s the more informative of the two. Editor and interviewer Gambacinni does a good job at finding out the stories no one else had bothered to ask about prior to 1976 (the trials behind ‘Band On The Run’, for instance, are covered for pretty much the first time) and although the Macca authorised ‘Many Years From Now’ book has kind of replaced this text now it still remains a talking point for Beatleheads. One sticking point is the fact that the book came out in 1976, so not only do you get the story ending with ‘Wings At The Speed Of Sound’ in production (and a whole lot more to come), you also get McCartney trying to distance himself from his Beatles past rather than embrace it as he does about five years or so later. The photographs are excellent, however, and this book goes some way to re-instating McCartney’s place at the heart of the music business where he belongs, long before Lennon’s death caused fans and critics to think any differently (compared to this book the sister publication on Lennon has nothing to say). Long overdue a re-print. 7/10.  

“I Me Mine” (George Harrison, Genesis, 1980/extended 2002 by Phoenix)

Originally released as an ‘ego trip’ (hence the title) in a limited edition clothbound set retailing at £1000+, thankfully George’s curious mix of early autobiography, scribbled lyrics and gorgeous photographs was re-issued and extended at a much more reasonable price after his death. George is on witty and erudite form, although he seems to have got bored partway through the project and ended up passing on giving any great insights into the main Beatle and solo years in favour of a few paragraphs on gardening and a list of his favourite cars. That said, there’s lots about George’s childhood you couldn’t read about anywhere else before this book (though naturally many biographers have used the details since) and the hand-picked photographs are stunning, especially in the expensive original, with George’s lopsided mischievous grin aged six not far off the one he still wears by the end of the book. What will have most fans salivating most, however, is the chance to see first drafts of Beatles and solo lyrics untouched by later drafts (though unlike, say, Paul Simon, George rarely changed his lyrics in any major way from draft to draft), often scribbled on the back of envelopes or – in ‘Blue Jay Way’s case – on the frontispiece to the book George was reading (because he didn’t have any paper at hand!) George’s small comments about the background and inspiration of the songs are a delight too, although its a great shame that the book tails off in 1979 with so many of his songs still to be written (preparing the book for re-issue at the time of his death, it’s a shame that more of his lyrics, at least, couldn’t be found for the cheaper later pressings!) Fascinating and infuriating in equal measure. 6/10. 

“Lennon Remembers” (Jann Wenner, Verso, 1971)

Possibly the most revealing interview any musician has ever given, this is a no-holds barred account of life for Lennon in between birth and the Beatles break-up which originally appeared spread across four issues of Rolling Stone magazine. It’s a delight to read in full, with Lennon caught at exactly the right time to be revealing, going through primal therapy at the time and with the past clearly on his mind (he was recording the ‘Lennon/Plastic Ono Band’ album at the time). That said, Lennon was always prone to emotional outbursts that aren’t exactly true and there are dozens of errors in this book, from the date he met Paul to which songs were written by which (giving himself credit for ‘70% of Eleanor Rigby’ is insane and at least 60 too much). The outbursts against the other Beatles also set the chance of a reunion back at least five years and inspired McCartney to start his campaign against Lennon with his next record ‘Ram’ (answered back tenfold by Lennon’s ‘How Do You Sleep?’, both in 1971). However the person who comes out of this worse is not McCartney or George Martin (who also suffered at Lennon’s hands here, with the guitarist wanting to remake ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ without ‘all that jiggery-pokery’) but Lennon himself, who comes across as ugly and bitter, if not without good reason given what we get here about his parenting and background (revealed here in detail for pretty much the first time). He later disowned it during his ‘happy’ phase of the house-husband years and tried to prevent it becoming a book even at the time, but its right that it should be allowed to stand (its certainly more readable – and believable! – than the Anthology book!) Yoko gets it spot on in her introduction to the re-printing of this book in 2001: ‘not tactful, not calculated, and for once not even particularly clever’ but for all that its a fascinating book for what it does reveal about Lennon. It’s easy to sympathise with the child of six spending his whole time drawing, adamant he’s a genius while his Aunt and schoolteachers insist otherwise and having to deal with the grief of losing first his dad (to sea), then his uncle (to a stroke) and finally his mother (to a hit and run accident) at an age when most people don’t even register what death is. Vulnerable and hurting, this is Lennon ‘with his trousers off’ and it’s moving and damaging in equal parts. 8/10.  

“John Lennon In His Own Words (Omnibus, 1980, Out Of Print)

We all know how erudite Lennon could be when prompted; however not every remark Lennon made was worthy of being reprinted over and over. Less illuminating than either ‘Lennon Remembers’ or the McCartney issue in the same series, this is a cash-in short and simple – though on Lennon’s comeback with ‘Double Fantasy’, not his death, although strangely it still has a rather elegiac and mournful quality. Even on lesser form Lennon’s wit does occasionally shine through and the pictures are excellent, some of them still unique to this book to this day. Certainly a re-print of this hard to find tome would be nice one day soon, although this is far from the holy grail of Lennon books you may be searching for. 6/10.

“Many Years From Now” (Paul McCartney and Barry Miles, Secker and Warburg, 1997)

Still the closest thing around to a ‘proper’ Beatles autobiography, this is an extended interview with McCartney on every subject under the sun, in much more depth than normal, with friend and biographer Barry Miles filling in the gaps with his research. Macca is on fine form, recalling the day he met Lennon and the day he met wife Linda with poignant clarity that will transport the reader straight into his world. The whole world knows the Beatles story, of course, and though well told there’s not much new to add there but this book excels when talking about Macca’s extra-curricular projects that few people knew about; his tape collage submitted to the ‘Roundhouse’ rave event, the alternative culture book shop he and Miles set up and his collection of tape loops he used to turn into little audio magazines and send to the other fans, the way most people send letters or emails. There’s also a lot more about Paul’s time with Jane Asher and although he’s cagey about the end (Jane coming home early to find him in bed with Frances Schwartz) his potshots of the time spent lodging with her in-laws is fascinating, with Macca’s bed surrounded by the philosophical volumes that arguably gave birth to the Beatles’ mid period intellectualism and tinkling away on the piano in the corner of his room, casually writing gems like ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Here, There and Everywhere’ on it. This book was kicked heavily at the time for trying to re-instate McCartney’s reputation as the ‘pioneering Beatle’ and this book does spend far too much time showing where Paul was ahead of John instead of getting on with the story and letting us make our minds up. It’s also quite petty in the way it tries to re-establish who wrote what in the Lennon-McCartney partnership, although that said Paul’s merely replying to what Lennon said in ‘Lennon Remembers’ back in 1970 (and his comments are a lot more reliable!) Still, this is a good read even if it is a little biased and it successfully filled in quite a few of the gaps we Beatles fans had in our knowledge. A good but not great seller, overshadowed by the vastly inferior Anthology book, this part biog-part autobiog deserved to do better. 8/10.

“Anthology” (no author given, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2000)

I can’t say I was ever a fan of the Anthology project, which promised the world but ended up being in the TV series a rather boring bunch of interviews (admittedly interspliced with great music, but we knew that already) and the albums a real case of handfuls of pearls surrounded by stones. This official tie-in book is worse however: after seeing how good his paintings looked in glossy hardback form Macca pushed for this book to be in a similar fashion but the sheer size and scale, perfect for re-creating canvases, makes the whole book seem large and unwieldy, with the text shrunk to microscopic size and set against some very dark backgrounds that make the whole thing hard to read. Some of the comments, mainly Paul’s, are fascinating and revelatory, filling in much of the detail behind what the band got up to in hotel rooms on tours and what made them think that the ‘Let It Be/Get Back’ project seemed like a good idea. George, however, sounds like he’s distanced himself so far from the past he’s only rattling around his memory box as a favour to his colleagues, while most of Ringo’s memories consist of how lovely everyone was. Still wary of each other and the business disputes that have only recently been solved (in the early 90s) and of Yoko Ono’s veto against comments that might hurt her or John’s legacy, the result is a book that tries hard to be controversial but is far too careful to hurt anybody. There are better books on the Beatles than this, and certainly more readable ones, despite a handful of great and insightful comments, making this final third piece in the Anthology project (some four years after the first CD and the TV series went out) the shabbiest of the three attempts to re-sell the Beatles to a modern audience. The Beatles never knowingly over-sold any of their work in the 60s, hence the plethora of fanclub flexi discs and the habit of putting only ‘new’ songs onto an LP – alas in the 1990s that philosophy is dead and gone and all we got were some good ideas comprised into making a buck. That said, at least this book tries to offer something new to the punter sometimes, something the similar Rolling Stones book (reviewed below) gets spectacularly wrong. 2/10.

“Blackbird Singing” (Paul McCartney, Faber and Faber, 2001)

A collection of the Beatle’s song lyrics and poetry, this collection is both more interesting and more boring than you’d imagine. On the plus side, Macca gets to add some of his lesser known and more puzzling songs for inclusion, such as ‘Monkberry Moon Delight’, ‘The Note You Never Wrote’ and ‘Golden Earth Girl’, two songs that might sound gibberish on record but have a certain weight to them here simply by virtue of being in print. Some of the ‘new’ pieces deliberately written as poetry are impressive too: ‘Hot As That’ is superior to any of the horrible modern poetry pieces I had to study and the opening ‘In Liverpool’ (still unreleased as a song despite being one of Macca’s better recent efforts) works well as a sort of ‘overture’ to the work. But the overall argument that Macca is some kind of intellectual poet-in-hiding is clearly overstated, despite the best efforts of editor Adrian Mitchell in the introduction, especially as a good 75% of the work here only comes alive when accompanied by music (for example ‘And the band begins to play...’ is a poor substitute for the brass band in the instrumental). I’d also be insulted if I was George Martin and read Paul’s poor attempt at prose on his behalf (‘You have had your white hair cut. Your son resembles you closely.’) There’s also far too many ‘good’ examples missing: where are ‘Letting Go’ ‘My Brave Face’ ‘Back Seat Of My Car’ and ‘Dear Friend’ to name but four? Paul Simon got round the problem by having his lyrics printed complete, good and bad – perhaps Paul’s just too prolific for his own good? 5/10.

“Postcards From The Boys” (Collected by Ringo Starr, Cassell Illustrated, 2004)

Ringo is actually the one Beatle you don’t get to know better through this book, despite having his name and face smiling at you proudly from the cover. This is because this book is a selection of some of the postcards received from the drummer from the other Beatles down the years. It’s a lovely chance to get to know the fabs away from the spotlight although all three are much as you’d expect (Lennon’s comments are often surreal and full of wild doodling, George’s are caring and often funny, while Paul’s range from cool to emotional). The most moving card by far is Paul’s 1968 card to Ringo that simply reads ‘You are the greatest drummer in the world. Really’ (sent after Ringo’s split from the band during the White Album) and a follow-up about how ‘Mr B Lumpy Begs your pardon’ (complete with Beatrix Potter style doodle!) In fact all three Beatles come across as expert doodlers and illustrators – we knew about Lennon the art student and in later years Paul the painter but George’s work is just as fine. Printing the front of the cards so that they take up a whole page each is a bad move (apart from George and Olivia’s custom made silhouette card anyway!) and Ringo could have made more of an effort at getting someone to research what some of the comments are about (too many comments start with the words ‘I don’t know what this means...’) It’s a shame too that his replies to the others have been lost in the mists of time – and that alas so much of Ringo’s Beatles collection was lost in a fire at his American house in the 1980s (with Mr Starkey being very much the historian of the group!) That said, this is a welcome and unexpected treasure trove for Beatles collectors and shows just how close the four of them were in private, long after they went their separate ways in public. Released as both a pricey hardback and a cheap paperback, it’s one for long-term collectors to enjoy rather than casual fans but is still a welcome chance to get behind the public image and see the Beatles as ‘four guys who really loved each other’ (copyright Ringo Starr). 8/10.

Secondary Source:

“Love Me Do: The Beatles’ Progress” (Michael Braun, 1964, Out Of Print)

Considering how early this book comes in the pantheon of The Beatles’ bibliography, its amazing how accurate it is and how much of a flavour of Beatlemania it catches. Sure the Beatles aren’t always shown in the best light (Lennon is said to have loved the book ‘because it showed us for what we were – right bastards’), but this book does manage to capture the sheer unrelenting pressure the band were under in their ‘breakthrough’ year and the eye witnessed events ring true. It also manages to treat the Beatles as more than just a passing craze in the pop world and realise how important the social, political and economic impact of their rise to fame was for the world in original, something remarkable for a journalist to come up with so early in The Beatles’ career. Even the bits that break up the text (fan letters, congratulatory telegrams, etc) aren’t as frustrating as they are in some books and only add to the drama and experience of being at the eye of a very busy storm. The only downside is that there’s no follow-up, as it would have been fascinating to have seen what Braun would have made of the 1966 tour or the Magical Mystery Tour critical fall-out and even for the day the book is slight. Still, a remarkable book that desperately deserves a re-printing (the last was in the 1980s I think) and one set the bar very high for all the Beatles books to follow. 8/10.   

“A Hard Day’s Night”/ “Help!” – The Book Of The Film (Alun Owen/No Author, Pan Books, 1964/1965)

We don’t seem to have ‘tie-in’ books with films any more do we? That’s rather sad – I’d have enjoyed reading a transcript of ‘Spiceworld: The Movie’, it would have been hilarious! – presumably because in the days of video and DVD we can re-watch them anytime. Back in the day, though, you could only see the first two Beatles films in the cinema and the best souvenir you could hope for were these simple screenplays-turned-into-cheap-and-cheerful novels with a few colour pictures inserted. ‘Help!’ works best, having something more akin to a plot, although there’s still a huge something missing when you reach the scene, say, set in The Alps and can’t hear ‘Ticket To Ride’ coming out of the book. ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ is a film that works because it seems spontaneous (for the most part) even though it was scripted (for the most part) and sounds rather cold and contrived without Lennon’s wit and sarcasm in particular, though Owen’s screenplay is still wonderfully natural and warm, as closed to the Beatles’ real speech as any outsider was ever going to get. Long out of print, these books deserve a new lease of life, especially now that we have a picture book for ‘Yellow Submarine’ and all, although they’re no substitutes for the DVDs of either. 5/10. 

“The Authorised Biography” (Hunter Davies, 1968, Granada, Out Of Print)

Back in the day this was the Beatles book to have, the only one with access (of a sort) to each of the fab four and the only ‘authorised’ book in their lifetime. Hunter Davies may also be the best individual writer (along with Pete Doggett and Ian MacDonald says I) to tackle the Beatles story and this is certainly a page-turner, written in Davies’ characteristic mix of informality and professionalism. However, there are many hundreds of facts that have come to light since this book was published that seem like glaring omissions after reading everything else and inevitably there are errors here, mainly corrected by Mark Lewisohn’s dedicated trawl through the vaults of Abbey Road (sadly the re-issue in 2002 missed the chance to set a lot of the facts straight). Most worryingly, however, is the very fact that this is the ‘licensed’ version of events – Brian Epstein died not long before the publication and did his best to cut out the racy parts of the story and the Hamburg years especially come across as being rather sanitised and false. Taken with a pinch of salt, though (and read in tandem with a later ‘proper’ Beatles book like Badman’s or Lewisohn’s work) this book can be fascinating. After all, where else is a writer to be found actually there while the Beatles are at work (during the recording of what became ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’) and this book is arguably worth owning for Aunt Mimi’s hilarious reminiscences of a teenage John Lennon alone (this was sadly the only time she agreed to work with an author for a book).7/10. 

“The Longest Cocktail Party” (Richard Di Lello, Charisma, 1972)

Liam Gallagher adores this book and has been trying to make it into a film for the past few years (though weirdly its his brother whose quote ‘this is a fucking brilliant book’ is printed loud and clear on my copy); I can’t wait to see it if only to find out how this scatter-brained, random rummage through the Apple archives could possibly work as a script. Author Richard Di Lello has first hand experience of everything in the book, having been hired by Apple to work as their ‘house hippy’, a young pair of eyes to scan everything for relevance and phonyness (I wonder if he used that term on his CV in later life!) A fly on the wall for some of Apple’s biggest moments, Di Lello is understandably close to press officer Derek Taylor (whose offices he shared) and spends part of the book defending him against later biographers. That aside, this is a sweetly impersonal book created later from scribbles and notes made at the time which uniquely for the Beatles shelf has no agenda, with the Beatles coming out pretty darn well, if rather misguided. The early years come in a rush of records, press releases, Beatle chats and visiting Hells Angel bikers, but its the end of the book, with The Beatles reaching their final days and Allen Klien wielding his axe above Apple that sticks in the mind. Apple was simply too confused to work as a business model, even with so much Beatles money thrown at it, and most books since have castigated the fab four for daring to think they could ever pull it off; ‘The Longest Cocktail Party’ manages to reinstate how many good ideas there were and how well it could have gone had The Beatles of 1968 been as unified as The Beatles of 1964. The book has an impressive 140 chapters, many of them dead short, spread out across 300-odd pages. Its impossible to look anything up in the book, which saunters its way through the story without care for telling it in the right order, but then you pick it up you won’t want to put it down anyway. Not the most comprehensive Beatles book, perhaps, but definitely one of the most believable. 7/10.

“Apple To The Core: The Unmaking Of The Beatles” (Peter McCabe and Robert Schonfeld, Martin Brian and O’Keefe, 1972)

The general consensus is that this book about the Apple years is a little rushed and close to the scene to be revealing (two years after the breakup, when Apple was still very much central to the Beatles’ lives). It’s also overwhelmingly critical, of both the mess created by Brian Epstein in the early days that caused them to set up their own business and of Allen Klein’s less than careful handling of the business from 1969 onwards (to be fair to both men, Epstein was re-inventing the wheel for an industry built round Tin Pan Alley songwriters and Klein had one heck of a lot of deadweight to shift and its to his credit that Apple stayed afloat at all, even if he did throw out all the babies with the bathwater, as it were). What’s most fascinating about this book is the argument that it was the strain of managing a business doomed to failure that caused the Beatles’ doom: not Yoko, not Linda, not the lack of touring but too many business meetings causing old friends to become competitors, not partners. I’ve heard that Pete Doggett’s ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’ is a better take on the same subject – I could well believe it, given that Doggett (editor of Record Collector in its finest years) is one of the finest Beatles biographers around, but I haven’t had a chance to track that book down yet. 5/10.

“Twilight Of The Gods: The Beatles In Retrospect” (Wilfrid Mellors, Faber and Faber, 1973)

The nadir of the Beatles bookshelf, this is the Beatles treated as ‘serious’ music, with references to Aeolian cadences and classical music comparisons that will go over the heads of most readers and is done throughout with a sneer, as if suggesting that Lennon and McCartney weren’t talented enough to write ‘lasting’ music. What’s more worryingly still is that so many of the facts printed in this book are wrong, as if the publishers have assumed that they can get away with anything because their readers won’t know any different (unluckily for them I took music as an A Level and so learnt this stuff, while looking at The Beatles through quite different ears I have to say, with the band transcending the restrictions of their genre not being imposed by them!) The Beatles do need a serious book dedicated to their art – and luckily they got one with ‘Revolution In The Head’ some 20 years later, a book which managed to be both interesting and accessible as well as detailed and high-faluting in parts. This book is simply written to make you think how clever the writer is – and for the most part he isn’t, with errors littered across nearly every highly unreadable page. In total, this is just a sorry mess of a book and makes you wonder how little the authors actually knew of the Beatles’ own work – even the title is a Wagner reference not a fab four one. As for the bit about ‘in  retrospect’, this book came out just two years after the band’s split, far too soon to see anything ‘in retrospect’, although the hint from the author is that their work won’t last past the next few years anyway. 0/10.

“The Man Who Gave The Beatles Away” (Allan Williams and William Marshall, Elm Tree Books, 1975, Out Of Print)

If you’re after cold, clear facts about the Beatles’ early days and Merseybeat in general then sadly you’re out of luck – the band’s first manager Williams is so interested in telling his own story that he almost forgets to fit The Beatles in at all. If you’re after a fun, likeable read, though, this is the book for you and one that manages to puncture the usual god-like praise of the Beatles in favour of gentle ridicule and put-downs. Williams is famous, of course, as the man who signed up the band in order to get them their first gigs away from Merseyside, although their stay in Hamburg was so exhausting, degrading and dangerous that its no surprise the Beatles turned on their master and caused Williams to abandon them. There’s lots of errors in the book, too, perhaps naturally given how long away these events were (some 15 years on first publication), but frustrating given how little reliability we can place on facts that nobody else knows. Lennon liked the book, apparently, when it came out, reading it in his early house-husband days, so that’s alright then – although the others apparently weren’t too pleased. A cash in, of course, but one that’s delightfully devoid of bitterness or anger and instead takes the mickey out of everything in sight – the author included. 6/10.

“An Illustrated Record” (Roy Carr and Tony Tyler, Triune, 1978, Out Of Print)

The first real in-depth collection of album reviews about any group that I ever read, I still love this book immensely, even though I’ve now grown to the point where my feelings about the records aren’t always that of the authors. A relic of its age in more ways than one, this book came out when Lennon was still alive and the competition between his records and McCartneys acting like a sort of ongoing conversation still makes for the biggest story in the book (the authors, adamant that John’s house-husband phase is only temporary, weren’t to know there was only one album to go before the conversation became one way). The reviews of the actual Beatle records are quite dull in patches, without the knowledge that Lewisohn or MacDonald brings to the music, but the reviews of the solo records are classic pieces of rock journalism; edgy, surly and often spot-on (even if they hate every single one of poor George’s records, even ‘All Things Must Pass’ – ‘well at least it was released in time for Xmas and on that level alone can be considered a success’ ends the backward compliment of the review). In fact there’s only two solo records they do like: ‘John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band’ and ‘Band On The Run’ (‘on which McCartney asks himself ‘what’s the use of worrying?’ before replying, rightfully, with the words ‘no use!’) The name comes from the facts that, gosh, the album covers really are printed in full colour (which was unusual for books back in 1978) and the fact that they were, indeed, the size of a long-playing slab of vinyl, so you could keep the book along with your precious Beatles records. The glue in Triune’s books was notoriously thin, by the way, and many copies (including mine) have come unstuck over the past few decades, so be wary of trying to find o0ne in super-good condition (perhaps a new pressing of the book would help?!) The authors also wrote about the Rolling Stones for a follow-up (with even more hilarious results, so I’m told) but I haven’t had the good fortune to come across a copy yet – I shall update this page if and when I do! 7/10.  

 “The Beatles” (Geoffrey Stokes with intro by Leonard Bernstein, W H Allen, 1981, Out Of Print)

A rather forgotten potted Beatles history book, this hardback is huge, containing massive pictures and a fold-out sleeve featuring the four famous Andy Warhol paintings of the fab four. It’s a case of great photographs (including some real gems printed here for the first time) and rotten text (with whole passages of key Beatles events restricted to a paragraph or even a sentence). The best thing about the book may well be Leonard Bernstein’s introduction, with the West Side Story creator about the only ‘respectable’ composer to ever ‘get’ the rock and pop movement (just see our review of The Beach Boys Smile!) and expressing one of the better eulogies for Lennon’s legacy in the months after his death (interestingly his favourite Beatles song isn’t a McCartney ballad or harmless pop ditty but the noisy, angular, emotional ‘She Said She Said’, which is one of my favourites too!) Worth a re-print. 5/10.

“Shout!” (Phillip Norman, Elm Tree Books, 1981)

The first of a surprisingly short handful of Beatles books seeking to tell the ‘whole story’ (rather than parts of it), this was a major book in its day and still one of the best one-book buys around. Phillip Norman knows his stuff, although his prejudices won’t necessarily be the same as the readers (who may well get sick at all the McCartney bashing) and there simply aren’t enough pages to make this the insightful, illuminative reading it might have been. That said, its to ‘Shout!’s credit that it still remains one of the better Beatles books around despite several hundred copycats (many of which I still haven’t bought yet!) over the years since publication and its still a fun, enjoyable read if you don’t expect too much detail from it. 8/10.  

“With The Beatles: The Historic Photographs Of Dezo Hoffman” (Omnibus,1982, Out Of Print)

One of the many wonderful coincidences about the whole Beatles phenomenon was the way that they casually got exactly the right people around them to make their story happen. Dezo Hoffman was already a fine and respected photographer when he met the band and it was his devotion to capturing so many of the early images that have become associated with the band (their Abbey Road audition, early TV appearances, those iconic ‘live’ shots) that helped cement The Beatles’ respect from their peers. Naturally there isn’t much text to go with these photographs (Hoffman was a photographer not a biographer), but there are a few gems in Hoffman’s comments about when and where the pictures were taken. Naturally, too, the story peters out around late 1965 when The Beatles were getting tired of being told to pose for every photographer in town and more than one fan has been disappointed that this book is black and white throughout. But if your interest in The Beatles stretches to their image as well as their music and you have a soft spot for their early days then this now hard-to-find tome is the easily the best Beatles photographic book around and will be until the band’s fellow early supporter Robert Freeman produces a ‘proper’ book from his collection (yes there is a book out called ‘Private View’ but it’s practically all shots Beatle fans own already on records, posters and merchandise). 7/10.

“The Love You Make” (Peter Brown and Steven Gaines, MacMillan, 1983)

Or “The Muck You Rake” as sarcastic Beatles fans labelled this surprisingly nasty and dismissive account by another Beatles associate who should have had quite an interesting story to tell. Brown was Epstein’s right hand man and later worked for Apple so he was there for all the big developments in the band’s career and was close to all four – who felt bitterly betrayed when this book came out, McCartney especially. Some of the facts are apparently wrong according to others who were there at the time and even if some of the seedier parts of the story are true then it would have been nice to have heard more of the positive side of things, to put in context how young, inexperienced, pressured and naive the Beatles were in their teenage and early 20 years and how inevitable it was they should mess up somewhere. Instead what we get is a relentlessly dark and shadowy tale that, ironically given the book’s title, finds one of the Beatles’ longest term employees with no love in his heart for his old bosses at all. And a Beatles book without love is a very sad thing indeed. 3/10.

“Yesterday: The Beatles Remembered” (Alastair Taylor, Sidgwick and Jackson, 1988) and “Hello Goodbye” (Alastair Taylor and George Gunby, Yesterday Once More, 2002)

Brian Epstein’s assistant has some mighty fine tales to tell but wasn’t around enough to offer us a full insight into the Beatles’ story which makes his first book on the band something of a slog, relying on other sources and re-telling familiar tales. He gets the format right for the second, though, which is a series of set pieces told one after the other in hilarious, side-splitting detail. The story of him sitting up late one night trading lines with Paul McCartney on a song that turned into ‘Hello Goodbye’ is a great tale, as is the one of him being persuaded by the staff at Apple to get into a one-man band costume and pose for their legendary advertisement(‘Send us all your tapes...and do it now, because this man now owns a BENTLEY!’) Some of these stories are pure speculation, however and one is just plain wrong (Taylor made up the story of Raymond Jones asking for a copy of ‘My Bonnie’ in order to excite Brian Epstein’s interest in a band he thought his colleague ought to hear – imagine his face when Raymond Jones himself came forward a few years later to break the silence and claim the story beyond all doubt for himself!) AAA fans might also be interested in the chapters about what ‘Mr Fixit’ went on to do after leaving The Beatles’ side, touring with The Moody Blues among others. His is indeed a ‘remarkable story’ as the blurb on the back cover tells us – its just a story you have to treat with a pinch of salt every now and again, with Taylor understandably keen to talk up his role in one of the greatest stories civilisation has ever seen. 4/10 for the first and 6/120 for the second.

“Brian Epstein: The Man Who Made The Beatles” (Ray Coleman, Penguin, 1989)

An excellent account of an often-overlooked hero when it comes to The Beatles story. It would have been easy to knock Epstein for being naive, for being out of his depth creating business deals that cost The Beatles millions over the years or to have painted Epstein’s story the clichéd way, as a tragedy that was always going to happen (despite several suicide attempts down the years I still Believe Epstein’s death was an accident, as does this book’s author). Thankfully Coleman falls into neither trap, demonstrating how Epstein got caught out because he was pioneering a whole new music industry that didn’t exist before The Beatles did (back when artists still covered other people’s music rather than wrote their own and stayed fashionable for all of six months with repeats of the same stuff) and that it was sheer bravery on his part that got The Beatles noticed at all, risking a good (if boring) career running the music department in family firm NEMS. Epstein was a complex character, even in this story of a group full of complex characters, and its nice to see him given proper respect in a Beatles book for once, although some more relevant interviews and more pages to get the author’s point across wouldn’t have gone amiss. Apparently there’s a film biopic of Epstein in the works (and has been for some years now) – the makers could do a lot worse than simply transcribe this book onto the screen as its about as fair and merciful an account as Epstein could have wished for without straying away from the truth as we (think we) understand it. 8/10.  

“The Beatles Quiz Book” (Michael J Hockinson, Boxtree Limited, 1992)

Usually I find quiz books a tad embarrassing – there I was thinking I was an expert on obscure subjects like, say, CSNY reunions 1970-2005 and then someone comes along with a fortnight’s work looking at Wikipedia to prove me wrong. I love this Beatles Quiz book though – by turns informative, funny and fascinating, it’s clearly been created with a lot of love for the subject matter and is a lot harder than you might expect (I’ve been re-reading it for nigh on 20 years and I still get things wrong whenever I come back to it!) The highlight of the set is definitely the chapter headings, with relevant music quotes summing up the contents perfectly (‘You became a legend of the silver screen’ for the Beatles’ fellow actors in their films, ‘Tell Me What You See’ for a bunch of Beatles logos and, of course, ‘Wrack My Brain’ for the general knowledge!) Along the way you get to learn facts you won’t learn anywhere else (that John and Yoko were neighbours to dress designer Norman Hartnel in their days at Tittenhurst, that George Harrison spent his ill-fated trip to Haight Ashbury in 1967 singing what he could remember of thenm-new Beatles B side ‘Baby You’re A Rich Man’ and that John once described the B-side version of ‘Revolution’ as a ‘piece of ice cream’!) Fascinating and one of the most re-read books on my music shelf, this quiz is long overdue a re-print, preferably with new chapters for ‘Anthology’ ‘Love’ et al. 8/10.     

“The Complete Guide To The Music Of...” (Volume One by John Robertson, Omnibus, 1994) and (Volume Two by Patrick Humphries, Omnibus, 1998)

The second in our collection of AAA CD-sized guides from Omnibus, the Beatles’ output is divided into ‘major’ and ‘minor’ Beatles albums (ie all the ‘proper’ ones and then all three Anthology sets and the BBC box), which not coincidentally makes them both ‘major’ and ‘minor’ works. Frankly any book trying to do a song analysis after Ian MacDonald’s superlative ‘Revolution In The Head’ is going to suffer, but considering its size the first volume is still a great book, digging out a few new stories (although there’s one error, suggesting that ‘Every Little Thing’ is a Lennon song, not a McCartney one). The use of full-page pictures of the album covers to go alongside each album is also a sensible move, making this into a really handy pocket-sized Beatles discography. The second version is frustrating in that much of its information comes from the sleevenotes for either ‘At The BBC’ or ‘Anthology’, although even here its a useful book for side-stepping the often OTT language of the two booklets (telling you just exactly what takes have been edited too, which is useful and something Anthology tried to hide). 7/10 for the first and 5/10 for the second.

Revolution in the Head (Ian MacDonald, Pimlico, 1994)

I’ve left this review till last, because I still don’t know how I can encompass the sheer range and scale of this achievement. MacDonald talks about each Beatle song in detail with excellent musical theory knowledge but the capacity to understand social trends and movements (many started by The Beatles) so he doesn’t lose sight of the bigger picture. In fact this book is in part a study of an extraordinary decade, complete with a timeline at the back and some drop-dead amazing extra essays about The Beatles’ central importance to the decade that remain the best examples of music journalism ever written. A tad dismissive of some songs, 99% of the time he’s spot on and his critique of songs is frequently first-class: think ‘I Am The Walrus’ is a piece of meaningless nonsense? Think again! Consider ‘Revolution 9’ to be an empty piece of filler on the White Album? Not after reading this you won’t! ‘Nowhere Man’ (Lennon’s tired sub-conscious breaking through his songwriting brain), Eleanor Rigby (McCartney’s brilliant attempt to understand how the world works) and ‘Long Long Long’ (the Beatles’ most unfairly forgotten track, all about death and re-birth) are just five of the highlights that will allow you to understand The Beatles’ music on an extra level. What’s extraordinary, though, is the book’s consistency: all their songs are covered well, from ‘Love Me Do’ through to ‘Real Love’ (and a few of the Anthology outtakes in the most recent edition).  I’ve heard some people be a bit sniffy about this book, Paul included, claiming there are the odd factual errors inside. Well if there are I haven’t spotted them: using Lewisohn’s work as a springboard, this is a marvellous extended review of what it meant to be alive in the 1960s and the absorbing sponge that was The Beatles, reflecting and exaggerating their generations’ own desires and beliefs en large. The last chapter in the last edition, in which MacDonald discusses why things have gone downhill since the 60s and why music will never be the same again, is appallingly sad but undeniably true. This book was a huge inspiration to this site, although frankly we can never come this close to perfection, and it was created at least part after my horror of hearing of MacDonald’s suicide just as his last edition of the book in 2003 was going to press – and my knowledge that I’d never get the detailed critique of the Beatles’ solo years and other major 60s bands that I’d longed for. May the author rest in peace, knowing he got as close to the truth of The Beatles’ work as anyone ever did and making the music in this book seem like the pinnacle of human achievement.  A full 10/10.

“At The BBC” (Kevin Howlett, BBC Books, 1996)

I’ve always been of the impression that the Beatles’ BBC sessions are some of the most naturally brilliant performances of their career and yet even with the official BBC set out (in 1994) they’ve never got the coverage they deserved. This book by BBC devotee Howlett (whose earlier book on the subject is just as good but less comprehensive) is a pretty good if brief guide to the band’s sessions, what songs were played on which show with which guests, etc, which makes it an invaluable reference guide. There’s also transcriptions of quite a few of the Beatles interview snippets (that still aren’t available officially yet) that find the fabs on blisteringly funny form (Lennon especially should have been given his own comedy series, although its George revealing that his mother listens to the show ‘but only when she’s out digging the garden’ that brings the house down). The only downside is that so many of the facts here we know already from the excellent liner notes to the official BBC CD sets (still the best liner notes to a Beatles album, Past Masters and the recent mono and stereo boxes not withstanding) and that there’s so few pages to really get to grips with each and every episode in detail. It would have been nice, too, to hear from some of the fans who wrote in with requests and what they’re doing now (given that the lion’s share of the Beatles’ sessions took place between 1962 and 63 they must have been early fans indeed and it would be fascinating now, in 2012, to hear where they first heard The Beatles). Hopefully another book at a later date will go to the trouble of transcribing each episode’s chat in whole and rate the performances in more detail (or, better still, Apple will release the whole bang lot complete – till then we’ll have to make do with our bootlegs). 7/10.  

“A Hard Day’s Write” (Steve Turner, Carlton Books, c.1997)

As we’ve seen, we’ve had books about the Beatles’ early years, middle years, later years, their assistants, their social and economic impacts, diaries about what they were up to on particular days, in short everything but the music. This book isn’t quite up to ‘Revolution In The Head’ in understanding the Beatles’ work (but then what is?), but it is a very useful and authorative text that dedicates roughly equal space to every song, instead of just picking out a few to study. Along the way we get recording dates, what take each released song is where known and the influences and inspirations the Beatles may have drawn on for each piece of work. The songs are treated in album order, with singles adding at the start of each chapter, which makes thematic sense but does mean that, say, searching for ‘Penny Lane’ can be quite tricky! (Released midway between ‘revolver’ and ‘Sgt Peppers’ its added to the latter). A lot of the work here is open to debate, of course, but its hard to write a book that isn’t and Turner is always fair in his opinions, seemingly without any bias towards John, Paul or George, which makes a for a refreshing change. Not every song has a story to tell, of course, but it’s not until the added ‘Anthology’ section (not available in first pressings of the book) that the mind tends to wander. The research is excellent too, with the piece on ‘Eleanor Rigby’ drawing fans’ attention to a gravestone in a Liverpool churchyard with that name even making the papers, while the discovery of the runaway who inspired the newspaper article that in turn inspired ‘She’s Leaving Home’ is fascinating (Melanie Coe, the girl in the song, reveals how close the Beatles were to ‘guessing’ her life and the fact that they met – she’s the 13-year-old who wins a Ready Steady Go! Competition to meet Paul Mccartney in 1964 after miming to a Dusty Springfield song, three years before running away from home and inspiring the song forever linked with her name). Few books can do the Lennon/McCartney (and Harrison) songbooks justice, but this one does. 8/10. 

“The Beatles Diary” (Barry Miles, Omnibus Press 1998)

This and the next book are, between them, the perfect books for fans who already know the bigger picture but want to fill in the small details. Treating the Beatles’ story in diary form, this book hops about from concert show to Abbey Road studios to BBC session to press conference, showing how ridiculously heavy the Beatles’ workload was in the day (if a manager tried to get a band to work this hard now, he’d be sued!) Often using a ‘diary’ form grates in a book (just see the entry on The Who below), but because we know the Beatles story so well its easier than you think to find, say, where the touring of Magical Mystery Tour took place or what day the Beatles played their rooftop gig. Less interesting than Badman’s book, simply because the Beatles years have been covered so many times over (notably by Lewisohn), this is nevertheless a real page-turner, with quite a few snippets that might have passed you by (especially in the frenetic early years). 8/10. 

“After The Breakup” (Keith Badman, Omnibus Press 1999)

One of the top five books on this list, this is a superb reference manual for the Beatle nut, with each of the four member’s solo years covered day by day from the release of ‘McCartney’ in 1970 up to Paul’s gigs at the Cavern Club in 1999. Naturally lots of this info is well known, but its surprising how much of it isn’t: in 1979 alone we learn that John asked his assistant Fred Seaman to put in an order for a copy of every Beatles bootleg that came into his local record store at the Dakota (under a pseudonym of course),that Paul was nearly given a ‘poisonous’ award made of ‘osmium’ when the Guinness World Records wanted to give him something special that year (until a quick thinking employee realised the mistake and cancelled the project), that George accidentally ran over his own feet while using a tractor on his Friar Park grounds and that Ringo nearly died of peritonitis, the same illness that saw him confined to Liverpool Hospital for most of his childhood. It was also this book that revealed to the world just where exactly the Beatles were officially dissolved: Disneyland, Florida, in 1974, when lawyers finally caught up with Lennon on a day out with May Pang and his son Julian. The December 1980 section, with coverage of Lennon’s death news report by news report as the details were filled in and when and where the other three learnt the news, is also incredibly moving, even when you know the full story already. Fascinating for the stories that have been forgotten across time, most of this work is told by The Beatles themselves in a whole cornucopia of press releases, interviews and letters that must have taken years to research. Everything the official Beatles Anthology book should have been and more. 9/10. 

“The Complete Beatles Chronicle” (Mark Lewisohn, Charter Press, 2000)

The first real serious Beatles tome was Lewisohn’s legendary book ‘The Recording Sessions’ where the researcher for the Hunter Davies book was actually allowed to go into the hallowed Abbey Road studios and listen to all the Beatles tapes in their archives. The results, published in the 1980s, was a joy, detailing all the outtakes and alternate takes that later ended up on the Anthology sets. However this follow-up book goes a stage further, adding to the list of recording sessions with a guide to each and every concert and BBC radio session, revealing just how busy the fab four were. Now that so many people have heard them, of course, the list of outtakes have lost the awe for fans they once had and Lewisohn isn’t the most personable of writers, offering meticulous research and facts by the bucketload but not much actual text or personality. The fact that ‘Revolution In The Head’ offers all of this factual information and more alongside the song analysis means this book has become rather superseded nowadays too. Still, the photographs – most of them actually taken in Abbey Road - are a delight (especially the Revolver era ones) and no other book goes quite the extra mile in bringing you closer to being in the studios with the fab four. 8/10.  

 “The Beatles’ Shadow – Stuart Sutcliffe and his Lonely Heart’s Club” (Pauline Sutcliffe, Sidgwick and Jackson, 2001) 

It can’t be easy losing your brother at the age of 21, without him even being in the same country as you. It must be awful too to think that he ever so nearly made the big time both as a Beatle and as an artist but now is only known to Beatle anoraks. Eyebrows were raised around the Beatles community when this book about Pauline’s brother Stuart Sutcliffe, partly because he’s always been such a shadowy mysterious figure in Beatles legend that making him human kind of dispels the magic of those early years a little bit and because of the one core argument at the heart of this book: that John Lennon mistakenly killed his best friend, beating Stuart up in a rage one night in Liverpool that led to the brain haemorrhage he suffered in Hamburg months later (in a fir of jealousy over his growing relationship with Asatrid). Many fans hate this book for that reason, but although I don’t buy the argument (its amazing how many death-bed confessions there’ve been around the Beatles story), this isn’t the cash-in Lennon-hating book many fans assumed it to be. In fact, along with Astrid’s similarly moving book its probably the best and fairest chronicle of the fab’s early years, with John, Paul and George turned into fully-formed characters rather than the ciphers of lore. Yes Lennon gets the blame for Stuart’s death but he also comes across as the helpless victim of his rages and the one person who truly believed in Stuart’s talent. Equally Paul is the business-like figure he’s normally painted and is often at odds with Stuart’s inability to actually play the bass guitar (Stuart only learned to play at Lennon’s insistence), but he’s also the fire that keeps the Beatles burning and a tower of strength to all concerned when Stuart dies. George comes out of the book best though, wise above his 17 years and trying to do the best by everyone around him. Stuart is, naturally, painted as almost a super hero by the younger sister he left behind, but with copious letters and diary letters to keep his ‘voice’ intact you begin to see just how remarkable a person he was, already living more of life and fathoming its depths than the other Beatles put together. His attempts to set up a new life in Germany with Astrid and without the other Beatles, trying to be accepted into the Hamburg school of art and painting feverishly through his massive headaches is a moving one even without John, Paul and George in it and his last few months are described very well indeed. Controversial yet fascinating, you sense this book might be nearer the truth than the accepted story, even if I can’t quite buy the central story that Lennon beat up the best friend he ever had, even if acting at his ‘most random’. 7/10.

“The Quarry Men” (Hunter Davies, Omnibus, 2001)

Thank goodness this book got written when it did, with as many members of the ‘original’ Beatles coaxed out of retirement to tell their story as possible, before the sad deaths of Eric Griffiths and Ivan Vaughan. The memories of the band’s early days, before Paul and George for the most part, are fascinating and Lennon is as mischievous and devilish as you’d expect, if vulnerable and supportive at times. However its what the members of the band went on to do that proves most fascinating, with each of the five (plus selected quotes from Lennon) telling the story of what happened to them. It’s nice to hear people who came so close to the big time sounding so un-bitter about the whole experience, cheering The Beatles on for the most part rather than begrudging them their success. It also shows what a different world there was before The Beatles, nearly single handedly, changed it, with four of the five taking on some very 1950s ish jobs (Pete Shotton, closest to Lennon, hung around for the Apple years when, after telling John he fancied working as a teacher, had a whole school bought for him by his old friend!) Hunter Davies is one of the best music writers around, often flippant and funny and yet treating the whole overall story with the care it deserves, making this a much better and much more relevant and entertaining book than you might expect. After all, these are the lives the other Beatles might have had had Lennon given up the guitar at the request of Aunt Mimi, had Paul and George not joined the group, had the group not honed their act at Hamburg, had Brian Epstein not been to see them, etc and for that alone is fascinating as a kind of parallel history of the fab four. The Quarrymen actually got together again shortly before the book came out and still tour, though they’re down to a three piece now. 8/10.

“All You Need Is Love – The Beatles’ Dress Rehearsal” (Steve Farman, Tracks, 2002)

Arguably this book needs to be even smaller or even bigger – the photographs inside of the band rehearsing ‘All You Need Is Love’ for the ‘One World’ satellite broadcast are very repetitive (especially as the only one in colour is on the cover) and on the other hand the text is fascinating but given awfully short shrift, confined to captions for the most part. Sure the Beatles are photogenic – when were they ever not? – and this is a key part in the fab four story, with the last pictures of the group with manager and mentor Brian Epstein especially moving. But this book desperately needs to be deeper and more thorough to make it worth the full price (thankfully I bought mine in a sale!) and it’s likely to be a book that sits at the back of the shelf, unlike some of the gems in this section. 2/10.

“Lennon”/ “McCartney”/ “Harrison” / “Starr” Encyclopaedias (Bill Harry, Virgin Books, 2002)

Bill Harry was a key part of the Beatles’ early years, being the editor of the Merseybeat music paper that Brian Epstein sold in his shop (where the manager arguably first heard of The Beatles, long before a Raymond Jones called in to ask for a copy of ‘My Bonnie’) and the person who helped John Lennon get his first ever writing into print (his Short Derivation on the Dubious Origins of the Name Beatles’ is one of the funniest things he ever wrote and where his much-quoted comment about a man on a flaming pie telling him the name comes from). However what fans were really after was another biography on what the Beatles were really like: good as these encyclopaedias are (with the ones on George and Ringo particularly good), they seem a little impersonal. On the one hand all four are well researched, with space given to such little known subjects as John and Yokos films, Paul’s ‘The Family Way, George’s Handmade Film projects and Ringo’s acting career which are especially welcome. On the other, though, there’s a lot of detail you don’t really need, with Harry’s insistence on listing the running time for each and every song (eg as ‘...lasting for three minutes and fourteen seconds’) getting on your nerves after a bit. Still, solid enough for newcomers and sparky enough for longer-term fans, these encyclopaedias are still a pretty essential reference guide, covering all of the solo songs and plenty more besides. 7/10. 

 “Revolution: The Making Of The Beatles’ White Album” (David Quantick, Vinyl Frontier, 2002)

As with ‘Pet Sounds’ above and ‘Let It Bleed’ below, the idea of doing a ‘classic album’ in book form hits a major snag. There simply isn’t enough information around to write a whole book on just one album, even one as eclectic and lengthy as The White Album, so the author inevitably ends up re-telling the whole Beatles story in less detail than you can read elsewhere. That’s a shame because when this book does finally move onto the music from the double LP set its very good indeed, a sort of halfway house between Lewisohn’s scholary neutral tone and Ian MacDonald’s racy opinions. I particularly love the section about George Martin walking out on the sessions for a ‘long holiday’, expecting the Beatles to have either pulled their act together or broken up by the time of his return. Instead the album is another set of up and down sessions, with Ringo leaving and poor Chris Thomas, formerly Martin’s tape operator, put in charge of the sessions and the warring egos of the band. We all know that blood between the Beatles was bad during 1968 but thankfully what comes across in this book is how much affection the band still had for each other; the delight they have recording ‘Yer Blues’ in a broom cupboard for extra intimacy, grappling with the tricky time signatures of ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ or knocking off ‘Birthday’ quickly so they can go watch a rock and roll film from their childhood premiering on TV. Alas before too long the book is back to telling us about the Beatles’ breakup (and repeating most of the points made in the book several dozen times already), but for a few chapters there this is excellent, detailed, opinionated stuff. 7/10.

“Unseen Archives” (no author given, 2002 – also set on Lennon)

There are so many Beatles picture books around, all promising unseen photographs (many of which were left that way for 40 years for a reason) that its hard to keep track of them all. I do own both the Beatles and Lennon sets of this name, however, both of which are unremarkable, save for tracing your own way through Beatles history based on how happy/excited or how cynical/bored they are. The Beatles are a photogenic bunch it has to be said, but there’s only so many photos of them eating/smiling/signing autographs that you need to see in one lifetime. The Lennon book is mildly more interesting, simply because the shots are rarer, but too many similar shots from the same locations are used throughout, rather than say one shot taken from every photographic session Lennon undertook (the idea’s out there if anyone wants to try it!) The most interesting pictures are arguably the shots of The Beatles onstage in their early days, surrounded by a ridiculously small and unimpressive set of amplifiers and speakers, although even these types of shots are getting quite repetitive by the end. 3/10. 

“The True Beginnings” (Roag, Pete and Rory Best, Thomas Dunne, 2002)

Pete Best has always been treated badly by The Beatles’ story ever since he was unceremoniously booted out in 1962 to make way for Ringo (despite being the better drummer if the few tapes released on Anthology are anything to go by), so it seems fair that he and his family should cash in on their Beatle links from time to time. Actually, even without Pete’s name on the credits this book would be pretty indispensible to fans of the Beatles’ early career, accompanying the restoration of the Casbah Coffee Club run by Pete’s mother Mona which became the Beatles’ second Liverpool home after the Cavern Club. Whilst entertaining enough in its own right as a text, it’s the photographs that make this book come alive, complete with the doodles drawn by Lennon and McCartney on the walls and roof in return for being allowed to play there (given what happened to her son later, you could forgive Mona Best for tearing the drawings down in late 1962!) This is a very specialist book, naturally, ending the story sometime around ‘Love Me Do’, but for fans of the band’s early days this is a fascinating work and, until a similar book is made about the Cavern Club (a surprising hole in the Beatles’ bibliography as of now) this is the closest we’ve got to being there when the original fab four were the most talked about band in Merseyside and yet were still unknown in the rest of the world. 7/10.

“Ticket To Ride” (Larry Kane, Runrig Press, 2003)

Larry Kane is a likeable chap. A ‘proper’ serious news reporter, he recalls with horror the day he only sniffily took the job to cover The Beatles’ arrival in America to make some extra money, little realising he’d met the people everyone would keep asking him about time and time again. The Beatles, Lennon especially, got on with Kane much better than the usual run of the mill reporters and used to hold competitions to try and make him laugh (it helped that he was roughly the same age with not completely separate tastes). Kane suffers when he tries to tell the old Beatles tale for the seven hundredth time, but this book shines for the bits he was there: the wrath of a snoozing Lennon trying to get some kip on a plane; Paul’s quizzing him about his background and politics of home in America; George keeping out the way but being the most ‘reliable’ Beatle when a quote was needed first and Ringo trying to keep pace and keep peace with varying degrees of success. The accounts of the Beatles in this book ring true, both the good and the bad and if Kane occasionally lets his sheer delight at being part of history run away with him from time to time it’s no more than what the rest of us would have done. 8/10.

“Ten Years That Shook The World” (MOJO staff writers, Dorling Kindersly, 2004)

Like the decades they follow, the magnificent rise to fame of the music magazine in the 1990s led to some of the best journalism around, before slowly dying off and fading away to leave only the youngest of the young upstarts anywhere close to where the writings were at their peak. Mojo is still the single best music magazine on the shelves from month to month and even if they get stick for treating the same stars to the cover stories over and over, it’s usually with good reason and some new twist in the tale. So far this is the only book written by the Moo staff en masse and its a good if not great work, chopping the familiar Beatles story into little bits and taking us via lengthy detailed chapters and piecemeal page-long studies on the story from the fab four’s beginnings in the Cavern basement to the top of the roof at Saville Row. This unusual arrangement is both the book’s obstacle and its saving grace, allowing the reader lots of different eye’s views into the story of the Beatles but occasionally spending too long studying the minor pieces of the puzzle instead of the full puzzle (a full page on the band’s group painting while on tour in Tokyo 1966, for instance, but nothing on the tour itself between the Manila debacle and the last gig in Candlestick Park). The album reviews could and should have been better for writers of this calibre, without the warmth or discovery of the best of the other books in this section, but the full articles on such subjects as the first recording session, the sheer range of the band’s fans, the impact of Brian’s Epstein’s death, the band’s stay in India and especially the parallels between war-torn Hamburg and war-torn Liverpool are all welcome additions to the ever-bulging shelf of Beatles writings and sayings. Sadly the book ends on an uncomfortable note, with dissections of the first four solo Beatles albums post-split that doesn’t seem to like any of them very much and no space for covering Lennon’s house husband period and assassination, Paul’s adventures with Wings and later Oratorios, poetry and paintings, George’s disappearance and revival with the Travelling Wilburys or Ringo’s acting career with a few albums on the side. Still, this book is an excellent, occasionally superb volume that gets it right more often than it gets it wrong. The cover, with four different eras of four different Beatles staring back at you, is superb and a good hint at the piecemeal way the book is arranged inside, dissecting the band’s story into little bits. 7/10.  

“Yellow Submarine” (no author given, Walker Books, 2004)

They could have done the long-awaited book format version of ‘Yellow Submarine’ in lots of ways; as a full novel, a half-size book or as a full manga animation. Instead Walker Books took the easy way out, making ‘Yellow Submarine’ into a ridiculously short picture book, with illustrations taken directly from the film that inevitably misses out many plot developments. That said, its wonderful to have so many of the ionic scenes in such a large size format, with the opening frontispiece of the ‘apple bonkers’ meeting in a rainbow and the grimy ‘Eleanor Rigby’ sequence in Liverpool looking fantastic. Alas, though, there’s no reference to the music, not even a set of printed lyrics, which makes the end of the film (where the Beatles as Sgt Peppers’ band reforms the world with love) particularly daft. Not the enjoyable experience it should have been, this book is a good 50 pages shorter and some 35 years late to make the impact it deserved to have done. Blue meanies! 4/10.   

“John Lennon”/“Paul McCartney”/“George Harrison”/“Ringo Starr” (Alan Clayson, Sanctuary, 2005)

Given the amount of books about The Beatles as a collective whole, it should have been a great idea to have biographies on each of them individually, as they all have fascinating stories to tell that aren’t always told in full (especially the solo years). Unfortunately Clayson isn’t the man to do it – his prejudices spoil his meticulous research (OK we have them too but I’m trying to talk about albums, not full lives!), with Ringo in particular coming out rather badly in his book (which makes you wonder why Clayson has to date written two books about the drummer, sadly for Ringo the only biographies of just him around!) The John and Paul books are also ridiculously short and no substitute for any of the Lennon or McCartney books out there, going for an overview rather than a detailed account. The Harrison book (the biggest of the four, interestingly) is the best of the four, with Clayson digging deeper than most to find out all sides of the multi-faceted George and actually spending some time talking about all of his over-looked solo albums, not just ‘All Things Must Pass’. Even here, though, there are strange sideway passages about nothing in particular that aren’t really relevant to the chapters in question, so that the reader has to keep skipping whole parts to keep up the flow. One reviewer called another Clayson book on the fab four ‘a Beatles flavoured tea bag in a cup of Clayson’ and that, sadly, is true, with the reader learning less from these books than they might have hoped despite some very fine research and a few ‘new’ titbits heretofore undiscovered in all four books. 2/10. 

“The Best Of The Beatles Book” (editor Johnny Dean, Beat Publications, 2005)

There’s a lot of Beatles-related products I’d love to see out on the shelves again (Let It Be on DVD complete with book, Give My Regards To Broad Street, more Beatles BBC sessions (editor's note - yippee at least someone seems to be listening to me even if it did take another two years from the date of writing this!), the fanclub flexi discs, etc) but none more than The Beatle Books, the fanzines released every month between 1963 and 1969 which put every other fan publication to shame. Thankfully the Beatles Magazine was resurrected in the late 1970s and reprinted alongside each and every issue, but even that’s a long time ago now and the vast majority of Beatlenuts don’t even know they exist (The ‘Monkee Monthlies’ deserve a reissue for the same reason!) So thank goodness that this massive hardback book exists and reprints at least a few bits and pieces. The glossy photographs and occasional articles on the Beatles’ beginnings are great of course but where these magazines shine is their news pages, casually referencing a Beatles idea in the works and treating them as things happen rather than in the context of the stories we know so well too. The Beatles are often on great form too in their interviews, with George and Ringo given more ‘space’ than usual to talk and the fab four were themselves very fond of the magazines, supporting them whole heartedly long after they’d got bored with everything else (the last ever Beatles photo session featuring all four of them was for the Beatles Book). The one and only negative point is that so much more could have included in the book, which could (and should) have run to several volumes (say, one per year between 1963 and 1969!) Long overdue a proper re-issue in full, this is still a treasure trove for the Beatles obsessive and the fab four have never seemed so accessible or so much fun! 9/10.

“John, Paul, George, Ringo and Me” (Tony Barrow, Carlton Books, 2005)

I was always amazed when I started collecting Beatle books that press officer and Beatles sleeve note author Tony Barrow hadn’t written anything yet. After all, Barrow knew the Beatles long before most people did (being a friend and then colleague of Brian Epstein) and the notes written for the first four Beatles LPs are superb, especially the one for ‘Beatles For Sale’ with its talk of the band’s fame carrying on into the next century (discussed on these very pages a couple of issues back in our ‘sleeve notes top 10’). So when this book appeared in 2005 it was met with a sigh of relief, especially as the book came well packaged with some fabulous photographs. However, there’s something strangely hollow and unsatisfying in the writing, which doesn’t stray too far from the well known stories any Beatles anorak could tell you except for a rather fascinating chapter on the Beatles’ last tour in 1966 (when they were closer to death from assassination than has been commonly thought). The moment when Paul persuades him to tape what turned out to be their last gig at Candlestick Park is a real lump-in-throat moment, the band themselves realising its the end but no one outside their circle quite realising that fact yet(a freebie CD of the recording wouldn’t have gone amiss by the way, although Apple weren’t ever likely to let it be published!) Throughout, though, there’s an air of Barrow trying to justify the importance of his role in the Beatles’ story, for instance only featuring photos of him with the band – he shouldn’t need to worry about history, as his name is famous to everyone whose ever been a fan of the fab four, in their early days especially. 5/10. 

“The Rough Guide To The Music Of...” (Chris Ingham, Rough Guide, 2006)

The first of three wonderful AAA-based Rough Guides, this work on The Beatles is one of the best single book series on the band, detailed enough for the biggest monkeynuts collector but basic enough for the newcomer to get a hold on. Like the other books, this features an 80 page section on the events of the band’s career, although unlike the Floyd and Stones books it adds short reviews of each album in the main text (the reviews work better in the other two, being longer and more stand-alone). This does however give the book more space for an overview of the Beatles’ solo careers and this is the highlight of the book, praising lesser known favourites like ‘London Town’ and ‘Walls and Bridges’ over so-called big successes like ‘Band On The Run’ and ‘Imagine’. The McCartney section, particularly, is invaluable and as good a collection of reviews as I’ve read (along with the ‘Together Alone’ book below). Further sections then deal with 50 key Beatles songs (‘Baby’s In Black’ and ‘The Ballad Of John and Yoko’ are surprises), a handy guide to Beatles books (including a few we haven’t covered here!), films, rumours, candidates for ‘the fifth Beatle’ (I reckon Mal Evans or Brian Epstein)  not always the ones you’d expect either and some highly obsessive websites (what a shame, then, that Alan’s Album Archives started up mere months after this book came out or we’d be in it for sure...) A very good guide considering how much ground it covers in comparatively few pages. 9/10.

“Can’t Buy Me Love” (Jonathan Gould, Pitakus, 2007)

A sort of sideways view of the familiar Beatles story, this is more about how and why both Britain and America reached out for The Beatles and how their relationship changed across the 1960s. On the plus side it means we get to read about The Beatles as a social phenomenon as well as a musical one and get more detail about the barriers the Beatles broke down on their way to the top than ever before. On the downside this leaves less time for the things that to 99% of fans matter (we care about the songs and recordings more than the hairstyles) and too often you find yourself going over familiar ground, as the author is rather forced into repeating parts of the story you already know. That said, though, when Gould does reach out and analyse a song (as he does with ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ the book really comes alive, it’s just a shame that doesn’t happen more. The biggest downside to the book is that the ending is too abrupt, without any real attempt to tell the story of the solo Beatles or explain how their impact still carries on, into the 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s and beyond (alas this book came out just before ‘Beatles Rock Band’ brought the group a whole new following, although the ‘Across The Universe’ film deserved a mention). Still, this is an impressively researched book (20 years in the making – or so the back cover says!) and there are a few nuggets here and there for even the biggest fan to discover. 7/10.

“Lennon and McCartney: Together Alone” (John Blaney, Jawbone, 2007)

A truly excellent book that tries to tell the history and review the singles and albums released by Lennon and McCartney during their solo careers. It’s similar to the Carr Illustrated Record books of the 1970s but with more detail and much longer reviews. Many fans were put off by this technique when the book first came out but I think its marvellous, rescuing albums like ‘Mind Games’ and ‘London Town’ from the Beatles scrapheap and passing on as much information as you’d ever need about the in-between album events in the Beatles’ lives. The only trouble with the book is that it didn’t stretch a point further and include George and Ringo’s albums too, giving us a full overview of the Beatles’ solo output and the fact that Lennon dies partway through the book, leaving a lot of compilations and outtakes sets in his wake and rather undoing the whole Lennon-McCartney comparison (though that, obviously, is not the author’s fault). The cover could and should have been better though: John’s and Paul’s faces merged together, it looks more like something from a horror book than a musical one (similar they might have been in character but not in features!) Stills, always fair and always ready with a one-line summation of an album that’s spot on (and generally funny to boot!), this is the best substitute around for that solo book of ‘revolution In The Head’ that MacDonald sadly never got around to writing before his death. What’s perhaps surprising is how well McCartney comes out compared to Lennon – while John is either in a rut or on a high Macca just keeps going, releasing album after album of at least part casual brilliance and no book has better understood his 1980s solo albums after Wings’ split. Sadly forgotten nowadays and not the big seller it was hoped it might be (that cover didn’t help!), this book is still one of the best books around on The Beatles and more than deserves room on your Beatles shelf. 9/10.  

“The Beatles’ Irish Concerts” (Colm Keane, Capel Island Press, 2008)

There is, surely, no other angle a Beatles book can possibly wangle in the present day. Unless a load of Mal Evans or Neil Aspinall’s diaries suddenly pop up or Macca or Ringo fancy having a go at a Beatles autobiog after so many years of ‘nearlies’ from all four Beatles, there surely is no other period to focus on or individual take on the band to study (even I admit a lot of my Beatles reviews are covering old ground, though hopefully treading it in new shoes). So we end up with books like this one about the band’s little known tours of Ireland in 1963 and 64. Not that there’s anything that happened in Ireland that didn’t happen the whole world over (well, except in France where the 60s simply didn’t happen): hysterical teenagers screaming at concerts, jokey press conferences, mass hysteria at every sighting of a Beatle haircut. The one new nugget of information is George bringing his family on tour with him so he could meet some of his Irish cousins (in their childhood at the time, they still remember the shock of having a real live Beatle in their house!) On the plus side this book is as well researched a Beatles book as any covering their touring years, with lots of eye-witness accounts on a subject when news reports were thin on the ground and no real records were kept and the photographs feature some real unseen gems (backstage at a Belfast gig, George greeting his mother, the band with various warm-up acts from the two tours). On the negative side Keane has rather a dry writing style that makes even the most genuinely exciting event sound dull (‘Paul McCartney was positioned on the left with his Hofner bass, which he appeared to be playing’), with far too many descriptions of the audience rather than the band. Only available in Ireland and Liverpool, to the best of my knowledge, this is a book that deserves a wider press, although that if they ever re-print this book they’ll cut a few of the more supercilious passages out. 4/10.     

“Beatleology” (Adam  and Roger Jaquette, Adams Media, 2009)

Perhaps its because I ended up a ‘Ringo’ but I never really got this book, which is meant to be a spoof on all those character quizzes and astrological signs that actually work better than most people realise (just have a go at my facebook quiz where you can find out which of my teddies you most resemble, flawless in every way!) Dividing the world up into major and minor Johns, Pauls, Georges and Ringos  sounds fun at first but its actually quite a slog to read each chapter and separating the Beatles’ personalities out like this ignores the fact that actually all four were pretty similar (compared to, say, The Monkees or CSNY). There is wicked fun to be had in the ‘Cynthia versus Yoko’ section, though, with every person meant to be surrounded by soft ‘yes’ men and tough angry ‘no’ men (no prizes for guessing which out the two is which), leading to the great line ‘George W Bush (A Ringo) and his ‘Yoko’ Dick Cheney’ – which may well be the greatest sentence in the history of human civilisation. It’s a shame the questions aren’t more, well, interesting however: ‘When I quite a Job I...’ and ‘When I go on vacation I...’ should have been replaced by a few more Beatlesish questions (do you want to go to Rishikesh, an Octopuses Garden, the Amsterdam Hilton or the Mull of Kintyre’ would have done for instance!) 3/10.

“Astrid Kirchherr: A Retrospective” (Astrid Kirchherr, Liverpool University Press, 2010)

Finally, a missing piece of the picture is filled. This book of photographs-with-interviews is a real book of two halves: Astrid, the fiancé of Stuart Sutcliffe and the first real person to ‘get’ what the Beatles represented, is rather guarded in her interviews but the many photographs of the band taken from her collection are totally revealing. Stuart naturally dominates the pictures, many of which were taken in his art studio in Astrid’s attic, coming across as even more photogenic and intense than you’d expect from the handful of shots that have been reprinted over and over. John, Paul and George are also seen in detail, though, in a series of portraits that remain the best of them ever taken: a pensive Paul on holiday with Astrid in 1963, a 17 year old George practising his moody leather look and a pimpled 20-year-old Lennon at his most charismatically arrogant. He has reason to be arrogant though: just look at what an incredible sight those early bands shots are, gathered together at a local funfair, dressed all in leather with their Beatle haircust in place for the first time. It looks incredibly new and exciting now in 2012 – think how it must have seemed 52 years before that when nobody looked anything like this. The most moving shot, though, is one where a distraught Lennon stares at Stuart’s paintings the day he learned his best friend had died (Astrid meeting The Beatles during their last Hamburg tour in 1962 with the news), George’s supportive arm round him showing how close the Beatles really were before the world went mad around them. The interviews aren’t completely a waste either: we learn that Astrid stayed in touch much longer than we all assumed (George was still sending her money when he died) and the one with Astrid’s friend Klaus Voormann (the true ‘discoverer’ of The Beatles and later album cover artist and Plastic Ono Band bassist) is typically funny and informative. This book seemed to disappear on release and not many fans noticed it – please, if you have any interest in the early years of the fab four you need to own this book, one in which they needed seemed fabber. 9/10. 0

From later editions of News, Views and Music:
Mat Snow "The Beatles: Solo" (Book, 2013)
The most interesting tales from the Beatles' story often come from the 'solo years', when so many fans seem to have stopped listening. With four very different yet complementary tales to tell and access to many unseen photographs these books should have been superb, especially bound together in a handsome box set that's one of the single heaviest items I own (the complete mono and stereo Beatles CD boxes have nothing on this!) However, big print, limited space and a need to toe official party lines mean that these books are only really interesting for those who don't know the story all that well. Frankly, if you're prepared to spend that kind of money on a set this big then you already know the basics and there aren't enough details here to excite - even in the lesser known tales of George and Ringo's careers. That said, however, even a longterm Beatles nut like me didn't know a good quarter of the photographs printed large in these books and the volumes have been produced with a lot of care and consideration. The jury's still out as to whether getting mock-up modern style impressions of each Beatle face on each book was good idea (and why jump around years and facial styles so much - surely an all-'Peppers' moustachied band or an all-clean shaven circa 'Rubber Soul' look would have been a better choice?), although some fans reckon they're the best thing about the whole set. One for the newbie interested in the band's lives after the split - or for the collector who wants absolutely everything. 3/10

From a later edition of News, Views and Music:
Kevin Howlett "The Beatles: The BBC Archives" (Book, 2013)
Kevin Howlett is the expert on the band's BBC recordings and his first initial book about the 'Beatle Broadcasting Company' is one of my most treasured possessions: in turns informative, witty and wise. Moving on 30 odd years, however, and there's remarkably little that's come to light that wasn't already known when the first book was published. If anything, the fact that there are now two official BBC double-album sets available to all means that there's less reason for a book like this to exist in this day and age, re-printing transcriptions from chatter already available from the Beatle's mouths as it were and full of descriptions for performances that we can now hear and evaluate for ourselves. Had this book been another value-for-money paperback you could pick up for a tenner I'd have been more forgiving, but this one dresses everything up to look 'big', being a massive hardback book that comes in a massive box that retails at a staggering £45 (over a third of the price, don't forget, of the entire Beatles studio catalogue on CD). There are one or two new photos in the book and a much longer analysis of each 'cover' song the Beatles chose and where they came from, but there simply isn't enough that's 'new' here to qualify releasing such an expensive tome. The one great thing about this set is the 'limited edition' portfolio full of re-creations of BeatlesBBC-related memorabilia down the years. We've heard the 'producer's notes' for the Beatles' auditions many times before ('Paul McCartney - no. John lennon - yes. An unusual group, not as rocky as most, more county and western with a tendency to 'play music') but to actually see the words as written, together with all the typed-up hype Brian Epstein gave to try and sell the band, is exquisite. Ditto the chance to read audience research reports for both the Beatles' final radio broadcast from 1965 and the Magical Mystery Tour TV special, both of which are slated by a chosen panel of viewers even more than legend recalls (reading this, it's amazing the Beatles ever worked for the Beeb again). This should have been a one-off re-creation together with a re-issue of Howlett's original, illuminating book however - not an epic paving slab of a volume that actually adds remarkably little to the Beatles tsory we didn't know already. 4/10

John Lennon:

“One Day At A Time” (Anthony Fawcett, Grove, 1976, out of print)

A funny book, really, this one. Fawcett was Lennon’s assistant for much of his final Beatles days and the author has plenty of lively and revealing stories to tell about the singer’s more wayward years in his early Yoko days. However, given that his ‘boss’ has just retired without telling anybody at the time this book was published to raise his second child, it seemed like it came from a different era altogether on release. Lennon was less than happy at having some of his many secrets revealed, especially when he was back happily with Yoko after their ‘lost weekend’ apart following a string of infidelities similar to those listed here and yet this isn’t your average ‘kiss-and-tell’ book either, with Fawcett genuinely impressed by and proud to have known a Beatle. Even weirder is the way that Fawcett doesn’t just tell the bits of the tale he knows but tries to tell Lennon’s whole story again, in the third person this time, topping and tailing the book with stories we’ve heard a million times over. It makes for rather unsettling reading – though probably more so now there are so many dozens of other Lennon biopics on the shelves (to its credit, this book is the first to concentrate on Lennon rather than the Beatles as a whole). The snippets of conversation overheard at Apple meetings between 1968 and 1970 are fascinating, though, and the book is worth your time for this alone. What the other Beatles thought of having their dirty laundry aired – barely 18 months after the court case finally dissolved their partnership – is sadly not recorded but probably wasn’t good. 7/10. 

“A Twist Of Lennon” and “John” (Cynthia Lennon, Hodder, 1978 and 2006)

Cynthia Lennon felt a little out of her depth dating Lennon the art school rebel in her teenage years, back when the pair were worlds apart and all they had in common was their short-sightedness. Imagine how she felt a few years later when the whole world wanted a piece of John and Cynthia found herself stuck at home bringing up the baby. The books both reach their peak early on, portraying the teenage Lennon in such a way that we can’t help but fall for him either, even when her friends keep asking her ‘Christ, Cyn, what are you seeing that lowlife for?’ They fall apart badly on later chapters, however, when key things happen in the Beatles’ story and Cyn simply isn’t there to see them and by about 1964 she has so few conversations with her husband she actually talks about Paul more than she does John (Macca comes out of the book rather well, actually, refusing to follow John’s demands that no one in the Beatles camp ever speak to her again and continuing to make sure she and Julian are well taken care of, long after Lennon has stopped caring). Understandably she actively hates Yoko, especially in the second book, for taking her husband away from her – to be fair, though, she lost John long before Yoko came into their lives. You also have to wonder if Cynthia is really the whiter than white character she claims to be: she claims she goes on holiday with a friend called Roberto ‘innocently’ while John meets up with Yoko in their house and is shocked at his cold accusations of infidelity on her return, but just a few pages later she and Roberto are an item. Too often too Cynthia is shown to be simply the ‘victim’ in all this, something that becomes a bit wary after a few chapters. One other worrying point is how little Julian features in the book once he reaches his teens: I for one enjoy his music career, which might not be up to his dad’s but is still memorable and enjoyable; his mother doesn’t even mention it here. Both books are similar, although the first one is notably devoid of much of the bitterness of the second (poverty and a second failed marriage seem to bring out the worst in mild-mannered Cynthia). Lennon, irate, is said to have done his best to clock the ‘Twist’ book from publication – and when he couldn’t he sat up all night reading it expecting a rant and instead being brought to tears by how free of bile she was. After his death, though, no holds were barred, although to Cynthia’s credit she waited till long after everyone else had had a go to jump on the Beatles bandwagon. Her love for Lennon despite everything still shines through, however, and the passage in the second book about learning of his death (while visiting the first Mrs Ringo, Maureen Starkey, as it happens) is easily the best chapter of either full of the hate, anger, sadness, confusion and frustration you’d expect. An occasionally illuminating but still frequently frustrating reading experience. 6/10 for the first and 5/10 for the second.

 “1940-80: A Biography” (Ray Connolly, Fenton, 1981, out of print)

There’s something a bit uncomfortable about a man clearly in love with a Beatle’s work writing a cash-in book about their colleague for money instead of the book he ought to be writing. Connolly is a Beatles fan, but his tastes are for McCartney and George Martin’s talents – unlike virtually all other books since Lennon’s death in 1980 this one ticks Johnny Rhythm off for being too radical, too provocative or for not being nice to know. You won’t learn much from this book you couldn’t learn elsewhere and its true to say that it would never have got printed had there not been a surge in interest in all things Lennon in 1981 – but the photographs are nice to own and there isn’t anything actually wrong or un-factual here once you get past the rather puzzling frame of mind with which it was written. Perhaps Connolly should have waited a few years and written a McCartney biog instead? 5/10. 

“The John Lennon Story” (John Swenson, Nodron Publications, 1981)

Very much a ‘Sob!-I-Can’t-Believe-He’s-Gone!’ book rather than a true in-depth and balanced appraisal of Lennon’s life and work, this is still an impressive piece of writing given how hard the author finds it writing about his hero in the past tense. Swenson is a respected writer for Rolling Stone Magazine – his piece in the following book on our list is one of the best – and knows his stuff so this book is certainly a lot more thought out than most of the books rattled out in the first half of 1981 in ‘tribute’ to the singer. It’s just a shame that he doesn’t have longer to make his points about Lennon the songwriter, musician, artist, critic, poet and peacemaker and that the book, written in the wake of Lennon’s death, is still so raw and painful for both writer and reader. 6/10.

“The Ballad Of John and Yoko” (the Rolling Stone writers, Rolling Stone Press, 1982, Out Of Print)

Rolling Stone Magazine always had a long and warm association with Lennon, ever since his ‘two Virgins’ album cover became their first front cover and you could argue that Rolling Stone lost its respect and its impact around about 1980 when Lennon, their main source of inspiration, died. What strikes you first about this fascinating book, released in tribute two years after Lennon’s death, is how much they wrote about the Beatle, even with a couple of bits and pieces added to the book looking at his legacy and his childhood, the two ‘missing’ bits they hadn’t covered in the magazine. Lennon seems to have kept his wittiest and wisest comments just for them and some of his remarks in the mid-70s, especially his ‘last’ interview before ‘retirement’ in 1975, are among the best he ever made. Lennon’s house-husband years and his death are sensitively handled too, with the discussion of what his last movements were on December 8th 1980 terribly moving for everyone who regards Lennon fondly. The pieces centring on Yoko fill in many of the pieces missing in her jigsaw too, especially the 1971 interview where Yoko talks about her childhood in bomb-struck Japan and the huge sea change from her rich family well regarded at home fleeing to America as all but paupers. There’s less here from the sterling elongated ‘Lennon Remembers’ interview from 1970 here than I’d have liked, but then that book is available separately and the ‘oral tributes’ from people who didn’t even know Lennon that well are filler from a period when anything about John was guaranteed to sell. Overall, however, this is a marvellous collection of Johnny Rhythm on witty form, as charismatic as he ever was in print and the John and Yoko love story comes over loud and clear in the pair’s own words. A tribute worthy of the Lennon name, unlike most of the junk that came out in the wake of his death. 9/10.

“John Lennon, My Brother” (Julia Baird, Grafton, 1988, out of print) and “Imagine This” (Julia Baird, Hodder and Stoughton, 2007)

Most people assume Lennon was an only child. Actually that’s not true, John had two younger half-sisters whom he adored (and an older sister given up to care). These two books are written by one of the former and is a fascinating glimpse of Lennon the teenage rebel caught at the beginning of his fixation with the guitar and putting some flesh on the bones of the usual depiction of Lennon’s childhood. Julia is clearly in awe of her brother, not just because he’s a Beatle but because he was that much older and missing for so much of her childhood. Frankly the Lennon portrayed in these books sounds great fun too, always singing and with time for his sisters, a million miles away from the cold and distant figure depicted by Goldman in his book. Even without Lennon the tale is a sad one, with both Julia and her sister Jackie finding their lives torn apart by mother Julia’s sudden death too (sadly we never get to hear what Julia Junior thinks of her brother’s Plastic Ono Band dealing with her mother’ death The tale falls apart a bit when Lennon leaves for Hamburg with the other Beatles, with Julia caught as an outsider (though Lennon still kept in touch with his family quite often, even in his American days), but for a good two-thirds of it this is a story well told, full of anecdotes no one else can tell. I still feel as if the first book had the edge, although both are quite different takes on the same collection of stories and memories. The photographs are lovely too – to be honest there aren’t many pictures of Lennon’s childhood around at all but there’s about another half-dozen new pictures of school holidays and term time photos you won’t find anywhere else. Perhaps inevitably, Yoko comes out of the book rather badly, trying to reclaim houses bought by Lennon for his English family, effectively making them homeless and keeping her husband’s cremation a secret from them, although she does seem to make peace at John’s 50th anniversary concert in Liverpool, 1990 (to which all the family were invited). Understandably, given Julia’s role as consultant on the largely excellent ‘Nowhere Boy’ film, many of the scenes here are very similar. 8/10 for the first and 7/10 for the second.

“The Lives Of John Lennon” (Albert Goldman, Bantam Press, 1988)

A simply horrible book and arguably the second worst on this list. Lennon was the first to say he wasn’t perfect as a human being – frankly too many of the books on this bibliography try to make out he was a saint – but arguably John’s heart was in the right place most of the time, even when his own actions failed to live up to his words and ideals. But this book, published eight years on from his death, makes him out to be an irrational, power-crazed hermit, afraid to mix in society and hen-pecked by Yoko to the extent that he became a house-husband at her craving. In actual fact it was the other way round, Lennon the happiest he’d ever been to be free of music making commitments and surrounded by a stable family for the first time in his life. If facts like that have been twisted out of all the truth they contain then no doubt some of the less well known facts here are wrong too. Fans have long hated this book and Paul and Linda McCartney even held a bonfire full of copies of this book which they invited the press to (a slightly less covered media spectacle than the American South bonfires of the mid-60s burning Beatle records, but still a major step for a celebrity to take over a book that wasn’t directly about them). Perhaps much of the hatred comes from the fact that there are the odd grains of truth in this book and we just don’t want to remember Lennon that way (at least some of the womanising is true and if anything the drug taking was worse than printed here, albeit most people there at the time reckon John had all but given up by his house-husband years and that this peaked in the early 70s). That said, if a biography is to be one of lasting interest it has to be fair to its subject, celebrating and recording the successes as well as harrumphing at the mistakes and this book is simply too cruel and too one-sided to be the whole truth. Lennon deserved more. 1/10.

“Who Killed John Lennon?” (Fanton Bresler, St Martin’s Press, 1989)

This book raises some uneasy points about why Lennon was taken from us and after several years of research Bresler is adamant that Mark David Chapman was not a lone killer but a patsy for a Government that were more afraid of Lennon than they let on. In the blue corner about why this book rings true: Chapman was not a fan, owned no Beatles records until he bought ‘Double Fantasy’ for Lennon to sign the week before killing him and if he had a musical obsession it was with his hero Randy Newman, hardly a Lennon-type singer-songwriter; there were gaping holes in the story given to the press by the police, including a trip to Hawaii days before Chapman shot John and a far-too deliberately left collection of ‘evidence’ in his New York hotel room that missed out this precious travel ticket; Chapman was not unemployed as reported – well not until quitting his job as a security guard two days before killing Lennon; If Chapman really killed Lennon to ‘be famous’ why did he change his decision for a public trial (the ‘trial of the century’ as reporters were salivating in 1981) and asked to be held in private; Lennon was indeed back to being a threat in the Government’s side after several years of being a house-husband, appearing with Yoko at a protest march by Japanese workers looking to get equal pay with Americans mere weeks before his death. In the red corner: Chapman still shows no signs of anything other than guilt and would have spent 30 years now in prison without another word – frankly had I been betrayed I’d have wanted the world to know my innocence however risky the idea somebody might shut me up (it would be all too easy to ‘kill the killer’ to shut him up as its argued it happened with Lee Harvey Oswald; the coldness and detachedness that the author sees as Chapman being ‘programmed’ might just be the shock of what he’d done; there’s also nothing here to rule out mental illness, even if Chapman wasn’t the ‘lone weird’ gunman so many people took him to be. So there you have it: a lot of evidence that stacks up and a lot that doesn’t. One thing this book does prove, though, is how bad the New York police department were at doing their jobs in not fully interviewing witnesses and accepting Chapman’s guilt as face value – had I been working at the scene of the biggest crime in nearly 20 years I’d have covered my back better than this and the excuse that ‘he pleaded guilty at the scene’ and ‘it was Christmas and we were low staffed’ just doesn’t cut it for me. Culpability, corruption or simply incompetence, whichever way this book raises some fascinating and damaging points. 7/10.

“We All Shine On: The Stories Behind Every John Lennon Song” (Paul Du Noyer, Carlton, 1997)

Ooh good, another ‘song story’ book to enjoy. It won’t surprise you, dear reader, to learn that its the stories behind the songs that set my pulse a racing, seeing as that’s basically what our website is writ large. This book on Lennon’s solo career was one of the first books dedicated to album reviews to come out and whilst not the best it does a fair job at working out what made Dr Winston O’Boogie tick. The photographs are huge, often to the point where they dwarf the tiny-print text, but its the words that are the keeper, with several stories about ‘Mind Games’ and ‘Sometime In New York City’ especially allowing those albums to come to life for the first time. To be honest, it’s not as revealing or as opinionated as the later ‘Together Alone’ book (which covers McCartney’s solo output too), but it’s still a good read that will teach you a great deal. My copy of this book is a whacking great hardback, but I believe I saw it re-printed in a smaller paperback size last time I was in a bookshop. 6/10.

“The Complete Guide To The Music Of...” (Johnny Rogan, Omnibus, 1997)

The third pocket-sized album guide by publishers Omnibus on the list, this book is, like the others, an ever-entertaining and informative collection to each and every Lennon solo release, including the ones after his death (though only up to the publishing date, obviously, so there’s no Lennon Anthology, Acoustic, Lennon vs US or the Signature box set reviewed). With less albums to play with Rogan gets more time to tell the stories behind each album, though unfortunately this is one of the weaker entries into the series precisely because its not full of the short, snappy one-liners that makes some of the other books so fun (yeah, I can talk, I know...) It’s also been superseded now not once but twice, with both ‘We All Shine On’ and the Lennon/McCartney ‘Together Alone’ tackling the same idea with even more space to play with and stories to tell. Still, like the other books, this is an impressive guide for its size and is probably the best starting point for the real Lennon beginner who wants a guide to what albums to buy next. 6/10.

“Memories of Lennon” (Various edited by Yoko Ono, Sutton Publishing, 2005)

A sumptuous collection of essays from people affected by Lennon’s life and death, this book is like so many tributes paid after death: part genuine, part sycophantic, part moving, part banal. Some run to a sentence; some run for several pages at a time, with John and Yoko’s ‘what we’re doing in retirement’ letter of 1978 the only actual input from Lennon. So many of the names asked to contribute didn’t know Lennon except at a distance and could hardly call themselves fans, although on the plus side reminiscences from people like Cilla Black, Pete Townshend and Mick Jagger are more moving than you’d expect, Lennon more than just a human being even to those who knew him. Of course there’s also people like Donovan, who have no impact on the Beatles story at all but act like they’re central to it. Why on earth did he get through the selection process, when Paul and Ringo didn’t?! Along the way we get snapshots of Lennon’s life, from Hamburg friends recalling the Beatles’ earliest days to a rather fascinating article about Lennon being trailed by the FBI because they were so obviously scared by his underground links and influence with the youth of the day. I’m surprised Yoko didn’t write more though – her sleevenotes for both ‘Milk and Honey’ and the Lennon Anthology are pretty much the best written about Lennon after his death and her short contribution here is underwhelming. Not the best tribute Lennon was ever given, this set (released for both John’s 65th birthday and the 25th anniversary of his death) at least gets it right part of the time. 5/10. 

“Lennon Revealed” (Larry Kane, Running Press, 2005)

The ‘fifth Beatle’s second book, this one studies in more depth the news reporter’s history with John Lennon, clearly his favourite Beatle despite their contrasting backgrounds and the many arguments on Vietnam and politics they used to have. Lennon comes across as warm and witty despite having a fiery temper, braving the storm of press conferences to say what he really thinks – and then continuing the arguments behind the scenes (he was right, too, or so I say – the American Government had no excuse for Vietnam and its to Lennon’s credit that he stood seemingly alone against it before others caught on). Kane wasn’t present for all of Lennon’s life, of course, and if there’s a downside to this book its that its all rather bitty, with the whole of Lennon’s solo years based around the pair’s one true meeting, when as a local Lennon popped in to see Kane at his local TV network and ended up presenting the weather report! Kane’s revelation that Lennon never met so many of his fans one –to-one before or since and how moved he was may well be the highlight of the book. The DVD, alas, promises more than it offers, given that so much of Kane’s interview with John and Paul ended up on Anthology (though its nice to have it complete) and that Lennon’s stint reading the weather is reduced to a couple of shots off-camera (sadly all the footage that exists). Still, Kane is a good companion to have for a Beatles biographer and his background as a journalist gives this book a depth and passion that few other books on the Beatles shelf have. 7/10.

“John Lennon – The Life” (Phillip Norman, Harper Collins, 2008)

My first thought when buying this book was that due to the sheer size and scale of the thing (853 pages) there’s bound to be lots in here I didn’t know. I tried not to be greedy, I didn’t expect hundreds of unreleased Lennon songs to suddenly arrive out of nowhere or an interview with a long lost brother, but I still expected something out of the ordinary. Alas there’s not one new bit of information here that I didn’t know from reading all the other books about Lennon and that has rather coloured my judgement about the book. That said, the only way I knew any of this information is from reading hundreds of other books on The Beatles so if you’re a beginner with strong arms (this book weighs a tonne) and a deep passion for Lennon then this book is arguably written for you, bypassing several of the others on this list at a stroke. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the writing and nothing wrong with the research, although yet again McCartney comes in for a bit of a tongue-lashing at times (despite being a key part of the book – his ‘new’ interview being the biggest ‘new’ element for old fans, although he doesn’t reveal all that much) and Norman has become something of a pal of Yoko’s over the years, meaning that the passage about her early days with John is so much gentler than other writer’s takes on the subject you may wonder whether you’re reading about the same two people. There’s nothing spectacularly wrong with this book, then, but despite its size and scope I couldn’t say that I felt I knew Lennon any better after reading it than when I started it. ‘The Life’ is also not a patch on ‘Shout!’, Norman’s other book that covers all four Beatles in much less detail (and packs a much greater literary punch!) 6/10.

“John Lennon: Life, Times, Assassination” (Phil Strongman, Bluecoat Press, 2010)

This book might well have passed you by, being printed only in Lennon’s native Liverpool at the time of writing (and my most recent purchase to boot). It deserves to be better known, though, studying Lennon’s life and death through the eyes of the FBI and CIA and thus being the paper equivalent of Yoko’s moving ‘Lennon vs The US’ documentary film. Strongman, a writer for Mojo Magazine, writes unashamedly from the point of view that Mark Chapman was a ‘patsy’ and as such repeats most of the point from the book above, but does make for a very plausible case that Chapman reacted in much the same way as other ‘supposed’ killers such as Lee Harvey Oswald (JFK), James Earl Ray(Robert Kennedy) and Sirhan Sirhan (Martin Luther King), down to the details of their backgrounds, the way they acted out of character – Chapman didn’t own a single Lennon record up until the week before he shot him - and the false news reports that are scarily convincing. For once the blurb on the back cover is true – this is one of the most controversial books you’ll ever read because the ‘facts’ it uncovers are alarming and frightening, with the fact that our Governments have been lying to us all too plausible (during Lennon’s lifetime he was mocked for saying people were after him – but what with the FBI reports, many still censored, and the hugeness of Watergate and the WMD reports suddenly Lennon’s death starts to make a certain eerie sense). At 250 odd pages there simply isn’t space to offer up the complete Lennon story, but the snapshots of his work are well written and the portrait of Lennon as courageous and pioneering rather than merely outspoken and crude makes his death in chapter 16 all the more moving and painful. One problem with the book though: the appendix lists a group of Beatles songs allegedly written by Lennon solo, as if to put down McCartney’s contribution to the band’s edgier material; some of them are either colossal mistakes or blatant lies (‘She’s A Woman’ ‘Lady Madonna’ ‘Fixing A Hole’ and ‘Two Of Us’ among others) that does rather call into question the bias or the research in the rest of the book. Still, an excellent work that deserved to be better noticed. 7/10.

From a later edition of News, Views and Music: John Lennon “The Lennon Letters” (Book, 2012)
I must confessed I passed on this book when it came out because I don’t think I’d seen a Beatles book get that many bad reviews since Albert Goldman tried to turn Lennon into a hopeless pill-popping junkie in a 1982 biography. ‘That’s a shame’, I thought, ‘because there’s a great book in there somewhere’; even as a youngster Lennon was telling his Aunt Mimi not to throw away his witty writings and cruel comics because he thought he’d end up famous and would stick them in a book one day. Sadly not all that much survives from Lennon’s early days (in fact far less than I’d thought does – you’d think some of Lennon’s family plus the many school-friends who chuckled over his ‘Daily Howl’ would have kept copies, especially after he turned famous), but then Lennon was such a prolific letter writer during the 15 years (1965-80) this book mainly covers that it’s still a fat and revealing one. The reviewers mainly complained about two items: a 13-year-old request to a cousin to borrow a bike and a 37-year-old househusband list of instructions for assistant Fred Seaman to follow, claiming both were inane and unrevealing. Yes they are – but the other 282 items are terribly revealing, shedding light on multiple aspects of Lennon’s life. The highlights are many but for me include some very sweet letters to fans offering encouragement for their own adventures and dreams (even long past the Beatles days when you’d have thought he’d have given up), a fascinating diatribe written in defence of children’s television and especially Sesame Street (written not to a paper, like so many of these letters, but direct to a complaining mum who’d written in to Lennon’s local), a scrawled note on top of what Lenon erroneously thought was the Beatles’ 1962 Decca audition tapes (see above) and posted to McCartney with the claim ‘what a great band!’ at the height of their 1971 fall-out and his last ever signature, signed mere hours before his death. Along the way Lennon sheds light on his complicated family set-up (who knew that he’d got back in touch with so many of his cousins after moving to America?) although its a shame that their letters to him don’t survive to keep up the correspondence. Lennon, surely, must have had one eye on doing a book like this one day – even when tired, grumpy or pushed for time his responses are often laugh-out-loud hilarious and he often talked about making a book like this; full marks to his close friend Hunter Davies for patiently collecting so many of these letters and scribblings down the years, often tracking down fans who bought their items at auctions and graciously wanted their fellow fans to experience them too. The only thing really missing is some sort of timeline to pull the book together and help it keep the ‘smaller’ items in context against the bigger events in Lennon’s life and I’d also be mighty surprised if more of Lennon’s jottings about his music hadn’t survived down the years (surely a cassette anorak like Lennon, who taped everything, would have written logs or labelled his demos?) Still, ‘Lennon Letters’ is arguably the most revealing and fascinating Beatles book for ever such a long time, kind of like Ringo’s ‘Postcards From The Boys’ book (the Lennon ones are in this volume too) but bigger and better and with more research done to put each letter or doodle in context. The book Lennon deserved all these years – but if only it had been done 30 odd years ago when more of Lennon’s work (especially his teenage years) might have survived.

Paul and Linda McCartney:

“The Paul McCartney Story” (George Tremlett, Futura, 1975, Out Of Print)

Naturally enough, Macca isn’t eager to talk in depth about The Beatles, having at this point in his life only just begun to escape from their shadow. Unfortunately, this extended interview ends the story circa Band On The Run, meaning that we only get a very brief account of the post-fab four split and the early tales of Wings in this short book. Macca’s his typical guarded self for the most part too when it comes to the darker stuff, desperate to set the record straight his way as opposed to Lennon’s way (not an uncommon theme in all of the McCartney-involved biographies in this list), but it’s a delight to hear him open up en large when he finally gets a decent question, such as the one about his songwriting. Worth looking out for, this book deserves to be republished and is as good a source for this period of McCartney’s life as we’ve got. 5/10.

“Facts About A Pop Group, Featuring Wings” (David Gely, no publisher given, 1976, Out Of Print)

OK, so you learn absolutely zilch about what makes McCartney tick, what work goes into his music or why Wings kept losing members every other month in this period. But I’m still chuffed with this purchase, which I bought at a car boot sale for 50p, condescending text and all (‘what does it take to be in a rock and roll group?’ asks one heading – alarmingly Oasis were the right age to have had this annual for Xmas which might explain a few things). The pictures are lovely, with the band obviously posing but still the most informal we’ve seen since Paul’s shots for The Beatles Monthly and if nothing else having a whole book dedicated to ‘Wings’ – and not just ‘The Beatles’ – shows what a following they had in their own right by 1976 (when they were one of the top selling groups of the year, incidentally!) Joe English’s interview is especially good and its a shame he never gave more during his short tenure with the band. I’ve seen this annual fetching upwards of £20 on some sites – that’s just monkeynuts for a book that a) sold so well and b) doesn’t really tell you much. But find it at the right price and this gloriously retro publication is well worth your while. 6/10.

“The Biography” (Chet Flippo, Doubleday, 1988)

An absolute paving slab of a book, this tome is perfectly respectable covering everything you’d most likely need in the Beatle’s life up to the year of publication, and yet like Goldman’s book on Lennon you can’t help but feel short-changed over the fact that if you’re a true Beatlenut there isn’t much here you won’t already know. On the plus side, unlike most books on McCartney this one is nicely balanced, with Paul neither saint or sinner but a three-dimensional, complicated, talented man. It’s also pretty good at nailing Macca’s mercurial shifts from pop to oratorios to children’s films to painting which often left his colleague’s heads spinning but to Paul made perfect sense – like Neil Young, Paul believes in every project when he’s working on them 100% but has to keep chopping and changing genres to make the most out of his ever-mutating brain. Sadly this book has been rather overshadowed then and since by the subject of the book himself covering the same ground – in 1988 by McCartney’s fascinating extended interview for radio one (‘McCartney on McCartney’, often repeated on BBC6 and well worth a listen) and in 1997 by the superior ‘Many Years From Now’ book, still the closest thing we have to a Beatles autobiography. 6/10.

“Linda McCartney – A Portrait” (Danny Fields, St Martin’s Press, 2000)

There’s an amazing image in the middle of the photographic section that rather sums up this book: Paul and Linda sitting in the audience of George Harrison’s ‘Dark Horse’ concert, dressed up in ‘hippie disguise’ and right in the middle of the action. Above all else Linda allowed Paul to remain normal, flying with him in Wings but always keeping his feet on the ground – she really was the perfect foil for his creativity. This book charts the life history of Linda from her beginnings as the little girl in America who inspired Jack Lawrence to write the hit song ‘Linda’, to the in-demand photographer who ‘got lucky’, made to stay behind on a Rolling Stones barge trip when all the other photographers were sent home, to the hated public figure who helped break up Paul’s engagement with ‘that nice Jane Asher’ to the public mourning and sympathy that greeted her death, some two years before this book’s release. The author was, by his own admission, friends with Linda so there’s no great revelations or humble apologies here. More worryingly, there’s not much about Linda’s musical skills (her ‘Oriental Nightfish’ is as good as anything her husband wrote in the 70s), although her photographic career is studied in great detail and the McCartney’s vegetarian crusade gets a welcome airing. Most of the reviews of this book were sniffy, more about the subject than the writing, wondering why the wife of someone famous deserved a biography. If anyone says that to you then show them Linda’s picture book, stick on the ‘Wide Prairie CD’ and then show them some of the quotes from this book. Worthy of her legend and a welcome chance to hear the familiar tale of McCartney in his late Beatles and Wings days from another perspective. 7/10.  

“Linda McCartney: The Light From Within” (Linda McCartney, Little Brown, 2000)

A glossy huge hardback featuring the ‘best’ of Linda’s photographs, as selected by her husband Paul, perhaps a better idea might have been to have a straight re-issue of ‘Linda’s Pictures’, the glorious photo book from the 70s that features Otis Redding, Janis Joplin, the Rolling Stones and the first pictures of CSN together as well as lots of lovely informal shots of the McCartney clan, mainly at play. Long out of print, this substitute released a couple of years after Linda’s death is no replacement for that tome but does feature several more wonderful pictures of Paul and children snapped in London, Scotland and on tour. The shots of their Mull Of Kintyre farmhouse being hand-painted, with dishes stacked on the window-sill, is delightful and proof of how being ‘ordinary’ has helped Macca stay sane. There’s less proof of Linda’s real quality as a photographer, though, which was making stars both known and up and coming feel at ease enough to be photographed informally, which is so much better than ‘posing’. Some of the music star shots remain but, sadly, not the CSN ones and we also miss Linda’s reminiscences on how the shots were taken (her tale of getting Graham Nash to persuade a local shop-owner to sell her a doll for daughter Heather is a delightful insight into both of them!) The title refers to a Linda McCartney song that was released for the first time the same year as this book and is the perfect title for a photographer who spent so much time getting the ‘reality’ of whoever she was photographing. Organised by husband Paul, he did her proud, although its what’s missing from earlier books that’s the biggest problem for this book. 5/10. 

“Wingspan: Paul McCartney’s Band On The Run” (no author listed, Little Brown, 2002)

Wings’ troubled seven year history seems tailor made for a proper book – and sadly this one isn’t quite it, being the official ‘McCartney’ endorsed view of events (Denny Laine needs to hurry up and write one to put the record straight!) That said, if there has to be an ‘official’ book then this is the way to do it, with Macca opening up his archives with literally hundreds of unseen photographs of the band on the road, in the studio and messing around. The text isn’t quite up to the look of the pictures, being just one long rambling interview with Paul, but even that contains more nuggets than we’re used to seeing, with Macca covering a few areas that are usually no go zones (saying Jimmy McCullouch, who died of an overdose at 27, was ‘just too dangerous for his own good’ and that Henry McCullough and Denny Seiwell might have been right not to go to Lagos for ‘Band on The Run’ because ‘I’d overlooked the realities of going to somewhere like that’. What this book badly needs is another voice – any other voice apart from Paul’s (there were nine other members of Wings down the years after all!) and the chance for Paul to really dig into his memories of each album is rather passed over (there is a discography, which takes up 18 pages for just 16 albums, with only a paragraph to describe each one). Released to coincide with the excellent ‘Wingspan’ DVD set, both projects are so much more informal and user-friendly than the Anthology DVDs and book and really show off McCartney’s playful side, very under-rated releases from a time when Paul was honouring his wife Linda (who died in 1998) and the most open he’d been for years. Like Wings themselves this book deserves to be better known by Beatle connoisseurs and is a whole lot of fun, even if its not the most revealing biography you will ever read. 7/10.

“Paintings” (Paul McCartney, Little and Brown, 2000)

I’m not really a fan of modern art – in my eyes the key thing about any art-form is whether it moves you and you feel a connection to it; without lyrics and without a beat then art is always going to come a poor second to music for me. Macca’s art is very much of that modern brand of paintings that could be about anything and might well be about nothing, but that didn’t stop quite a few ‘proper’ art critics taking his stuff seriously. Certainly there’s a distinctive ‘look’ to Paul’s creations that comes across loud and clear, which is the hardest bit of becoming an artist in the first place (anyone can draw a bowl of fruit – why should the viewer pay any attention to yours?!) There’s one piece in the book which Macca admits struck him later as looking like Lennon, with his beady eyes and beaky nose, which stood out for me anyway as the best before reading Macca’s notes. Too often, though, these paintings are squiggly wispy bits of nothing that don’t register even with Macca’s often delightful notes attached. To be fair, I am completely the wrong audience for this book and wouldn’t know something good if I fell over it (for my eyes any painting not by JMW Turner is a waste; no one else has understood man’s small place in the universe like him). I do think, though, Macca might have been better making a smaller book and getting someone to select hi s best work for him; charging so much for the first hard-back publishing is also a joke! 4/10.   

“High In The Clouds” (Paul McCartney, Geoff Dunbar and Phillip Ardagh, Faber and Faber, 2005)

Among the few career achievements Paul still has on his checklist is a full length animated feature. The well received ‘Rupert and the Frog Song’ should have been the one, only the animators balked at the cost and the Beatle balked at the time period, with the project becoming a 10 minute short instead. ‘Tropic Island Hum’ was then intended as the follow-up and has been worked on and off ever since 1978, with again only a short ever making it to the screen (in 2006 on the back of the ‘Rupert’ DVD). Rather than waste the idea, Macca took the sensible advice of turning the story into a book – and its a good one too, with the lead character of Wirral the Squirrel saving his neighbourhood from evil human developers similar to that of Richard Adams’ superb ‘Watership Down’ (with Macca’s ecological side coming to the fore). There is still plenty of frogs for long-term Macca fans though! Wirral is a great character, very McCartney-esque in his ever-burning optimism and yet very believable in the way he begins to doubt his abilities when lost in a new city world or coping with adversaries much more powerful than himself. There may well be more of McCartney in this character than he cares to let on too; both lose their mothers young and struggle to cope inwardly with the loss whilst outwardly seeming to just get on with things and the portrait of Wilhamina isn’t that far removed from the feisty but caring ‘Earth Mother’ Linda (who seems natural casting as a squirrel!; I could mischievously add that the Chief Bison reminds me of George Martin and Froggo reminds me of Ringo but think I’d better leave the character analysis there!) The only downside is that without McCartney’s delightful Liverpudlian accent to make him come alive he doesn’t quite fill up the page as much as Rupert did and the other characters don’t get as much ‘screen time’ to make their presence felt. There’s also rather a lot of text for a children’s book (the tome’s second market after interested Beatle fans!) – in deep contrast to ‘Yellow Submarine’s treatment as a picture book (reviewed above!)  Still, should Macca ever decide to give up his ‘first’ career as a musician he may well have a future writing children’s books – the last page of Wirral, and girlfriend Wilhamina looking out on a beautiful sunset, the whole world at their feet (and looking not unlike Paul and Linda with bushy tails!) is a delight and the perfect end to the ‘tale’! Certainly Lennon’s claim to being the ‘literary Beatle’ gets less and less certain with every one of these extra-curricular releases. 7/10. 

From a later edition of News, Views and Music:  
Paul McCartney “FAB – An Intimate Life” (Book, 2009)
Not wanting Paul to feel left out, I also bought a Readers Digest condensed version of this biography – and wished I hadn’t. While Paul doesn’t come out of this book as badly as some others down the years (try Geoffrey Gilluinao’s – he actively hates the Beatles, but that hasn’t stopped him writing four books about them to date), you still can’t help but feel that the author is trying to dish the dirt. So what we get here are lots of McCartney’s drug busts and Apple-era in-fighting separated by the odd bit of sniping from Denny Laine’s 1982 article after Wings were effectively ‘sacked’ (which to be fair he’s since retracted – in part anyway) and some petty snipes at the McCartney children (poor Heather McCartney – Linda’s eldest, not Mrs Mills – has been admirably out of the public eye and should be supported, not gawped at like a nosy neighbour over a fence which is how the author comes over at times in the book). You could argue that Macca courts the attention sometimes (nobody comes out of the Heather Mills era well) and yet compared to what he could have been I’ve always found Macca remarkably grounded and giving (at least the author is generous enough to mention the foundation of LIPA, the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, exactly the sort of thing a teenage Lennon and McCartney longed for on Merseyside), for all his occasional faults and egotistical tendencies (after all, you can’t have that many people scream at you for that many years and come of it the same the other side). And yet at times this might well be the best McCartney biography around – certainly for the Wings era. The author has a good feel for McCartney’s music, which albums and tracks are his best (and which should have remained unreleased) and the contributing factors that made him turn a particular way at a given moment. My advice is, it’s worth it for a £1 (especially with three other, sadly non-music books included) and the odd flash of insight – but read it after a proper McCartney book (the Barry Miles ‘Many Years From Now’ one is still about the best, even if it’s a tad ‘officialised’ and skips over the bad bits) to get the full effect.

"Paul McCartney: A Life" (Peter Ames Carlin, J R Books, 2009)
Does the world really need another Paul McCartney biography? Probably not, but Carlin's book at least does a good job of explaining why there's still such interest in his work. The book isn't perfect by any means - key albums like 'Venus and Mars' and 'London Town' get short shrift and a lot of the Beatles and Wings-era tales have been told better many millions of times over. But Carlin's book is the best yet at describing Paul's early years (the death of his mother and his early days with the Quarrymen especially) and the characters of his dad and brother Mike come across as three-dimensional characters at last. The book is also strong for Macca's post-Wings solo years in the 1980s, with far more detail about Paul's work with Eric Stewart and Elvis Costello than heard elsewhere (even if, like everyone else but me, Carlin doesn't rate 'Press To Play' very highly). Best of all, Carlin gets Paul's character and his difficult but still largely positive relationship with John Lennon spot-on: despite only getting the chance to meet the Beatle very late on in his career Carlin's description of Paul as a 'conservative rebel' is the most fitting yet, Paul wanting to do all the things his partner does without thinking but having too much sense and regard for the old ways to fully overthrow them. Kinder to Paul than most biographers of late, Carlin isn't blinded by love either and manages to turn in a book that's pretty neatly balanced between respect and frustration, as well as adoration and acknowledgement of Paul's occasionally shadowy self. 8/10

George Harrison:

“Yesterday and Today” (Ross Michaels, Flash Books, 1977)

Everything about this book seems very minor – there aren’t many pages, there isn’t much input from George or colleagues and there was so little promotion for it that few people bought it. At least what there is of this book was made with care, though, unlike all the other sorry Harrison biogs that came out before his death in 2001, with a few small nuggets of info we haven’t heard before (mostly at the end of the book, with George recently married to second wife Olivia and working on the sadly forgotten ’33 and a Third’ and ‘George Harrison’ albums). It’s just a shame the book isn’t longer and that the publishers couldn’t come up with a better title – calling the book after a Paul McCartney song is like calling a book about Ringo ‘He Was The Walrus!’ (what’s wrong with ‘Dark Horse’ as used by Gilliano below, about the only thing his book got right!) 5/10.

“Dark Horse” (Geoffrey Gilliano, Bloomsbury, 1989)

Yet again we’re faced with a Beatles book by a biographer who clearly doesn’t like The Beatles. My response is – why bother? There’s nearly a thousand Beatles-related books doing the rounds old and new so why think an anti-Beatle book is going to sell to their adoring public? The answer, sadly, is that you don’t actually know how the book will turn out before you buy it – and in this instance my point is that please, if you see this book, please don’t buy it. Released to cash in on George’s sudden rise in fortune with the release of ‘Cloud Nine’ and the first Travelling Wilburys set, if you’re interested enough in The Beatles to be reading this page then chances are you already know more about George’s life than the author does. Big events pass by with only the usual comments trotted out; lesser known albums disappear with barely a mention. George doesn’t come out of the book that well, being painted as a grumpy and morose hermit more at home with his plants than musicians and yet he still doesn’t come out of the book as badly as some other people do. Not quite as unrelentlessly negative as Goldman’s attack on John Lennon or as dismissive as Clayson’s book on Ringo, perhaps, but still far from the decent biography the so-called quiet Beatle deserved (for a kick off, George was far from quiet when talking about any of his many passions, as a decent biographer should have found out). 2/10.     

“All Things Must Pass” (Marc Shapiro, Virgin Books, 2002)

A little hurried, written and onto the shelves within months of George’s passing, I have to say I’m a little taken aback with just how much hatred this book caused amongst Beatles fans. Frankly, no one book can hold all of George’s personalities and none of the Harrison biographies yet released come anywhere close to being worthy of his talent. That said, this hurried book is arguably the best of a bad lot, with only some very minor eyes rather than the gaping holes of Gilliano (‘Norwegian Wood’ is on ‘Rubber Soul’ not ‘Revolver’) that implies that the book needs a better proof-reader, rather than ritual burning as per ‘Dark Horse’. In truth, if you know your Harrison there isn’t much in this slim volume you won’t have known before, with pitifully few new interviews to add to our understanding of George. But at least Harrison got a fairly sympathetic biographer this time, one who rates him as highly as John or Paul. Still, the definitive Harrison book still isn’t out yet. 4/10. 

“Wonderful Tonight” (Pattie Boyd, Headline Review, 2007)

This book is so similar to Cynthia Lennon’s pair that you might as well be reading the same, with both wives offering a similar mix of loyalty with tales of victimisation. John and George were similar in many ways, abrupt and often grouchy outspoken men with softer, more vulnerable sides. The only difference really is that John kept his softer side for his private life and George was more normally the other way around, at least according to this book. Like Cynthia, Pattie still has nothing but love for her first husband but like Cynthia comes across as either hopelessly naive or not altogether honest, with page after page of complaints ending with the lines ‘but I still loved him’ (so that’s alright then). George’s distance from her in the early 70s, caused by a diet of drugs and meditation, is the best sketched passage of the book, with their friends asking nervously ‘is George’s hands in the prayer bag or out of it?’ as their short-hand for what was happening. The book goes downhill when Eric Clapton appears in the picture and the time the couple spend falling head over heels in love is woefully short compared to the chapters of a drugged-out Clapton ignoring her for hours on end (Eric’s much kinder about Pattie in his book, released soon after, than she is about him). Still throughout it George and Eric stay friends (give or take a rant or snide or three) and its their friendship that seems to have stood the test of time throughout the whole sorry business, not Pattie’s relationship with either of them. Pattie is still a likable charming figure, however, and it’s easy to see why three of the greatest ever love songs (‘Something’ ‘Layla’ ‘You Look Wonderful; Tonight’) were written for her. 6/10. 

“Living In The Material World” (Olivia Harrison, Abrams, 2011)

One of those glossy coffee-table books (that arguably could be a coffee table if you put legs on it), this book is a gorgeous looking volume full of lovely photographs of and by George, featuring the Beatle at his most charismatic or, in the case of a couple of Beatles shots, his most grumpy. All these selections have come from the Harrison archives and include some wonderful unseen moments: a toddler George with family at King George’s coronation, the Beatles’ eye view of what it was like to have thousands of screaming girls outside your hotel window; the lovely spacious grounds at Friar Park. In short, it’s a privilege to see the best of these beautiful shots at long last. However, for the price we fans were expecting something of a text to go with the pictures – there’s nothing; the size and weight of the book is also a problem – do we really need so many similar shots of the Beatles on tour in 1964? And why nothing from the Hamburg, Cavern Club or most worryingly the years 1966-68, leaving George to grow much older than those three years in the space of a page? Is there really nothing usable in George’s archives? (Were some of his photos stolen, like Paul’s were in 1969?) Or are the publishers planning a second volume? Like the accompanying DVD this mammoth book is patchy, slightly boring in re-telling the Beatles years but flowering into full bloom for the solo years with George doing a bit of singing in between his gardening and film-making. 7/10.   

Ringo Starr:

“Straight Man Or Joker?” (Alan Clayson, Sidgwick and Jackson 1991)

One of only two Ringo biopics written to date, it’s a shame the drummer isn’t chronicled by an author with a real passion for the subject, with most of Ringo’s albums – even the good ones – getting dumped within a paragraph or sometimes a sentence. The publishing date also means we miss Ringo’s renaissance in the 1990s with ‘Time Takes Time’ and ‘Vertical Man’ and ends on a very dour note, with the drummer an alcoholic wreck whose just been told by a record company they don’t think his work ‘Old Wave’ is good enough for release (clue: it isn’t). We also fail to learn the conundrum posed in the title – what we actually take from this book is that there are many Ringos at different times, just as there are different Johns, Pauls and Georges, which makes the title completely pointless. True, Ringo’s not lead the most interesting life out of the four, but he does deserve better than the rather dismissive approach Clayson takes here. 3/10. 


“For What It’s Worth: The Story Of Buffalo Springfield” (Richie Furay and John Einarson, Quarry Press, 1997)

Effectively the opening of Richie Furay’s memoirs rather than a full independent discussion of Buffalo Springfield’s contribution to the music world, this is still an incredibly well told book with Furay and writing partner Einarson enthusiastic and knowledgeable throughout. Given that the band only lasted barely three years this is a remarkably well detailed and chronicled account, taking place almost in real time as the fallout begins and both Bruce Palmer and Neil Young flit in and out of the story time and again. Many of the lyrics are quoted at length and there are titbits galore for the collector, including the much discussed intended album cover for second record ‘Stampede’ (with Dickie Davis filling in or Bruce, with hat pulled over his eyes) and the scribbled handwriting of Neil making a list of what might have been on a third album (it says much for the Springfield’s fractured history that only two of these 13 tracks actually made it onto ‘Last Time Around’). Richie still sounds bemused by the whole experience, frustrated at the way the band fell apart after second single ‘For What It’s Worth’ and still smarting over Neil quitting the group on the verge of success not once, but twice (The American Bandstand gig in 1966 and the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967). He still retains affection for everyone involved, though, especially his old sparring partner Stephen Stills and his memories are a revealing mix of pride, hurt and pained realism that ring very true. The book ends on an optimistic note, aiming for a box set (‘Buffalo Springfield’, a largely unreleased 4 disc set that beat anything collectors were expecting) and a reunion (which has floundered time and time again despite several gigs being advertised down the years). How very Buffalo Springfield, promising the world, living up to the first part of it against all the odds and then self-destructing for no apparent reason! Well worth owning, even if your interest is more towards CSNY or Poco, although it’s criminal how overlooked this most influential of bands still are to this day.  8/10.

See also various books listed under ‘CSNY’ and ‘Neil Young’


“Timeless Flight” (Johnny Rogan, Rogan House, 1997)

So detailed it makes ‘War and Peace’ look like a bit of light reading, the sheer amount of personality rifts, arguments and band splits and then sudden unexpected reunions, this book shares the theme of War and Peace quite well too. Rogan’s pet project, the author keeps returning to this book time and time again – my copy is the third extended edition although I hear there’s a fourth out in the shops now, almost doubling my 700 page copies’ length. Whether that’s too much depends on whether for you The Byrds are a anachronism or the most pioneering band of the 60s. Certainly the characters throughout it are larger than life and are more three dimensional here than ever before: the mischievous desperate-to-be-famous David Crosby; the ice cold self-elected leader Roger McGuinn; the lovestruck troubled unstable Gene Clark; the surly, silent Chris Hillman; the argumentative rich kid Michael Clarke; the even more argumentative rich kid Gram Parsons; the quiet and loyal Clarence White; all these figures and more grow up before our eyes, getting older with the full glare of the spotlight on them. The Byrds weren’t even a band till months before ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ was a hit and it speaks volumes that they all hated the song, with only one Byrd (McGuinn) actually playing on it. The rows and rifts become wearing after a time, with the Byrds going through so many line-ups they were the SugaBabes of the day, but Rogan gets the right balance between kicking and praising these characters and his analysis of their music, taken song by song as each album arrives, is spot-on. The best part of this book, though, is the extended chapters written in tribute to lost Byrds Clark and Clarke; Gene’s troubled 70s and empty 80s is perfectly portrayed, this most artistic of artists falling unravelling with every cruel twist of fate while Michael Clarke is revisited in his mature years, more laidback and accepting than the firebrand of his youth. How David Crosby survived it all is another tale worth telling, with page after page of self-destruction once we reach the ‘solo years’. Only McGuinn doesn’t quite come to life, the mercurial leader still too detached and ice-cold to fully warm himself through the page. No matter, the story is a good well done and its well told; understandably no biographer ever went near The Byrds after this book because there simply isn’t a way to better it or tell the story another way. The book also includes an impressively thorough discography, not just the band and solo years but guest appearances and bootlegs too. Highly recommended, even if all the in-fighting rather wears you down. 8/10. 

See also various books listed under ‘CSN’


“Long Time Gone” (David Crosby and Carl Gottileb, 1989)

What a book! The voice of an angel with the reputation of the worst outlaw you ever saw (Charlotte Church and James Dean had nothing on Crosby!), few books go to as many places as this one does almost casually. Telling the story of The Byrds was enough for a 500+ story on The Byrds (with author Johnny Rogan still not finished). The story of CSN/Y still hasn’t been told fully in book form but that would probably run to another 500 pages at least. Add in Crosby’s solo career and the many issues he’s faced down the years (drug addiction, prison, near death experiences from car and bike crashes and liver failure, becoming a celebrity sperm donor, adopting actress Drew Barrymore in her teenage years so she could escape her parents) this could easily have been a shelf-busting book. Instead it’s a breeze, the Cros hopping about from one thing to the next but still with enough weight and worry behind his every move to let us know what he’s thinking, which is rare in autobiogs. This book was a big deal in the day, Crosby becoming pretty much the first musician from the 60s and 70s to write his own book (its certainly the earliest AAA autobiog around) and at an age (48) when most star think themselves too ‘young’ to write at all – you can’t deny, though, that Crosby has a tale to tell and had lived enough life for ten men at the time of publication. Few other books feature such highs and lows as this one too; The passages about being surrounded by gorgeous women and having hit albums without effort will make you sick with jealousy; the later pages about Crosby’s addicted years ending up in a prison yard will simply make you sick. How Crosby survived it all is a miracle; the fact that he managed to write it all down in such a convincing and moving way is more impressive still. Crosby’s praise for his colleagues during his difficult time is endearing too (especially Nash). A follow-up was released in 2006 titled ‘Since Then: How I Survived Everything And Lived To Tell About It’ though it sold very few copies (most of the CSN community, including me, didn’t even know it was out so its quite rare now for such a recent book!) 8/10

From a later edition of News, Views and Music:
Graham Nash "Wild Tales" (Book, 2013)
We've already had books by Crosby and Young (get a move on Stills!) so in many ways 'Wild Tales' ought to be redundant. Add in the fact that Graham barely mentions his first band The Hollies (even though there's never been an autobiography from a member of the 1960's third best selling singles band before - or even a biography, frustratingly) and in many ways 'Wild Tales' is a lost opportunity. But Graham's book is arguably the best read of the three, dealing fairly but firmly with all the characters who fade in and out of the book and with a memory for detail that Neil doesn't seem to want to remember and - a decade of drugs hell later - David can't. There are lots of gems strewn across this readable book, from spot-on caricatures of CS and Y (the three members' response to Graham's manuscript, quoted in the last paragraph, speaks volumes - especially Young's comment 'what a load of &*%!') to memories of individual songs (I've always wondered what the poetical 'Broken Bird' from 'Whistling Down The Wire' was all about - now I know it's a model of a bird Graham's then-girlfriend, now-wife Susan was working on when he 'surprised' here in a scene out of 'Ghost' and shouted 'I love you!' , causing her to accidentally break the head off the bird she was sculpting). Caught somewhere between Crosby's wonderful but simplistic book (where periods of his life are either all-good or all-bad) and Young's (which was characteristically 'him', but in a rambling, uninformative way), 'Wild Tales' manages to re-tell familiar stories with an easily recognisable voice. The book isn't perfect (there's less about Nash's Salford poverty-stricken background than I expected) and some albums get ridiculously short shrift (1994's return to form 'After The Storm' doesn't even warrant a mention), but Nash's picture of a trio who went from having everything to effectively nothing in 40 years is moving indeed (the picture of Crosby's descent and Nash's helplessness is well handled and if anything even more harrowing than David's own take on it in his own book). Best of all, central to the book is the theme that we've been harking about on this website for some time now: the brave decision Graham took to leave his band, his wife, his best friend and the country of his birth to work with two maniacs he was already banging heads with (thankfully Graham seems to feel he made the right decision, although given the many tales of bust-ups over the years the reader might not be so sure). All in all an illuminating read that might suffer from coming after two other band members have had their stories told but actually trumps the pair of them. 7/10

“The Visual Documentary” (Johnny Rogan, Omnibus, 1996)

I know from experience how hard it can be getting to grips with the CSN/Y story in print form – no sooner are the four men back together than they’ve split up again. This diary of what the band were up to on any particular given day is the perfect way round that problem, with each gig, record release and major life event (and boy are there lots of those!) chronicled with remarkable meticulousness and dedication. Many ‘diary’ type books are dry lists of theatres and sessions, but where this book really excels itself is the comments attached to each record and most gigs, spot-on accounts of where CSNY are at a particular moment, making Crosby’s rapid decline in the 1980s (‘I reckon I’ve got about five years left’ he says at one point to a startled Rogan) and rise again in the 90s the very powerful outline to a fascinating story. Deeply in love with the band, Rogan’s not swept up in the fairytale so much he doesn’t chastise the quartet from time to time, speaking his mind about the occasional less than stellar solo album or chaotic concert. The links between CSN and Y come across loud and strong, too, from the lowest points (‘Stephen if you hit that man in the crowd I’ll never forgive you!’ pleads Nash during one doomed gig) to the highest (‘some of his music just blew my mind!’ says Nash of Stills later). Above all, though, what comes across is their bravery: no one else in rock and roll attacked politicians the way this band did, especially in the 70s and after reading the Lennon books you have to wonder if Nixon tailed the wrong musicians; for a brief short shining moment there it was CSNY who were the real danger to the administration and the focal point for a disenfranchised generation after something better (its a shame the book ends in 1994, before the ‘Freedom Of Speech’ tour criticising Bush Jnr!) The photographs, some from private collections and most of them unseen, are superb, from the front cover (intended for the aborted ‘Human Highway’ album in 1974) down. 9/10.     

“The Complete Guide To The Music Of...” (Johnny Rogan, Omnibus, 1998)

Yet another of those handy CD-sized album reviews by Omnibus, this book is one of the best in the series, simply because CSNY’s stories haven’t been told as many times The Beatles and The Stones’, etc, have. The way through various solo, Crosby-Nash, CSN, CSNY, Manassas and even for a time Stills-Nash recording projects is a real mine for the uninitiated but Rogan knows his stuff and his affection for the band shines through. Some of the reviews are a bit dismissive for my taste (‘Live It Up’ and ‘After The Storm’ are overlooked gems in the CSN catalogue, though even I haven’t got a good word to say about ‘American Dream’), but for the most part Rogan’s opinions are spot-on, praising the quartet for reaching peaks like no other but not afraid to castigate them for giving less than their best. The pictures are excellent throughout, both the familiar format of these books sensibly opting for full page pictures of the album covers and the ones scattered throughout the book. An excellent bargain for money when it first came out and still your first essential paperback purchase if you’ve just become a CSN/Y fan (note: due to the publishing date this book is now A) hard to find – selling in less numbers than the Beatles and Stones books, etc, again- and B) it doesn’t cover more recent albums like ‘Looking Forward’ ‘Crosby*Nash’ or ‘Man Alive’). 8/10.     

“Stand and Be Counted” (David Crosby and David Bender, Harper Collins, 2000)

Not so much a CSN book as Crosby’s tribute to all the artists he sees as the ‘true’ heroes of the music business (the ones who dare to stand up and speak against what they see as wrongdoing, even if it gets them thrown in prison, beaten up or ex-communicated). Naturally there’s some CSN tales in there too (Crosby and Nash in particular must have played benefits to ordinary concerts at a ratio of 10:1 during the 70s for every cause and crusade going), but possibly not enough for people only interested in that aspect of the book to pick it up. It has to be said, too, that there are other books around that do this job better: any biography of Pete Seeger, Joan Baez or Bob Dylan will give you a much better idea of the us-against-them vibe than this book. That said, I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that made such a good case for why the 60s 70s and 80s turned out the way they did (turning the small pockets of rebellion in the 50s into total anarchy and belief in a younger, newer way of life by 1967 that then splintered back into pockets of resistance) and Crosby’s tales of name-dropping and rumour-recycling is never less than entertaining and wonderfully informal, as if we’re chatting to the Croz at some dinner function. It’s far from perfect (there’s less about the Airplane than I’d hoped, despite being Cros’ friends and the politically most outspoken band outside CSN and less Billy Bragg in the 80s section than you’d expect) but someone had to write this book and everyone ought to read it. While not the neutral figure the book probably needed, it’s still a testament to Crosby that he felt the causes of racial and economic equality and world peace to be worth risking his career for. The last few years have seen Crosby and Nash being pretty much the only established musical acts to come out in favour of the Wall Street protestors, visiting them at their site; perhaps a follow-up edition is due? 6/10.

“Four Way Street” (ed. Dave Zimmer, Da Capo, 2004)

Of all the AAA bands, only John Lennon could rival any of CSNY for erudition and verbosity. Therefore a book collecting their best interviews was inevitable and ‘4 Way Street’ is a largely enjoyable and informative read, managing the difficult task of giving equal space to each of the four and not allowing the many fall-outs between the quartet to become one-sided. Along the way we get to see all four members grow before our eyes: for example Crosby starts off in 1970 as the hippie who has everything promoting his way of life in the hope that others will follow; by the mid-80s his drug intake has cost him dear (his ‘Confessions Of A Coke Addict’ for ‘People’ magazine should be handed out in schools to put people off hard drugs for life) and by 2002 with a new liver, a new son and an old son back into his life (James Raymond, given up for adoption just before The Byrds found fame) the future never seemed brighter. Stills, too, is wonderfully open to the point of vulnerability, airing his mistakes and faults time and time again before pledging to do better – his 1975 interview ‘Stephen Stills Grows Up’ is an especially illuminating read. Nash, meanwhile, spent his career from the earliest Hollies days turning interviews into an art form and he’s at his best across this book, attacking those who need it and praising those who deserve it and managing the tricky art of being candid and being forgiving all at the same time. Young, meanwhile, is predictably a shadowy figure, weaving his story in and out of the text, pledging his allegiance one minute and distancing himself the next. The interviews where all three or four men are in one room are slightly less impressive (depending on the period all four are either in tune enough to say the same thing or arguing their way through the whole conversation!), but nearly every interview in this book is a good one and a delight to have all in one place. The one downside with this book is that you need to know the overall story already to follow the intricate twists and turns, but if you’re a big CSNY fan who knows their stuff then this book is a must for your bookshelf. 8/10.

From a later edition of News, Views and Music: " Sweet Judy Blue Eyes - My Life In Music " (Judy Collins, Book, 2011)
Folk singer Judy Collins isn't an AAA member, so the appearance of her autobiography on the list might be a puzzle to you. The title is a clue though - she's named the book not after one of her songs but after one of Stephen Stills' best known works, inspired for and named after Judy. In fact Judy spends more time talking about Stills' career than she does her own (with cameos for Crosby, Nash and Young) and this book is in many ways a 'love note' written in return for that song (sent through the publishing industry instead of the post, as it were). The pair's love-hate relationship is at the heart of this book, although it was probably with a sigh of relief that Stills read the proof and found out she's actually been very kind about the whole thing (apologising for her behaviour more times than Richard Nixon after Watergate, although to be fair the problems were probably on both sides), regretting that the pair never got it together despite their 'special' relationship (although she doesn't mention the bit about running off with another musician without telling him in 1970, unknowingly contributing to the first CSNY breakup in one stroke). Stills comes across as a sympathetic soul, in fact, always there at the end of a phoneline when Judy needs him - which isn't a view of their hero most CSN books have given!; it's certainly interesting after so many years of hearing just Stills tell his side of his story to know that she, too, felt they had 'connected' on some higher plain than other mere mortals, calling him the only person she really trusted to reveal her 'inner' self. The book was published not long after Stills' 'Just Roll Tape' from 1968 was discovered and released -taped late at night after a session Stephen worked on with Judy - and her take on those mainly unfinished Stills songs are fascinating (as we often suspected, many of them were indeed written about her). Sadly Collins is less interesting talking about her own interesting career (I'd have been very annoyed with this book if I hadn't got such an interest in Stills) and doesn't talk about many of her records at all (or her appearances on The Muppet Show!) The photographs are great though!


“Mark Knopfler: The Unauthorised Biography” (Myles Palmer, Sidgwick and Jackson, 1993)

The one big thing that strikes you about this book is that it tries to hard to make the Dire Straits guitarist, singer and composer into a superstar at the very time when the man himself was trying to distance himself from the whole thing. Unbeknown to the author Knopfler is busy creating the Notting Hillbillies in this period (the one supergroup that tried to bury their career rather than proclaim it from the rooftops) and ending Dire Straits because it got just too big. Without Knopfler or indeed many of the band’s input this book must have been a pain to write and given the circumstances its impressively written and researched, although inevitably with such little input from anybody involved its far from definitive. The best parts of the book are the early sequences, with Knopfler a failed music journalist (his first career choice) and reluctantly teaching in a school to make ends meet, while playing pubs and clubs at the weekends and watching Dire Straits slowly take shape (his big break came at the age of 29, when most musicians are retired or waiting for a comeback). There’s less on the music than I’d have liked but lots of character and Palmer gets under Knopfler’s skin well I think – even though the book tries its best to show what a great talent Knopfler is at a time when the guitarist started hiding his own under a bushel. 6/10.


“Living With The Dead” (Rock Scully and David Dalton, Little and Brown, 1995)

A bit harsher than you’d expect, given the Dead’s mellow vibes, this book by the Dead’s road manager rattles more than a few skeletons in the Dead closet and has been dismissed by both band and a fair number of fans as being in bad taste. Of course, compared to say the Goldman book on ‘Lennon’ this book is still nice and polite, even when burying the hatchet into someone, but do be warned that Scully has something of an axe to grind over his dismissal from the band. If you can get over that then parts of this book are fascinating, with Scully writing from first-hand evidence of what it was like on that long strange trip for 20-odd years (‘tiring’ seems to be the word!) Not as deep and detailed as some of the books on this list, this book expects you to know most of the Dead’s story already – but if you do then this a very readable and opinionated book that deserves to come back into the Dead family and out of the cold. It’s especially revealing around the Haight Ashbury years when the Dead all lived in one big house – with all the musical brilliance and occasional petty rows that living altogether in one confined space brings. 6/10.

“Jerry Garcia: An American Life” (Blair Jackson, Viking, 1999)

Released some four years after Garcia’s death, this lovingly researched book does a good job at trying to distil the essence that made Garcia different from just about every other human being to walk the planet. Most biogs feature chapters on groupies and money-hoarding, but Jerry wasn’t interested in much apart from music (and ice cream). That’s a bit of an obstacle for the book, as concerts and records blend into each other, with only the non-confrontational stand off between Jerry’s two wives offering any kind of tension. Still, if you’re a fan already it doesn’t matter one bit that Jerry’s just too nice for this sort of a book and there are a few titbits that allow us to understand our fallen comrade better than ever before (the drowning of his elder brother with Jerry watching helplessly is an image that haunts you long after the book has finished; also it’s nice to hear a biography talking about the ‘wasteland years’ when Jerry was a homeless guitar player kicked out of the air force sleeping on friend’s couches, most books just skip to the part where their man – or woman – is superhuman). Lovingly researched and at its best handling Garcia’s solo career, with interviews from many of his friends and key players in his many bands, there’s still a bit of a hole where the Grateful Dead should be. Only Donna Godchaux talks in ‘new’ interviews and she was only there firsthand between 1973 and 79 (alas lyricist Bob Hunter, perhaps the person closest to Jerry, isn’t there either). Jackson does well talking about the actual music, however, getting to grips with the intricacies of Dead song lyrics with aplomb. This book really comes into its own with Garcia’s death, however: the tributes from friends and family at the memorial, reproduced here nearly in full, will bring a tear to your eye (especially Hunter’s last eulogy). Great in parts, it’s probably best if you read this book in tandem with another one (‘Illustrated Trip’ or ‘Long Strange Trip’) if its specifically the Dead story you’re after. 7/10.

“What A Long Strange Trip: The Stories Behind Every Song” (Stephen Peters, Carlton, 1999)

I love story-song books and this is one of the best around, thanks both to Stephen Peters’ unstinting research and Jerry Garcia and Bob Hunter’s writing partnership coming up with so many hints and fragments for writers like this to jump on. Practically every Dead album has a sense of history unfolding, with tales of Victoriana, the Wild West or simply the band’s childhood mixed in with biblical and ancient greek references calling out for the properly scholarly approach to make sen of it all. Of course there is nit-picking to be done; like so many of these books I hate the way the cover songs are dismissed without the care and attention of the group originals and the fact that we only get the first two solo Dead releases and not the many dozens of others suggests either the author ran out of steam or found too much to write about elsewhere in the book. Still, those points aside, this is an excellent book packed with many fine photographs and some mighty fine essays at the start of each album review. The last chapter, dedicated to Dead songs only aired once or twice in concert and that never made it to album, is especially compelling, as is the author’s attempt on working out what might have ended up on the Dead’s last album had Garcia not died during the early sessions. The list of the top 100 Dead covers is endlessly fascinating too – no prizes for guessing ‘Me and My Uncle’ is the most played song, but who’d have guessed that the band also did AAA favourites ‘Rain’ ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ and ‘Baba O’Riley’! A Deadhead’s delight. 8/10.  

“A Long Strange Trip” (Dennis McNally, Bantam Press, 2002)

You can tell the Dead story in lots of ways: some of the books on this list tell it with pictures, some with quotes, but this is the definitive straightforward biography of the band’s long strange trip. The problem with writing a book like this first of all: there’s no structure to the Dead at all, so their story veers from one extreme to another, from psychedelia to country-rock to light modern jazz to a sort of hybrid of metal and pop by the end. Trying to make sense of that is like trying to undo the Gregorian slipknot that gets you into Franklin’s Tower – chances are there isn’t any sense to it all and that the whole trip just kind of ‘happened’ that way. There is, frankly, too much detail in this book when you’re trying to navigate your way through what’s already quite a muddled and confusing journey. That said, if there is a way to tell a story you could do worse than this book’s use of copious quotes from the band and friends, many of which were either done especially for the book are so obscure even the biggest Deadheads won’t know a lot of them. The illustrations are lovely too, mainly featuring the band at play rather than work, including Jerry Garcia teaching drummer Micky Hart’s son Taro to play guitar and the band after their ‘drug bust’ at the American Hall Of Justice in 1969. 6/10.

“The Illustrated Trip” (no author listed, Dorling Kindersly, 2003)

Like many a Dorling Kindersly work, this is a gorgeously illustrated and designed book that you can happily stare at for days, though there’s little here you won’t have learnt already despite the fact that the book runs to nearly 500 pages. The plus points to this book are the use of a timeline for the main text, with concert dates, set lists, outside activities and some pretty definitive synopsis of songs all leading away from the main text. Along the way there are some real gems, such as the ‘Grateful Grandma’ chair drummer Micky Hart designed so he could bring his grandma out on the road (page 216), just exactly which member of the Dead played on which track from AAA classic album ‘Blows Against The Empire’ by Jefferson Starship and friends (page 124) and potted biogs about each band member, including the little known Brent Mydland (page 380). In between there’s lots of filler, pictures of Deadheads enjoying themselves that honestly could have been taken anytime between 1965 and 95 plus blurry shots of the band onstage that don’t really tell you a lot. Less successful still is the ‘chapter headings’ every few dozen pages or so, telling the band’s story through the eyes of a different member: worthy as it is to give us, say, Bill Kreutzmann’s little heard story, the Dead were a true bona fide band not a bunch of individuals and their stories don’t really differ too much. Still, when this book is good its very very good and the early years, especially, are a real treasure trove for us fans to pore over. What a long strange trip it was and how delightful it is to have it covered properly for those of us too young to be there. 8/10.

From a later edition of News, Views and Music "Searching For The Sound: My Life With The Grateful Dead" (Phil Lesh, Book, 2006)
We Deadheads waited a long time for one of the actual band to tell their story and the fact that it was the no-holds-barred Phil Lesh talking surely meant we were in for a treat. After all, this is the same Lesh who sent engineers and producers alike quaking under their chairs during the band's 60s heyday and who was the only band member to have had a big row, splitting off on his own (albeit long after Jerry Garcia's death when the others were still playing as 'The Other Ones'). However, the years have seen Lesh mellow - this book is more a reflection on several years that seem wonderful in hindsight, working with wonderful people and searching for an elusive sound that was wonderful on the good days - and not on the others. Understandably, Lesh's near-death from hepatitis (he was waiting for a liver transplant the same year as David Crosby) has made him slow down and see the world with more patience than his younger self ever had. Unfortunately that means this book doesn't really have much more to add that you can't get from any other good Dead biography - indeed Lesh's memory is occasionally sketchy, so he doesn't actually remember the music as well as many of the Dead writers. Still, this isn't a bad book and it's nice to hear some of the stories of the band working together that haven't been heard before - it's just not the honest warts-and-all revelation that fans were perhaps hoping for.


“Somebody To Love?” (Grace Slick and Andrea Cagan, Time Warner, 1998)

The title of this book is, surely, here because of the publisher’s need to quote a famous name: Grace Slick has always been so fiercely independent she doesn’t need anyone, a trait that goes back to her earliest childhood days. Her book is as warm and witty as you’d expect from Grace’s in concert comments and there’s a real liveliness to this book that makes it sound spontaneous, not worked on for years poring over every word. Some of the detail is fascinating too: the parallels between Grace and Janis Joplin go back even further than we expected, with both girls feeling like outsiders and anxious to prove their worth through power rather than beauty (the fact that Grace was a beauty until puberty and winner of a few prettiest baby competitions is a surprising detail too). Fiercely proud of her counter-culture achievements and attacks on authority figures, this book rather talks up all the bits other books hide (being rude to policemen, mainly, including a hilarious story where she’s arrested for ‘dangerous driving’ despite being nowhere near a car – that’s what being sarcastic to thick police officers can do for you!) She’s also frank about sex, from an earlier age than most people, which caused more than a few heads to turn on publication (she’s still got the power to shock – I well remember the look on my parent’s face after buying this book for me aged 13 and flicking through it!) Grace’s proudness at being a part of the sixties youth revolution shines through loud and clear too – she’s not as frustrated at the lack of changes as David Crosby and not as cynical as Keith Richards, simply proud to have done her little bit to make things better (he chapter on how her friends and her band crossed list after list of subjects that had previously been taboo is a delight to read!) She’s also open about her alcohol abuse in the 80s and the failure of her relationships with the Airplane’s Paul Kantner and Starship lighting man Skip Johnson (something that made for an interesting atmosphere when she and Kantner still worked together under the latter’s spotlights!) Where this book falls down is, surprisingly, anything to do with the Airplane itself: the six-headed hydra is still as unwieldy and shadowy at the end as the beginning, despite Grace’s claims to have slept with everyone in the band except frontman Marty (who really needs to write his own book – he’s got a great story to tell!) She’s also reticent to tell us about her marriage to first husband Darby Slick, composer of ‘Somebody To Love’ and what his band The Great Society thought when Grace jumped ship (and husbands) to fly with the Jeffersons. A kind of goodbye to the rock and roll world (Grace has kept her word and not appeared on stage since the late 80s, thinking herself ‘too old’ for a rock and roll stage), this book is a poignant testament to a different time (when people were doing things that hadn’t got a name yet) and despite a few gaps its still a wonderfully exuberant, revealing read. Grace’s paintings in the middle are fab too, with drawings of lost friends like Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. 8/10. 


“Love, Janis” (Laura Joplin, Bloomsbury, 1992)

We fans have heard Janis talk so much about her problems with her family and her desire to escape to a less restricted way of life where she could sing and be who she wanted to be that its often easy to forget her family’s feelings when she left them behind. This book, written by Janis’ younger sister, is a fascinating chance to get to know a character like Janis better by looking at the personality she left behind. For most of her childhood, it seems, Janis was like everyone else in the rather stuffy town of Port Arthur in the 1940s and 50s. Her sudden rebellious streak caused Janis to be first a runaway and then a drug addict, each time with Janis coming home with her tail between her legs promising to behave now and fit in before finally making it the third time with Big Brother and the Holding Company (her very cynical letter after the audition, reprinted on the back cover, speaks volumes about Janis’ low expectations: ‘I’m not at all sold on becoming the poor man’s Cher’ ‘I’m sure you’re both convinced my self-destructive streak has won out again but I’m really trying’ ‘I’m safe, well fed and so far nothing has been stolen...’). How horrendous it must have been for the family, especially for Laura Joplin, the junior sister by six years who looked up to anis in awe long before the world’s music business did the same. You can see the problems a mile away, however: the group of kids that suddenly decide they don’t want anis around because she’s ‘ugly’, the nice sweet boyfriends totally out of their depth dealing with Janis’ determination not to be a housewife, the bitter hatred Janis’ record collection of blues singers seems to cause amongst her neighbours. Something was always going to happen, but for a minute there halfway through the book you think its inevitably going to be something bad; both the reader and the family sigh a breath of relief when the breakthrough comes unexpectedly. Told warmly through the eyes of Janis’ still grieving sister and full of the most remarkable detailed letters sent by Janis in exile, knowing her work is bringing love to millions but upsetting her family so, this is a remarkable book in that it completely twists your idea of what Joplin was like. More fragile and a lot more caring than her image ever was, the key moment in the book is when a now successful Janis goes to a school reunion mere months before she dies, in love with the idea of dumping 10 years of hurt by going up to her bullies and former friends and saying ‘see, I told you I could do something!’ – and then being shunned by them coldly one last time. A book not just about Janis but why the 60s in general just had to happen – and the people of the older generations who simply got left behind. 8/10.


“X Ray – An Unauthorised Autobiography” (Ray Davies, Overlook Press, 1994)

No one except Ray Davies could have written this book. The ‘Raymond Douglas  Davies’ in this supposed autobiography actually talks to us from the future and he’s an angry and bitter old age pensioner forced by the ‘corporation’ to skulk in the shadows, the last great survivor from a 20th century that’s been gradually pulled apart in the name of conformity. In fact he’s not even the central character, with Ray’s alter ego, a young nervy reporter sent to interview his great idol the main player in the book and clearly based on the early 60s Ray, soaking up the sights and sounds around him like a sponge. If you’ve ever read any Alasdair Gray books (and if you haven’t, you should) then this is what they’re like: absolutely bonkers and yet with a perfect internal logic that makes you wonder why you ever bothered reading books the ‘proper’ way. It’s also a great device for enabling Ray to talk about the bits of the story he remembers best, without having to ‘fill in the gaps’ and do some homework, although the technique is as frustrating as its enjoyable, with the grumpy elderly Ray often snidely telling us he’s going for a lie down just as the story’s getting interesting. Now, normally when we look at books we look at how fair the author had been to those around him: that’s a bit unfair on ‘X Ray’ (great title by the way!) which might have the odd sniping comment at the Kinks managers or band members but saves its biggest venom for Ray himself, pictured as a grumpy, nasty, senile old man (although in typical Kinks style this ‘loser’ of a character is decidedly the ‘winner’ by the end of the book). The best part of this work was the shows that went with them, with Ray singing select parts of his back catalogue acoustically stripped bare for the first time and reading extracts from this book (it came out as a CD called ‘Storyteller’, although the shows themselves were much longer and emotional than the diluted souvenir of them). This ‘unauthorised autobiography’ is as imaginative, colourful and as downright bonkers as you’d expect a book by Ray Davies to be and on its own right its a masterpiece of the genre, playing around with the concept of the memoir in the same way he re-invented the way to make rock albums. The only trouble is that if you’re a casual fan looking for some facts and some insight rather than casual brilliant literary genius you’re going to get very confused indeed and I have no way of knowing which bits of the book (or all of it) are true and which bits (or all of it) is simply pulling my leg! 8/10.  

“Kink” (Dave Davies, BoxTree, 1996)

By contrast Dave’ book is like the guitarist: forthright, straightforward and as honest as they come, although this book ends up in its second half talking about astral projection and alien visitations. It speaks volumes about the state of the Kinks in the 90s that the two brothers could write their two books without the other even knowing – and that they’d end up so many million miles apart from each other. Less adventurous than Ray’s work, ‘Kink’ is nonetheless an absolutely riveting piece of writing, with Dave’s passionate voice coming over loud and clear and making the (largely unknown) stories in this book come over so strong you’d swear many of them we’re your experiences. Yes Dave spends perhaps a bit too much of the book trying to put the record right and spitting flames of fury at his brother for ‘blocking’ him just at the point when they’re beginning to get on, but then this isn’t just a bandmate Dave’s discussing here, it’s his brother and his affection both for Ray and the other Kinks of all eras comes across too. Along the way we get so much more detail than we ever expected, from the fact that Dave had something of a nervous breakdown in both the 60s (which is why his long awaited solo album didn’t show up until 1977) and the 80s (when only alien contact in 1982 saved his life – many fans have been unkind about this subject but I have to admit I’m a fellow believer and this chapter about aliens watching our every move and storing our actions on computers in some distant space station, especially the bits about music being the only thing that can break up negative energy, makes perfect sense to life as I understand it). We also get one of the most moving parts of any book I’ve ever read as, pre-Kinks, Dave falls head over heels in love and accidentally gets his girlfriend pregnant while both are at school and under-age; their attempts to over-ride both parent’s decisions to end all contact between the two and find each other again are moving indeed and makes one hell of a lot more sense of Kinks albums ‘Preservation’ and ‘Schoolboys In Disgrace’. Through it all Dave is honest about his own short-comings too, turning from frustrated angry teenage rebel to clothes-mad fashion icon and the kindly family fan still with a fiery temper. It’s a pleasure to be in his company for the journey and a great shame there hasn’t been a follow-up volume yet (I’d love to have heard Dave’s comments on 9/11, his stroke, his excellent under-rated album ‘Bug’ and the rumours that aliens are controlling us from the white house). All Kinks fans should read this book, a rare autobiography in that it allows us to understand its author so much better. 9/10.     

“Waterloo Sunset” (Ray Davies, Penguin, 1997)

This follow-up piece of fiction finds Ray trying to become a short story writer, albeit with copious references to his songs so that fans buy the book. Now Ray Davies, more than anyone, believed the characters in his songs were tangible and real so it makes sense that he should flesh out their stories and give us, for example, the mixed up rock and roll obsessed kid of ‘Rock and Roll Fantasy’ writ large or the Terry and Julie love affair of ‘Waterloo Sunset’. The main trouble with this book is that these characters’ lives have been ruminated on by fans already, sometimes for 30 years before this book’s release, and inevitably Ray doesn’t see their lives the way we do, which makes for calamitous reading if you, like me, feel you are the kid in ‘Rock and Roll Fantasy’ (who in the most memorable moment in the book tries to commit suicide by taking the radio in with him into the bath – only the playing of the new Kinks song causes him to stop and think and saves his life). Frankly, too, without the heart-stirring melodies to go with them we don’t get the same emotional connection to these characters we got from the songs anyway (I’ll say it again, music is the best art form because it can deliver a one-two punch of music and lyrics that makes other art forms seem one-dimensional). Still, this book is never less than entertaining and its a welcome chance to take a tumble through Ray Davies’ topsy turvy mind, as well as being proof that for Ray his songs are living breathing objects that need to be nurtured, not just a bunch of thrown together chords that got lucky. Every Kinks fan should read this book once, though – and for me this book is rather special as I used it during a creative writing course where I had to turn a book into a living breathing film script (seeing as this work had already existed as a song I thought a third media transformation might work; it didn’t by and large, but that’s more my fault than Ray’s). 6/10.

“You Really Got Me: An Illustrated World Discography” (Doug Hinman, Rumford, 1994)

An admirably pain-stakingly researched book, this is nothing less than a complete guide to every release of The Kinks up to 1994 – and I mean everything, from EPs issued in Australia to DJ promo LPs of which only a small handful were made to the fact that certain mixes of songs on certain compilation albums run a few seconds shorter or longer. There’s so much detail even I can’t take it all in and the row upon row of black-and-white printed pages of (almost) the same picture with slightly different lettering is taking things way too far (its a bit like playing ‘spot the difference’ without an answer sheet!) That said I love some of the witty comments Hinman makes from time to time, especially in his chapters dealing with Ray and Dave Davies’ productions for other artists, records associated with The Kinks that don’t feature them at all and the chapter on Kinks releases that might have been (and nearly were). I hoped for years Hinman would write a full book where he could let his writing go without having to worry about listing catalogue numbers and every single appearance of a Kinks track on a various artist compilation – thankfully he did in 2004 (see below!) The late Kinks bassist Pete Quaife submitted a witty caricature of Hinman for the inner page, lost in his own world with his headphones on, something that doesn’t surprise you after seeing such a high level of dedication where Hinman must have gone to sleep with matrix numbers before his eyes every night! Impressive, though I can’t say I’ve used the information in it very much or used it for ‘easy reading’ as its simply too narrow viewed a book to come off the shelf very often. 6/10.

“The Kinks” (Colin Shearman, Virgin Modern Icons, 1997)

So brief it barely manages to contain the basics, this thin hardback book is most fun for the fact that A) It exists at all (it’s nice to see The Kinks actually listed as ‘icons’ for once, right up there with the Beatles and Stones) and B) having fun arguing with over the star rating for singles and albums at the back of the book (personally I’d take Preservation and A Soap Opera over Muswell Hillbillies anyday and rate ‘Arthur’ and ‘Face To Face’ as the band’s crowning achievements over ‘Something Else’ and ‘Village Green’, but then that’s fans and their opinions for you; I’ve never met two Kinks fans who think the same way yet). Some of the quotes from the Davies brothers are quite, well, quotable too and there’s a nice bunch of photographs, even if the huge size of the text gets a bit wearing after a bit. I bought my copy in a book sale for £1.50 and I’m dead chuffed with it for that price – you might not think the same if you’ve just spent £8 new on it though. 4/10.

“The Complete Guide To The Music Of...” (Johnny Rogan, Omnibus, 1998)

Yet another pocket-sized phenomenon from Omnibus, with the whole 30 years scattered history of The Kinks covered in one handy CD-sized guide. With more albums to cover than most, there’s no room for lengthy synopsis, although like its companion volumes this book still manages to tell a pretty complete story. Like most fans Rogan doesn’t like the later Kinks albums much and tells us so, over and over again, and unusually for these volumes he’s decided to place the non-albums Kinks songs into a chapter at the beginning, which is actually stranger than you might think, meaning we have to learn the backgrounds for ‘Lola’ and ‘Apeman’ before tackling the songs from the first album. Still, when its good this book is very very good and as with his other books on this list Rogan is a fair writer who gives equal space and praise to both Ray and Dave and you can tell he’s done his homework well. 7/10.  

“All Day And All Of The Night” (Doug Hinman, Backbeat, 2004)

The follow-up to the detailed discography ‘You Really Got Me’, this is the Doug Hinman book I’d been waiting for, a detailed diary of every year of Kinkdom told with the author’s customary thoroughness but much more personal opinion this time around. Every recording session, concert, TV and radio appearance and personal event in the lives of the Davies brothers are told and the story is gripping, with so many pieces of bad luck and self-sabotage getting in the way every time The Kinks have carefully, quietly worked their way to the top of the charts again. The Kinks are a band that inspire a lifetime’s devotion like no other and Hinman does ‘his’ band proud here, making even the lesser known eras and albums come to life. The short summations of each year’s highs and lows are spot on too, making this an excellent guide whether you know the whole story backwards or only parts of it without detail. The title, too, is just perfect: the musical follow-up to ‘You Really Got Me’, it really does appear to chronicle ‘All Day And All Of The Night’. The one downside is that the lovely picture sleeves and Pete Quaife drawings from the first book have been replaced by photographs and only the occasional ones at that  - the album artwork for each album wouldn’t have gone amiss. That said, there’s no faulting the text in this work which is as good as it gets for understanding the ins and outs of the band’s career and somehow managing to give equal space and balance to Ray and Dave (not an easy task!) 9/10.


“Fog On The Tyne: The Official History Of Lindisfarne” (Dave Ian Hill, Northdown Publishing, 1998)

A marvellous book about a band that simply don’t get enough attention paid to them, this marvellous book came out just before the band called it a day in 2003 and there’s a slightly funeralaic air to it for all the band’s talk of optimism for the future in the last chapter. The remaining members all talk in depth and detail to Hill about their time in the band and although the book fudges the loss of leading members Si Cowe and Ray Jackson in the 90s its highly revealing and believable when it comes to the split in 1972 just three years into the band’s run. Alan Hull’s ghost hangs heavy on the book, naturally, and its a great shame he wasn’t alive to take part as however many memories the band come up with you sense there’s many more wicked tales Hully could have come up with. Still, Rod Clements in particular has a lot of wonderful memories and his comments about his time in both Lindisfarne and fellow AAA spin-off Jack The Lad are as fascinating and gentlemanly as you’d expect. The author has also done his homework, tracing the unusual tale of the songwriter in need of a band and the band in need of a songwriter with both halves of Lindisfarne’ early career loving pictured. Even the unfairly forgotten reunion period with the original band, 1978-89 is well represented with the tales behind ‘Back and Fourth’ ‘The News’ and ‘Sleepless Nights’ all making for good stories. There’s a lot more to Lindisfarne than just ‘Fog On The Tyne’ and ‘Meet Me On The Corner’ – how wonderful that Lindisfarne got a biographer who realised this too and didn’t just take the easy option of repeating what’s been said before. All this love and care, together with a band open in their conversations and their archives (the sheer amount of unseen photographs will take your breath away!) make this band history one of the very best books on the list. 9/10.   


“I Don’t Want To Fight” (Lulu, Time Warner, 2002)

Lulu’s autobiography is cleverly titled – like the title of perhaps her best known composition (as opposed to cover) Lulu’s gone through her life trying to please people and doesn’t thrive on the tension and aggression of so many 60s superstars. Lulu often berates herself for her actions in the book but is too kind to speak out against anyone else, making it rather top-heavy and personal. That’s an admirable quality that makes Lulu such a lovable person, but it does mean her autobiography isn’t the killer tell-all tale some might be hoping for and she risks coming out of it badly compared to those around her. It’s also mildly frustrating in the way that Lulu proudly tells us all that her fellow AAA stars like Paul McCartney and Pete Townshend praised her raw R and B voice and called her ‘one of us’ – only to find in the next chapter she’s doing Eurovision or a poppy TV series or a Vaudeville routine in her act. But then Lulu was awfully young when she hit the big time (15) and her early chapters struggling to take in both her early fame and adjusting to the follow-up flops while away from home in Glasgow and in the big city of London are the most moving of the book. Thankfully, despite the troubled marriages to Maurice Gibb and John Frieda, she comes through the book comparatively unscathed, ending it in the best place her career had been since 1964, as a respected writer as well as being respected as the little girl with the huge voice. Above all, Lulu is a survivor and she’s survived more than most from quite an early age – though at times you might not know it as the ‘juicy bits’ about her marriages, her sometimes abusive family and the split with her manager after 20-odd years find Lulu attacking herself more than those around her. It’s a well written book, though and really does sound like Lulu (unlike some celebrity-written books that the ‘author’ hasn’t even read!) and it deserved to do better, with Lulu a key fly-on-the-wall at many key moments of the 1960s, not least her own recordings of ‘Shout!’ and ‘To Sir With Love’ et al. 7/10.


“Annual 1968” (no author listed, Century 21, 1968)

Almost as fun as the TV series itself, this is the fab foursome in various comic strip antics in the vein of the Beatles carton series (but a little more lifelike) and some sumptuous colour photographs and activities. There were three Monkees annuals produced between 1967 and 69 but sadly I only own one (the 1969 annual is ridiculously rare nowadays!) Like most annuals the book was written by anonymous staff writers (though one does get his picture onto the ‘Wanted’ page of the spoof newspaper column on page 30!), but whoever they were they really ‘got’ the Monkees’ humour, with the band penniless ending up in trouble despite their best attempts to have a quiet life and their irreverent, pun-loving, postmodern humour to the fore. The artists have good likenesses of the four, too, apart from Davy’s profile and Micky’s hair. The artists are better than any of the scripts for the second season (showing while this book went on sale), with the foursome mistakenly entering a drag race, joining up into the army (!), Davy falling for a navy captain’s daughter, building a new pad (and finding their old one has been hired by the Beatles and Maharishi!), being visited by aliens, Peter Tork being confused for legendary bandit El Torko and best of all a spoof on ‘Help!’ where instead of Ringo’s ring being desired by an African tribe its Mike’s wool hat! The written pieces are fab too including a question and answers section (‘How can I  make the girl I love look my way? Try throwing things at her!’), a puzzle page that’s impossible top finish and four double page spoof ‘scrapbooks’ dedicated to each Monkee, full of witty Monkee humour. There’s just one thing separating this wonderful annual from the series and that’s the lack of music or any Monkees-styled romps! If the writers for the TV series weren’t worried they should have been! By the way page 91 is missing from all editions because, and I quote, ‘Peter Tork wrapped his fish and chips up in it!’ Why don’t we have annuals like this any more?  9/10.

“I’m A Believer” (Micky Dolenz and Mark Bego, Cooper Square Press, 1993)

A surprisingly grumpy and subdued book from the most energetic and eccentric of the ‘other’ fab four, you can’t help but feel that Micky only agreed to this project against his better judgement and by the end wishes he hadn’t bothered. The book starts ominously with the message from Micky that ‘I don’t believe any of this is really very important in the grand scheme of things...After you read this book put it on the shelf. Turn off the TV, turn off the CD player and do something for your family’. There’s also a few ‘experiments’ going on in this book, which means that key scenes are related as ‘film scripts’ in the third person, complete with scene descriptions (The four Monkees and some various and sundry assistants are gathered in the office...Mike is reading a copy of ‘Car and Driver’, Davy is doing his nails, Micky is gazing out the window and Peter is pacing around like a caged tiger’). Actually this is quite a clever way of getting difficult points across without the point made seeming nasty or petty (this isn’t really that sort of book and Micky isn’t really that sort of musician), but it is a bit off-putting when the person supposedly telling us his story insists on talking in the third person for much of it (‘Micky’ is a stage name – George Michael being Dolenz’s unfortunate first names which make him sound like a different artist entirely! –so perhaps what we’re getting here is Micky separating his screen and private personas). Some of the character analysis of his fellow Monkees sounds pretty spot on, though, with a bit of gentle ribbing about Davy’s vanity, Mike’s isolationism and Peter’s quest for peace in society. Sounding slightly resentful of his Monkees years and very resentful over his lack of success afterwards, this is an often difficult book that might leave you scratching your head even whilst you’re laughing out loud. The title is a bit of a mystery too: yes its a very clever Monkees reference that would fit 99% of autobiographies, but Micky doesn’t sound like a believer in anything by the end of the book, whether its himself, The Monkees or the show business world.  4/10.  

“The Monkees Tale” (Eric Lefcowitz, Last Gasp, 1989)

The Monkees have an absolutely amazing tale to tell, going from four unknowns who were strangers to each other to the best-selling band of 1967 by some margin. Unfortunately this book seems to have missed it, concentrating too much on the spats of the day and other people’s opinions than looking at the bigger picture. To be fair Sandoval hadn’t done his meticulous research by the time this book was made and Rhino hadn’t yet interviewed all four Monkees to give fresh, retrospective insights to the making of each album. But still, there isn’t much in this book the curious fan of 1989 couldn’t have already looked up for himself, with the short ‘updates’ on what each of the four Monkees had been up to in the years since 1970 particularly bad. On the plus side, though, the photographs are quite amazing and the fact that this book has so much small text means you actually get quite a bargain per-word for the price of what appears to be quite a small book. Generally, though, this book has been superseded in the years since its release and the curious fan would do better to save up their money for a copy of the Sandoval book below. 4/10.

“Total Control – The Mike Nesmith Story” (Randi L Massingill, Flexquarters, 1997)

You could write a great multi-volume series of books about the life of Mike Nesmith and his journey from penniless musician to rich Monkee to millionaire inheritor of his mother’s liquid paper fortune. Running at about 250 main pages of text and extremely large print, this book isn’t it, and you feel that the author never really gets to grips with the wilful un-commerciality of Nesmith in his solo work despite coming from one of the most commercial bands of all time. That said, what this book loses in storytelling it more than makes up for research with some mind-bogglingly detailed appendices of every single Nesmith published composition, concert, Monkee episode and albums and even a complete list of all 700-odd videos released on Nesmith’s Pacific Arts Label. In fact, it’s Nesmith’s own label that’s the ‘star’ of this book, bringing its founder member to great heights as the inventor of the music video (Nesmith had the idea for MTV first, remember, even if it looked a bit, well, better in his vision for it) and sapping his strengths when the whole thing falls apart. The Monkees years are decidedly sketchy, with the author relying mainly on the usual quotes and interviews (although a new one with ‘fifth Monkees’ Bill Chadwick is very welcome), but the book comes alive with the start of the First National Band and Mike’s reinvention of himself as a country-rock legend that everybody loves but nobody seems to buy. If its depth you want then steer clear, but for its size and scope this is an enjoyable labour of love – and the supposed ‘questions’ the book refuses to answer on the back cover (‘If only he would die from alcohol or drugs he would become a cult hero’ ‘didn’t he create VH1?’ and ‘Whatever happened to his wool-hat?’) is the best bit of Monkee shtick I’ve read outside the annuals! 7/10.

“The Monkees: The Day By Day Phenomenon Of The 60s TV Pop Sensation” (Andrew Sandoval, Backbeat, 2005)

I have spent lots of hours in this book, a diary format tome lovingly researched by Sandoval and illustrated with some truly glorious photographs, many of them unseen. Some would tell you that The Monkees aren’t deserving of possibly the most thorough book on this list but don’t listen to them – by reading this book (which covers just five years 300 odd pages, none of them padding) you get to realise both how big and how important the Monkees project was. I would have liked to have heard a little more about the making of each TV episode, what the writers and production team and the Monkees thought. But the music is carefully annotated, with Sandoval hearing every last note of what exists in the archives – and the exciting news is that there’s easily enough for another three volumes of the excellent ‘Missing Links’ rarities series. Above all, though, what comes across from this book is how hard the band had to work, fitting in 56 TV episodes, a TV special, a feature film, 10 albums and enough unreleased material for probably the same amount again between June 1966 and April 1970. Despite the odd grumpy comment the Monkees stayed funny, warm and completely unique right to the end of the book. A real paradise for Monkees collectors, with so much more going on than we thought and all of it covered in wonderful, tear-inducing detail, the next best thing to actually being there. 9/10.     


“Brothers: From ‘Childhood’ To ‘Oasis’ – The Real Story” (Paul Gallagher and Terry Christian, Virgin Books, 1996)

You have to feel for the Gallagher’s elder brother Paul. As if putting up with Noel and Liam arguing his whole childhood wasn’t bad enough he then found himself out of work and down the Manchester job centre at the same time his more famous siblings were enjoying their first #1s. It’s only natural, then, that he should write a book about their collective childhood, which is both wonderfully illuminating and frustrating in equal measure. Paul’s snippets of truth are spot-on, recalling Noel as a friendly but serious child who didn’t like being told what to do and painting Liam as something of a mammy’s boy who spent all his unemployment money on records at the shop next to the job centre every fortnight before their mother could get her hands on it! It’s when the book tries to deal with the Oasis story the book comes unstuck a little, with music playing very little part in the brother’s lives until late on and Paul himself admitting he’s got more time for football than collecting records (although his pride in his brother’s work shines through all the same). A regular on Oasis documentaries, Paul Gallagher is one of those wonderfully down-to-earth thorn-in-the-sides that every band should have keeping them ‘real’ and dismissing all that media nonsense, the equivalent of the Stones’ Ian Stewart or The Beatles’ Allan Williams. Whether that’s what you want in a book about Oasis is up to you – it’s certainly never less than entertaining and in its own sweet way it’s more of a tribute to both Gallaghers and what they’ve overcome than any amount of reverential we’re-not-worthy picture books. 7/10. 

FRom a later edition of News, Views and Music: "The Truth - My Life As Oasis' Drummer" (Tony McCarroll, Book, 2010)
Oasis' first drummer is a likeable chap. Long dismissed as the 'Pete Best' of the band (Noel Gallagher erroneously claimed that he overdubbed a lot of the drums on the band's first album himself), McCarroll was badly treated by one and all - which seems poor return for the effort that all the band put in in the early days (when Noel wasn't even in the group, still travelling the world as the Inspiral Carpet's roadie). McCarroll's claims that he has no axe to grind is clearly wrong (he loves sticking it to Noel - and quiet bassist Paul McArthur to some extend, although he seems fond of both Liam and Bonehead), but you sense that the drummer's view of the band is probably more accurate than either of the Gallagher's (Tony's reports of success going to Noel's head circa 1994-7 as Alan McGee's 'favourite' and talk of a 'masterplan' that revised all Oasis' real history sadly rings very true). In fact Oasis sounds like an even more unhappy band than we fans thought, and not just between the brothers either as all the band quitting at some stage during their first two years of success! The drummer was just unlucky enough to be trapped in the middle. McCaroll is at his best at the beginning of the story, though, before Oasis have even formed, receiving an eerie premonition of things to come when he and his gang are set upon by a group of older teens including Noel Gallagher, teasing him for his Irish ancestry (Noel doesn't take too well to being reminded of his Irish ancestry in front of all his friends, but does at least have the grace to allow the young Tony to 'escape'!) McCarroll remains quite an upbeat character throughout - which is quite a feat in itself given the tough circumstances - but in the end this is a sad and unsettling book, with five people who were at the peak of their powers in 1994 dissolving in a sea of acrimony and bitterness without any real reason for any of it. The appendix list of gigs that the early Oasis played (as taken from his diaries) is especially useful.


“Inside Out – A Personal History Of Pink Floyd” (Nick Mason, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2004)

Nick Mason isn’t your average drummer and this isn’t your average rock and roll memoir. Laughed at by Roger, dismissed by Dave, this book makes the most sense when you read the tagline that this is a ‘personal history’, with jokes and witticisms where most autobiogs have bitterness and bile. If you want a book that sets the record straight then you’ll probably be disappointed (Nick said later that his Floyd colleagues both went through the manuscript with a green ink pen saying ‘nope, that didn’t happen...’), but Mason has a wonderful turn of phrase that makes even the most boring event sound hysterically funny. The book begins with a rather colourful sentence about the first words spoken between the future bassists and drummer of Pink Floyd with ‘star crossed paths of Aquarius and Venus dictating our destiny’, before cutting through all that by saying Roger only wanted to borrow Nick’s car. Even the massive Floyd fall out, which in other hands reaches an escalation worthy of the peak of the Cold War, finds Nick shrugging his shoulders and trying to find the best in everybody. Frankly, he ended up in the wrong group – had he been in, say, The Moody Blues he’s have had a much better chance at spreading his brotherly love vibe into the music, but then his affection for the rest of the group shines through so much they were wrong to damn his book with such faint praise in the way they did. Nick’s also been much more generous with his use of photographs than most memoir books, with several from his own private collection (the most moving being the first printed photograph of Syd Barrett’s return to Abbey Road during the sessions for ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ – no wonder the band failed to recognise him; without the caption I might well have missed him too). Not the best reference tome but a delightful read all the same, the book even ends on a perfectly timed optimistic note with the Live 8 reunion gigs, putting several decade’s worth of pent up hate and aggression to good use. 7/10. 

“Crazy Diamond: Syd Barrett and the Dawn of Pink Floyd” (Mike Watkinson and Pete Anderson, Omnibus, 1991)

Who was Syd Barrett? Somehow I sense you could spend your life reading every book ever written about him over and over and still not know. Such an undertaking seems hopeless, but Watkinson and Anderson do a better job at most of trying to get under the skin of a creative natural who had the world at his feet and yet turned his back on it all to sit in his house eating pork chops and watching TV. New interviews with key figures (including David Gilmour) make for fascinating reading, although you can’t help but feel like a detective hoping to fit the trail of clues together in search of an answer to the mystery that never comes. By the end of the book, after two under-rated solo LPs and a shambolic final live performance with the one-gig supergroup Stars its still an almighty shock when Syd puts down his guitar midway through the set and walks home, to never attempt to record again. The final section of the book is uncomfortable, detailing most of the many attempts to doorstep Syd (or ‘Roger’ as he went back to being called) and reveal the conversations had, the pounds gained and the hair lost. For his legend’s sake Syd really should have died a cult hero in 1968 before his decline, but then Syd was more than just a famous guitarist and songwriter, he was a human being and without any involvement from Syd’s family this book can’t get any closer to Syd the ordinary being; it has to treat him like a star. And I can’t help but feeling that, in his heart of hearts, the last thing Syd wanted was to be a star – it was just unfortunate for him that he was so immensely talented that he could never have been anything else. He remains a fascinating character, however, and of the handful of books I’ve read on the subject this is still the closest to working out what made him tick. 7/10. 

“The Complete Guide To The Music Of...” (Andy Mabbett, Omnibus, 1995)

Another in the excellent CD-sized song analysis series by Omnibus that ended up featuring an impressive 11 AAA related books. This was the first in the format I bought and probably the one I know the best, covering all the Floyd albums released up till 1994 (so no ‘Pulse’ or the last few Waters, Gilmour and Wright solo releases). Mabbett knows his stuff after many years in charge of the best Floyd tribute fanzine ‘The Amazing Pudding’ and while there are as many Floyd to like as there are fans I personally agree with the majority of his analysis (the most interesting years were pre-Dark Side; ‘Momentary Lapse’ wasn’t much cop but ‘Division Bell’ is; the band were never quite the same after Syd Barratt). In truth I’d have liked a lot more on the songs, which are often digested in no more than a paragraph opr two, but as a quick overview of a band and career its pretty faultless, with the ‘intros’ to each album review particularly insightful. There’s a pretty neat summary of all the solo Floyd albums released up until 1994 too, although these are treated to more of a ‘history’ than a review. Small enough to carry around but big on detail when it matters, the Omnibus guides were a great series and this Pink Floyd edition in particular may well be the best of the lot. The only downside is that the photographs are either small or common to the point of boredom, although its nice to see all the relevant album art given a page each next to the main text. 8/10.

“Pink Floyd: Through The Eyes Of...” (ed. Bruno MacDonald, Sidgwick and Jackson, 1996)

A fascinating collage of previously printed articles, interviews and reviews plus a ‘new’ section dedicated to background info and snippets about every Pink Floyd song, this book is as scatter-brained and eclectic as the band itself. Sometimes the band are being discussed as high art, as intellectuals who are more than just a band – and yet on the next page you might find a critics attacking the Floyd for being lifeless and pointless or find Syd Barrett at his most mischievous, reviewing records in a sea of jokes. There is no one Floyd to review so gathering together competing and conflicting reviews like this is the best answer for a full flavour of the band – although its a pain trying to look anything up (its kind of in chronological order, but isn’t really). It might also end up being a bit too frivolous (the song section is one quarter revelation to three quarters sniping and self-effacing humour mainly from Waters and Gilmour), although there are some real gems in here (the Q interview poking fun at Roger Waters’ gloomy mood in an interview is cruel but comedy gold (‘He’s crackers!’ goes one headline) and the review of ‘Animals’ with the band portrayed as the ‘pigs’ of the album and the other record critics as ‘sheep’ is hilarious and very in the spirit of the record). A real lucky-dip of a book which comes up with the goods more often than not. 7/10.     

“Mind Over Matter: The Images Of Pink Floyd” (Storm Thorgeson, Sanctuary, 1997)

The spooky light-refracting prism – check!; the moody cow staring back at you with a puzzled look on its face – of course!; the man making a business deal while set alight –naturally!; the flying pig over Battersea power station – absolutely!; the mile-long snake of hospital beds on the beach – you betcha; the giant talking heads – both present and correct; these images are key to the Pink Floyd story and ait was inevitable that someone was going to compile them one day. Storm Thorgeson’s decision to make this book a little thicker by including a few sketches and promotional material is delightful too (fancy nobody using the giant inflatable chair full of Floyd logos – I so badly want one after seeing this book!) However, it’s notable what’s missing from this volume: there’s none of the ‘alternative’ covers offered for ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ for instance and no ‘outtake’ shots of any of the covers barring ‘Animals’ (where the pig had to be airbrushed in anyway after the 40 foot flying porkie didn’t ‘look right’). The reprinting of so many of the rather dull and generic scene layouts and pictures from the 1990s CD re-issues of each Floyd album and tie-in singles, usually with double-page spreads, is also going a bit too far. However, the biggest plus point about this book might not be the pictures but the text, with Storm offering up his own often hilarious memories of designing and shooting each and every piece in the book and proving he has a better memory for this stuff than all of the Floyd combined. Note: neither ‘The Wall’ nor ‘The Final Cut’ album covers are here, being Roger Waters creations. 7/10.  

“Embryo: A Pink Floyd Chronology” (Rick Hodges and Jan Priston, Cherry Red Books, 1999)

A puzzling book this, detailing the Floyd’s concert appearances (and bootleg appearances), but only for an extremely narrow window (1966-71, although there’s not much there on the Syd Barrett years, sadly). The sheer desire to list everything that happens at every gig sounds wonderful as an idea, but in practice means you have to sit through page after page of Roger Waters going ‘One...One, two’ into a microphone practically every time he speaks (the theatres the Floyd played in the 60s really weren’t designed for their type of shows, as a listen to any bootleg from the period will tell you!) It’s a real shame too that there’s no sense of the bigger picture, with no sense of ‘ooh look, this is the first time the band ever played ‘Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun’ or ‘ooh blimey, fancy there being so many performances of ‘Atom Heart Mother’!, leaving the reader to do all the work. That said, the list of bootlegs are interesting (or were at the time, before most of them ended up under different names on Youtube) and the fact that we have a semi-reliable list of concerts from these key early years is great. I only wish the contents had been filtered a little to allow the reader to get a proper feel for the importance of all the facts and statistics and that the book had been extended up to the Floyd’s final year of touring in 1994. Naming the book after a still unreleased Floyd track only a handful of people reading it will know is either a touch of genius or proof of how out of control the project became!  2/10.

“The Dark Side Of The Moon” (John Harris, Harper Collins, 2005)

Like many of the ‘classic albums’ books on this list, ‘Dark Side’ has a problem: concentrating on just the album won’t fill the pages (even with my detailed writing I’d struggle to fill 180 odd pages on one album) and yet there isn’t enough space to tell the full Floyd story again like the author tries here. That said, this book copes better than most as at least the decline of Syd Barrett and the later fall out between the Floyd are relevant to the story. It’s great, too, to see ‘Dark Side’ take shape from the first tentative live playings (when it was quite a different beast to the one on record) to the Wembley gigs of 1974. None of the band took part in the making of the book, although that too is less of a problem than most as Harris is selective with his choices of quotes and still adds a few bits and pieces the bigger fan might not know. Not a bad compromise, then, but this idea of making books about particular albums is looking like a bad idea (perhaps the publishers should leave talking about single albums to sites like Alan’s Album Archives?!) 6/10.

“The Rough Guide To The Music Of...” (Toby Manning, Rough Guide, 2006)

The second AAA-related ‘Rough Guide’ book, I can’t tell you how frustrating I was that this excellent series stopped after four (the non-AAA book is about Dylan). As with The Beatles one the book starts with an excellent brief biopic of the band before moving on to tackle the top 50 Floyd songs, including some surprising entries (‘Your Possible Pasts’ and ‘Wearing The Inside Out’, both selections I agree with but am still surprised to see!) The album review section is particularly useful, going beyond the usual books that concentrate on ‘Dark Side’ and ignore the rest and it gets ‘Division Bell’ particularly spot on. The extra chapters this time include books, films, a particularly good list of solo albums and websites (sadly Alan’s Album Archives wasn’t around when the list was made or we’d be included – obviously!) A fascinating tome, which can be as detailed or as brief as you like. More please, Rough Guides! 9/10.

“Chapters In The Life Of Rex Roman” (Simon Ash, Matador, 2008)

This book tells you more about being a fan than it does about the Floyd, but we’re going to add it to this section anyway, simply because it’s such a good book about what being a music-obsessive is really like. Timed to fit in with the Floyd anniversary at Live 8, this is a fan getting to experience two life-changing events on that day: the reunion of the band he lives for after two decades of in-fighting and reacquainting himself with Lucy, the girl he let slip through his fingers after two decades in self-imposed exile. The rise and fall of the Floyd is the soundtrack to Rex’s personal tale of ketchup, chickens and his failed attempts to become an actor. The fact that he fails is what makes our anti-hero so believable and lovable, for his wit as well as his excellent taste in records. This book isn’t for everyone and as it says in the introduction ‘if you thought this book was the definitive guide to the rock band Pink Floyd then – oops – didn’t you read the back cover?’ I’m still waiting patiently for the stage show – perhaps Pink Floyd could get back together again to do the music?! 7/10.

From a later edition of News, Views and Music: "Syd Barratt - A Very Irregular Head" (Rob Chapman, Book, 2010)
One of the better Syd books around, Chapman's work is another that tries to work out why Syd had 'an irregular head' by looking at his past and the triggers that set him off into his sudden decline somewhere around the Autumn of 1967 - and on that score it fails. Syd's sorry story seems to be unfathomable and any amount of looking at childhood photographs and old Pink Floyd clips won't give us any more clues. However, the sheer wealth of detail in this book - and the exciting amount of access to unseen things from Syd's childhood and the Floyd's early years - give it a leg-up over other Syd biographies and there's lots here even the biggest Floyd scholar probably hasn't come across. As ever, though, the story goes cold somewhere around 1970 (after Syd's two solo albums) and even for a comparatively short book there's not actually that much 'story' to get to grips with. Syd the artist will always be an enigma - but if you want to know about Syd as a human being, studying the facts rather than conjecture, this is about the best book on Barratt yet.

 Also from a later edition:

"The Making of Pink Floyd: The Wall" (Gerald Scarfe, Phoenix/Orion Books, 2010)
From what I can tell, illustrator Gerald Scarfe's always been keen to distance himself from his part in the Floyd story. While Scarfe always got on well with the band (especially Nick Mason and Roger Waters) he had an awful time during the making of 'The Wall' film, a case of too many cooks with too many ideas and with Scarfe's opinions often the ones over-ridden and ignored. So not only is a whole book about Scarfe's time with the band (starting with his illustrations for their 'Wish You Were Here' tour, projected on a screen while the band are playing) completely unexpected but so is the fact that he kept so much: film cell after film cell of the drawings used in the film, pen-and-ink storyboards that reveal how much of an input Scarfe had into the film 'script' (as much as a film without much dialogue has a 'script per se), unused sketches and ideas and most interestingly of all polaroids of Scarfe with various members of the band (who are never together, note). Roger, Nick and David Gilmour were all 'interviewed' for the book - most of which tend to be them leafing through the early pressing of the book and talking about their memories - and the affection all three feel for their colleague is clear. How nice that the 'wall' around Scarfe has come down after all these years. Some of Scarfe's illustrations are remarkable even now - falling leaves turning into humans, brittle teachers dominated by their fat wives, the age-old man-woman battle related in terms of two flowers and best of all doomed bomber planes slowly turning into crosses stained with blood (is there a more chilling image of the Second World War?) Some of the pictures are just odd - metal beasts, men carryuing 'burdens' on their backs, city towers marked with blood and an aborted attempt to draw Pink and his un-named wife as Punch and Judy. The best bit, though, is by another artist working on the film who was 'hired' by alienated director Alan Marshall (whose also interviewed for the book and surprisingly kind about it all) which shows 'school bully Roger and his pal Gerald Inky' - which says more about the state the makers of the film were in than any number of reminiscences and photographs. A nice collection, although you have to be a fan of the film rather than the Floyd to get the most of the book. 7/10


“Stone Alone” (Bill Wyman, Viking, 1990)

I think Bill Wyman might well be my favourite Rolling Stone. Less histrionic than Jagger, less full of himself than Richards and less gentlemanly than Charlie Watts he spent his whole 27 year span with the band without ever once feeling like he fitted in. When this book – the first of many ‘personal accounts’ to come out of the Stones camp – first came out the reaction was dismay bordering on anger at the way Bill calmly writes about life with the Stones and detachedly writing about every last gig payment and bank balance sheet. But even if the rather bitter references to the fact that the Stones made very little money until at least the late 60s does get on your nerves it’s a minor point against a fascinating book that does its best to dispel the myths of the Stones period (yes there was drugs but Keith took most of them; yes there were groupies but in a competition between Bill and Brian). The rest of the band hated it, ostensibly because of the events it revealed for the first time, but to be honest the most killing comments for both Mick and Keith are that the former is a money-obsessed accountant and the latter was a drug addict, hardly news to fans. Certainly Bill’s a lot nicer, not to fairer, than Keith is to the other Stones in his book and you sense this quietly understated memoir might well be closer to the truth than any number of the histrionic accounts filling up the Stones shelves. What’s frustrating is Bill’s reticence to talk about the music, calmly describing the first time Keith played the ‘Satisfaction’ riff rather than what it meant for the band and neutrally commenting that he wasn’t around to play the killer bass on ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’, without giving the reasons why Keith plays it or how he felt trying to re-create it on tour. The tales of Bill’s early life, pre-Stones, is magnificent however: several years older, with a son born before his first gig and with two years of army conscription under his belt, it makes much more sense about Bill’s character and his detachment from the craziness of the Stones’ camp: at heart he’s too much of a gentleman and far too sensible to give into temptation; sadly for us the book follows the same rules, without the gossip many fans had been expecting. It’s still a good absorbing read, though. 8/10.  

“Rolling With The Stones” (Bill Wyman, Dorling Kindersly, 2002)

Bill’s second book is one of those mammoth back-breaking fully illustrated Dorling Kindersly affairs and like most of those books it looks amazing but its beauty is all on the surface. Bill’s habit of cataloguing everything comes in handy, with a pretty definitive list of concerts played and songs recorded backed up by his exhaustive diaries and the photographs, many of them unseen, are wonderful (the outtake from ‘Beggar’s Banquet’ is marvellous and one of my occasional computer screensavers!) As before, I don’t understand why critics are so hard on Bill’s writing style either, which might be a tad on the detached side but still gets his dry humour and quiet enthusiasm across. That’s not so much of a problem anyway the second time around as Bill fills his book up with punchy quotes from his fellow Stones or associates and he’s already spoken about much of ‘his’ side of the story anyway in ‘Stone Alone’. Understandably, too, the book only runs as far as ‘Steel Wheels’, the last stop on a 27 year journey before Bill got off. A beautiful place to visit, you really wouldn’t want to live there given the many stories that give the Stones their bad name. Sumptuously made and put together with a lot of love this is a lovely book – it’s just a shame there isn’t more substance in it considering this book runs to 500-odd pages. Then again there’s still one hell of a lot more in this book than in the official ‘According To’ account up next – and that’s a fully text book with hardly any pictures.  7/10.   

“According To The Rolling Stones” (Rolling Stones, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2003)

It was once said that ‘when The Beatles sneezed, The Stones caught a cold’ – not true of their music by and large but sadly very true of this attempt to ‘do an Anthology’ in almost exactly the same format three years on. The Beatles’ book is disappointing, but this one is a disaster: there’s no room for quotes from Brian Jones, Mick Taylor, Ian Stewart or Bill Wyman, Ronnie Wood gets to tell his side of the story in huge detail even though he wasn’t an official member till a good two thirds of the way through the book and so many of the stories we’ve being dying to hear about no holds barred (Brian’s death, Altamont, Keith’s drug bust in Canada) either aren’t commented on or are swept under the carpet. Most critics at the time reckoned this book to be an improvement on Wyman’s autobiography, but in truth this book doesn’t come close, being simply the reminiscences of a bunch of 60-something year vainly trying to remember details and not bothering to employ a proper researcher (at least Bill researched his properly and kept diaries, even if he was a bit detached!) Worst of all is the page where Ronnie Wood berates Mick Taylor for not fitting into the band and how he’s pleased to see him playing solo gigs for pennies while he tours arenas, despite having never played alongside him (well not till last year’s Ian Stewart tribute anyway) and revealing through copious pages of drug problems and no shows why he’s been so bad for the Stones in the past 35-odd years. Simply awful, with only Charlie Watts coming out of the book with any credit (he’s never done much talking before this book came out, something that’s a shame! – Keef does much better with his own work, perhaps because he doesn’t have to ‘tow the party line’ he tries to follow here (and fails). Apparently there’s a new 50th anniversary version of the official Stones story to come out sometime in July this year, with similar text but more irrelevant pictures (2012): I can hardly wait (they’ve certainly got an awful lot of things to put right!) 1/10.

“Life” (Keith Richards)

We reviewed this unexpected autobiography in issues 86 and 87 if you wish to read our thoughts in full. On the plus side Keefs laidback but on-the-edge personality comes through loud and strong, although its his use of friend and familys scattered comments across the book that does him the most credit (most autobiographies have the problem that they dont show us what the impact of the authors actions were by showing how wives and sons and daughters and even roadies were affected Keith does himself a lot of credit, even if the comments made about him arent always that complimentary!) There are two generous sections of colour photographs as well as some fascinating black-and-white shots at the beginning of each section the most moving of which is Keith, Brian and Anita sitting by a hotel pool the day before Keith runs off with his future wife from under Brians nose. Keiths ability to sketch a situation or person in just a few lines is also impressive, even when its giving a very different spin on factors and figures Stones fans feel they know quite well (Andrew Loog Oldham and Allen Klein are spot on, while the story of what really did happen during the bust at Keiths Redlands house and the eventual court case are the most authorative telling yet, despite the 40 years of anecdotes from other biographers down the years and Bills own version in his book Stone Alone). On the other hand, though, Keith comes across as rather self-centred and callous, casually uprooting his teenage son for days at a time and preventing him mixing with school friends and saving Anita Pallberg from Brian because he thinks she deserves better, without actually talking to her or Brian first. He still seems to be petty over the publics affection for Mick over him, too, denouncing Mick throughout the book - long before the section where the two publicly fall out over World War III without actually telling us what Mick does wrong except be annoying or a prima donna. Worst of all, the biggest hole in the book is the music at least Bill Wymans rather dry descriptions of who played what when mention the key Stones recordings; here key albums like Between The Buttons or Satanic Majesties are dismissed in a paragraph or so and the later 1980/90 albums barely get a sentence. Id be willing to think that Keith cant remember enough except that his telling of so many obscure events from the past is so detailed and exact that I cant believe he genuinely doesnt recognise one song from another. Keith also spends most of the book talking about drugs when he was hooked, when he wasnt, when he could have lived without them and when the drugs had finally taken him over. While drugs play a larger part in Keiths life than perhaps any other AAA member and they certainly should be in the book somewhere, the sheer quantity of references to them compared to the lack of details about the music seems to me as if the guitarists priorities were badly misplaced, then and now. Still, Life is worth a few hours of your time if youre a fan, illuminating many of the darker passages of the Stones story even if it clouds other parts in more doubt and mystery. In fact this book is far more like Stone Alone than the author probably cares to admit, being highly witty, readable, likeable and informative in patches, but never with the weight one would expect of a bona fide Rolling Stone first-person book. You sense that the definitive Stones account has yet to be written and might never be. 6/10.

“2Stoned” (Andrew Loog Oldham, Vintage, 2003)

As eccentric as its author, the ‘memoir’ books by former Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham take in every memory under the sun but in a completely random bite-sized manner, like the celebrity down the bar saying ‘...and another thing’ over a drink. I only own the second, more Stones-centred volume although I’ve heard the first is just as unexpectedly eccentric. Where this book excels is in its honesty: not something you’d expect from the headline-grabbing sensation-making manager of youth, but everything is told like it is in this book, whether it makes enemies of people along the way or makes the author out to look stupid occasionally. Often this honesty turns into bile, especially when dealing with the Stones in the late 60s, although no one is spared Oldham’s wrath when he gets going on a rant (even himself). This means there’s a certain vitalness to this book that makes you think what you’re reading is the truth. The occasional use of other sources (including my twitter friend and Stones bandmate James Phelge) only adds to the feeling that this book is trying to peel back the layers, to get as close to the truth as possible. Alas what this also means is that the book comes over as rather piecemeal, a series of vignettes rather than one consistent story and it’s a pain trying to look anything specific up even with quite a good index. Curiously the book ends not with Oldham’s moving on from the Stones or adding a postscript but with a ‘by the way’ five pages about the time he met Brian Wilson (who he likes, unusually, although he hates Van Dyke Parks and ‘Smile’, likening it weirdly to ‘The Sound Of Music’ and having visions of Julie Andrews singing to him seconds after dismissing The Moody Blues’ ‘Nights In White Satin’ – so minus several points for that). Grumpy, gruelling to read and occasionally grotty in tone and layout, there’s still something hypnotic about this book, which might well be the most honest account of what life was like in the Rolling Stones. 4/10.

"Every Night's A Saturday Night" (Bobby Keys, Omnibus Press, 2012)
We've stuck this book under the 'Rolling Stones' section because that's the band Bobby is most 'linked' with (he was born on the exact same day as Keith Richards albeit across the pond and plays on a majority of the Stones albums since 1971) although he played on quite a few other AAA albums too (there are mentions of work with Graham Nash, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Keith Moon and a particularly memorable encounter with John Lennon during his 'lost weekend'). It's the Stones stories that are the most exciting though, revealing quite a bit we didn't know before. Long seen as Keef's big 'ally' within the band (and almost as hedonistic as the guitarist), Bobby actually started off as Mick Jagger's big friend, even staying rent-free at his Stargroves house for months on end, even though the pair barely speak anymore apparently (Keys did rather leave the band in the lurch, his alcoholism getting the better of him mid-tour, something that comes across as entirely reasonable in his re-telling of the story). The photographs with this book are a delight, showing just how much a part of the action is and his own personal voice comes over loud and clear throughout the book. Unfortunately, though, it's all too clear that this autobiography is one dashed off into a dictaphone between gigs and written by a secretary rather than a ghost-writer: the dates jump around, memories get stuck together and the whole book sounds more like a semi-celebrity chatting about their story down the pub than a collection of the man's true status within rock music. 5/10

“The Stones” (Phillip Norman, Elm Tree Books, 1983)

Norman is, of course, forever remembered as only the second biographer to try to tell the full Beatles story (and unlike Hunter Davies the first to tell it without having to tow the party line). A follow-up about the Stones may have seemed the perfect idea to his publishers, but the quintet are a completely different prospect to the fab four and all too often this book is caught up trying to work out the truth from multiple versions of the story instead of being able to sit on the fence during the Lennon/McCartney debates. The timing of the book doesn’t help – the Stones were never lower and Jagger and Richards didn’t see eye to eye about anything, giving this book a rather funeralaic air that it might well be the last time the Stones do anything. There’s also surprisingly little on the actual music, with more attention paid to who has fallen out with who and the age of the people each Stone is dating. Still, Norman is never less than fair and this is still probably the best one-book Stones set around, telling the full story in as much detail as you’d ever need. After a short period out of print the book is due to be re-printed in paperback in September this year. 6/10.

“The Complete Guide To The Music Of...” (James Hector, Omnibus, 1995)

Would you believe it, this is yet another in the CD-sized album reviews series from Omnibus, tackling the Stones’ output this time song by song. Unfortunately for the author Appleford rather came and stole his thunder with the next book on our list, which offers everything this book has but with more space to offer it in, although like all these guides it’s still an excellently researched and written piece. Like Appleford, the author is clearly a lot more in love with the Stones at the start of their tale than at the end and the book feels a little top-heavy because of it, although to be fair not many Stones fans would disagree with the decision. The photographs mainly feature the Stones in later life, however, when they’re at their least photogenic and most lived-in. Like his colleagues in the other books Hector remains a fair and unprejudiced writer, however, and his comments are often funny, informative or both. Note: because of the age of the book it doesn’t go all the way up to ‘A Bigger Bang’ 7/10.

“It’s Only Rock and Roll: The Stories Behind Every Song” (Steve Appleford, Sevenoaks, 1997)

An excellent history of the Stones song by song, with some especially nice mini potted histories in the introduction to each album review (hmm, now there’s a good idea for a website...oh darn, I’ve already done that!) You can tell the author’s interest wanes near the end of the book, when the pages devoted to the 80s and 90s albums gets shorter and shorter but, to be fair, there aren’t as many interesting stories to tell near the end of the Stones’ run. One problem that many critics have is the fact that the singles-only songs are stuck in an index at the back of the book, rather than at the front where they should be, but to be fair they are still comprehensively covered (albeit with minute text that hurts your eyes). It would be great, too, if for once these ‘story song’ books actually counted cover material as worthy of coverage as the first few Stones albums are covered extraordinarily swiftly back in the days when Jagger/Richards only got 2 or 3 songs on an album. Some of the photograph selections, too, reek of desperation: Wallis Simpson for ‘Blinded By Love? Elton Kohn appearing on page 142 for no apparent reason?! Still this is all nitpicking: there’s lots here even the biggest fans won’t know but its accessible and easy to follow for newcomers too, with all that detail failing spoil the tale of the bigger picture told in each mini-review of an album. A format more books should follow, being much more successful than the ‘classic album’ series. Because of the publication date this book to doesn’t stretch as far as ‘A Bigger Bang’, released in 2005. 8/10.

“Mick and Keith” (Chris Salewicz, Orion, 2002)

The Jagger/Richards partnership was always built for friction it being – like the Lennon-McCartney songwriting pairing – two very people with very much the same goal in mind. It’s a shame, though, that the similarities and differences between the two aren’t studied more, as really this is just the familiar Rolling Stones story re-told with the parts about Brian Jones and Ronnie Wood et al turned down a notch. Still, the feeling that the pair are going their separate ways in the late 70s comes across well, with Mick attending every posh party going while Keef slides lower and lower down the social spectrum hanging around with his mates. One thing that does disappoint is the lack of music in this book: sure not everyone wants to be a fly-on-the-wall for the writing of, say, ‘The Spider and The Fly’ but I do – and without the music the Stones story would be very empty indeed. Still, as a one-stop shop for the Stones tale this book is hard to beat – it’s certainly a better and more truthful read than any of the official accounts! 6/10.

“Off The Record: An Oral History” (edited by Mark Paytress, Omnibus, 2003)

A fascinating collection of interviews and soundbites from the Stones collected down the years, with an emphasis on the 1960s and on the lesser known, lesser read discussions. You really need to know the full story before buying this book, as abandoned projects and career detours are given as much space as the band’s defining moments down the eras, but what’s surprising is how illuminating this book is. Mick Jagger regains his crown as one of the go-to people reporters went to to explain the whole 60s phenomenon, Keith’s sly humour and realism is often the highlight of the book, on the first 50 pages or so Brian Jones re-asserts himself in Stones legend as the band leader and both Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts get the space to talk without the other butting in. A fascinating book, full of snippets and nuggets that have passed fans by for 40 odd years, it’s all meticulously researched and at 450 pages as detailed as you’d ever need it to be. All in all probably the best of a sorry bunch of Stones reference books. 8/10.

“The Making Of Let It Bleed” (Sean Egan, Unanimous, 2005)

There is apparently a book on ‘Exile On Main Street’ doing the rounds too, although I only know this one. It’s an unusual choice for a book, an album without a particular story to it and without the cult following of ‘Exile’ or ‘Banquet’. It gets a bit boring to be honest, full of sentences like ‘according to Bill Wyman’s book...’, a few odd paragraphs arguing about the dates a song was recorded (if we know for a fact then fine – but if there’s some doubt then do we care about having a date at all?!) and page-long introductions to each and every interviewee. That said, its nice to see a ‘classic albums’ book actually concentrate on the music for a change and there is very much a concentration on the year 1969 (when ‘Let It Bleed’ came out) rather than lots of chapters dedicated to events before and after. To be honest, though, the only songs from this nine track album you feel you know better after reading the book are ‘You Got The Silver’ and ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’, arguably the only two songs from the album that deserve such analysis (along with ‘Gimme Shelter’). Egan makes his case well that 1969 was a make or break year for The Stones, even more than the traditional journalist view that 1967 was their most difficult year, but there’s little sense of how that edgy feeling post-Brian Jones and Altamont made it into their work, which is a shame. Egan’s ‘Rough Guide’ book below is vastly superior. 4/10.

“The Rough Guide To The Music Of...” (Sean Egan, Rough Guide, 2006)

Like the other two AAA-related ‘Rough Guides’, this book is wonderful, covering just about every aspect of the Stones’ complex career. The opening jaunt through the band’s career is low on detail but tells you everything you need to know, the ’50 key songs’ is more eclectic than you might think, including some fine analysis and the copious end sections on everything from books to films to solo albums to band rumours (sadly the mars bar one isn’t true!) to websites (hello from Alan’s Album Archives! A little plug for the next edition!) is well observed and a good mixture of the devotion the subject deserves and humour to make it interesting. The album reviews are particularly good, with the author concentrating solely on the music after telling the story in the first section of the book; his opinions don’t always ,match the generally accepted view but they fit my own pretty well (why are so many people rude about ‘Between The Buttons’? And is ‘Exile on Main Street’ really better than ‘Beggar’s Banquet’ or ‘Sticky Fingers’? Kinder than Keef’s, more entertaining than Bill’s and better in every which way shape or form than the ‘official’ Stones book, this is probably the best single book on the Stones around and highly recommended, both for beginners and for serious collectors wanting to brush up on their knowledge. 9/10.   


“Travelling Man” (Frank Allen, Aureas, 1999)

This book is a fun way to spend some winding down time, with the Searchers bassist from late 1964 to the present day a proper comedian, seeing the sunny side in life and making fun of everything, himself included. Treated as a humorous travelogue akin to Michael Palin or Billy Connolly this book does rather well (I prefer it to anything by those two) and is a real page turner in its own right, witty warm and unassuming as all good travelling companions should be. As a committed Searchers fan, though I’m slightly disappointed – I really hoped there’d be more about the music in here, which is really just a distraction between tales of being on tour buses and meeting famous people. The Searchers have a great story to tell – Allen wasn’t there at the start (he was in Cliff Bennett’s Rebel Rousers till Tony Jackson was ousted from the band) but his era still takes in the loss of Chris Curtis and Mike Pender, the recording of some of the band’s biggest sellers ‘Needles and Pins’ ‘Goodbye My Love’ and ‘Everytime That You Walk In The Room’ and their unexpected return to fame after being feted by the new wave crowd in the late 70s (when they made two news albums, their first in 15 years!) Album no 5 ‘Take Me For What I’m Worth’ is also one of the greatest forgotten albums of all time (see review no 5) so its a shame to hear it go without a word. The fact that Allen chips and changes from era to era and subject matter to subject matter is also frustrating when you’re trying to look something up – although it makes perfect sense when read from cover to cover. A delight to read, a pain to study, this is still to date the only Searchers book around and for fans still worth ‘searching’ out, although hopefully one day there’ll be a ‘proper’ book to go alongside it! 6/10.


“Lyrics” (Paul Simon, Simon and Schuster, 2008)

A rather boring slab of a book to look at it, this is simply a dry collection of lyrics with barely a photograph included and even the title seems austere and serious. That said, this is a fascinatingly colourful set of verses when read properly, with Simon’s turns of phrase and spot-on character summations making these lyrics stand alone far more successfully than most lyric compilations (McCartney’s ‘Blackbird Singing’ included). Quite rightly, Simon has chosen not to edit his body of work, so what we get is every song of his that’s been released up to the publishing date, including bonus tracks, B sides and works in progress from the latest CD re-issues of Paul’s solo material. An introduction putting all these songs in context would have been nice, as would some sort of comment from Simon a la George Harrisons’ book of lyrics (he certainly can do it – his ‘Paul Simon Songbook’ documentary from the early 90s was a treasure trove of detail and memory), but perhaps Paul is right to keep the whole thing unfussy and let his lyrics stand by themselves. 7/10.

“Bookends: The Simon and Garfunkel Story” (Patrick Humphries, Proteus, 1982, Out Of Print)

 A dense paperback of the sort you just don’t see anymore. Everything about it is huge: the text is written in long detailed paragraphs and the photographs fill up a page apiece, making Simon or Garfunkel or both appear near-lifesize. If this was a book about two larger than life characters, say Janis Joplin or Keith Moon, then it would fit, but this really is the tale of two understated souls who hate fuss and would rather not have to go through the media process at all. Yet Simon and Garfunkel do have a fascinating tale to tell and, considering its age now, this book tells it well with space given over to each of the albums on release and events in the personal and professional lives of the two stars. The book seems to be ending on a high note with the Concert In Central Park and talk of a tour (which happened) and an album (which didn’t) – alas we know now that the reunion is only temporary and the rift between the pair will get bigger than ever by 1983; the author, naturally, doesn’t know this yet writing in 1982. An index would have been nice and space to cover the events in more detail would have been nicer still, but as simple re-tellings of familiar stories go this one is pretty good and packs a neat punch sometimes with both the largely forgotten quotes and the fascinating largely unseen photographs. A tome that more than deserves a re-issue. 7/10. 

“The Boy In The Bubble” (Patrick Humphries, Sidgwick and Jackson, 1988)

Written on the back of the record-breaking Graceland, this is a rather watery biography trying to make sense of that album within the context of Paul’s work (not that they knew it in 1988 but this work ended up becoming something of a one-off in Simon’s oeuvre). The book is full of dramatic language such as ‘it would only be another 12 months to go before the bubble burst’ which doesn’t suit the understated singer-songwriter at the heart of this book that well, although interestingly the characters of Garfunkel and other key players in the Paul Simon story such as engineer Roy Halee and early producer Tom Wilson are pretty good. The book is also strong on referring to the music, with a paragraph on each song and more or less a page per album, even for the lesser known works such as ‘One Trick Pony’ and ‘Hearts and Bones’. Where this book beats all its rivals, however, is in marking out Paul Simon’s territory, comparing his work to what his contemporaries in the day were doing and why they all followed the same pattern/headed in different directions. This makes a mockery of the title of course, with Paul painted here as having his finger on the pulse of musical trends, something other biographies miss, but it makes for a good book. Understandably, the book ends with the fall-out with ‘Graceland’ and doesn’t include any of the last five Paul Simon albums or Simon and Garfunkel’s live reunion – a shame as I’d love to hear what the author made of ‘Rhythm Of The Saints’.  6/10.

”Simon and Garfunkel – The Definitive Biography” (Victoria Kingston, Sidgwick and Jackson, 1996)

Alas this volume isn’t up to the other books on Simon and Garfunkel. Kingston can’t seem to make up her mind whether she actually likes Simon and Garfunkel or not and can’t quite get the tone right between praise and damnation. All the usual stories are here and when using other critics’ or interviewee’s voices the book comes alive, but the biggest test of a book is whether you know more about an artist after reading it – and in this case you don’t. At least the index is good, however, and the story is told in proper chronological order for once, enabling you to find your way round the book quite easily (you’d be surprised how many of these books tell their stories backwards or at the very least sideways!) One other thing I like is the way that Art’s solo career is given equal space to Paul’s, the contrasting fortunes of the pair (with Arty rising in the late 70s just as Paul’s dirrping and vice versa in the mid 80s) making for a good story. Still, however easy to read it is, this book is far from definitive and certainly doesn’t cover either man’s solo years as well as it should. A rather odd cover, with four Simon and Garfunkels staring back at you with surly expressions on their faces (on the hardback pressings at least), rather sets the tone. 3/10.

“The Paul Simon Companion” (ed. Stacey Luftig, Omnibus Press, 1997)

A beautiful collection of 25 interviews with and articles about the ever thoughtful, ever lucid Simon, collected from lots of sources between 1967 and 1995. So many musicians, even AAA ones (ie the best) change their stance down the years, so that their ideas from the beginning of their career veer wildly from their later years, but Paul Simon was always old and wise before his time and you can dip into this book in any order and find all you need to know. The best articles, though, are a lengthy interview from 1970 for Rolling Stone that mainly talks in-depth about Paul’s songwriting (fascinating reading for his many fans and scholars) and an illuminating two part ‘Songwars’ interview from 1990 that, even in edited form, tells us more about Paul in one volume than possibly any other article. Of course there’s nitpicking to have here, with a few (small) interviews missing, a couple of extracts that don’t really tell you much (the page dismissal of ‘The Dangling Conversation’ from the worst 50 rock songs is a curious addition to such an otherwise respectful compilation of writings) and the use of Paul’s voice with only the (very) occasional input from Art Garfunkel to break up the tone. There’s also a little too much emphasis on ‘Bridge’ and ‘Graceland’ for my liking – sure the masses always liked these albums but there are far more interesting and entertaining stories to tell about ‘One Trick Pony’ and ‘Hearts and Bones’. A few pictures wouldn’t have gone amiss either, with so much dense text to read. All in all, though, this is as fine a book as I have on my shelf and it deserves to be much better known. 9/10.

“The Complete Guide To The Music Of...” (Chris Charlesworth, Omnibus, 1997)

You must be getting sick of these CD-sized Omnibus album guides by now if you’re reading the list in order – because here’s another one! Featuring all the Simon and Garfunkel albums as well as all of Paul’s albums up to ‘Rhythm Of The Saints’. That’s a shame because, by his standards, Paul’s had quite a prolific and interesting time of late, writing musicals about a murderer from Puerto Rico and three interesting hybrids of African, American and Brazilian music. Like the others in this series Charlesworth’s guide is impressively thorough for such a small tome, offering up spot-on synopsis of song after song and really getting to the heart of both Simon and Garfunkel’s psyches. Many of the photographs are a little too similar, but that’s not really the author’s fault given how ‘static’ S+G can be compared to some of the others on this list (‘will you sit still Keith Moon?!’) The worst decision by far, though, is relegating Paul’s ‘One Trick Pony’ film and soundtrack album to a single page – less than the compilations and live albums get – despite it being one of the deepest and most misunderstood work in the songwriter’s canon. Still, another excellent guide and probably the book to buy if you’re a curious Paul Simon fan looking to start from scratch. 7/10.


“Steve Marriott: All Too Beautiful” (Paolo Hewitt and John Hellier, Helter Skelter, 2004)

We’ve said before that the sign of a good biography is that you know the subject better after reading it; well I take that back because this book tells you all the insider dirt and frailties of Steve Marriott so well that you’ll never like him quite as much again after reading it. Hewitt is a well respected author among music fans (his books on Paul Weller especially have earned him high praise) but I find his writing style a bit too relentless personally, like a dog with a bone trying to get their subject to admit their guilt even when they’re 20 years dead. Not that there’s anything wrong with the detail and I have no doubt all the events happened in the book as described; it’s just all a bit merciless in my opinion. Marriott was clearly unwell by the end of his life, a split personality with a nasty streak he called ‘Melvin The Bald Headed Wrestler’ – but then so might I have been after a lifetime of youth stardom, horrendous money problems that saw me poaching game to survive despite huge record sales and various stormy relationships. Frankly, it’s a wonder Marriott didn’t join the ’27 club’ given the sheer amount of living he’d done by that age (when he’d already passed through the Small Faces and most of Humble Pie) and the last chapters are especially sad; when Ronnie Lane had money problems his star friends flocked to him but with Marriott they seemed to just stay away in droves, leaving one of the greatest rock voices of his generation playing low-key gigs in pubs and clubs. Drugs play a bigger part in this book than you’d expect, although its alcohol that’s Marriott’s demon, interrupting his creativity and putting other people off taking a chance on him – such a long, long way from the cheeky 10 year old living the part of the Artful Dodger in his first big breakthrough. By the time we reach the last act, with Marriott dying in a fire at his home (and most likely stumbling blindly into the airing cupboard and unable to find a way out through the smoke), the reader is either past caring (if they don’t know him that well) or in floods of tears (if they know him well), furious at all that lost potential. Thorough, detailed and packed full of great stories, I just wish this book had spent longer concentrating on Steve’s charisma, energy, drive and talent instead of his gradually disintegrating brain and appearance. Recommended, but with caution: you’ll never view Marriott the same way again. 4/10.


Pete Townshend "Who I Am" (2012)

Pete’s book should have been titled ‘Who Am I?’ rather than ‘Who I Am’ because even after reading the whole of it and knowing his Who and solo work backwards I still don’t know. All of Pete Townshend’s songs have been about identity, each of them extensions of the very first Who single ‘I Can’t Explain’ and it speaks volumes that this book was several decades in the making (Pete starting the work during his years as an editor at book publishers Faber in the early 80s) because you get the sense that there’s still more Pete wanted to tell us. Contemporary reviews have slammed the book for being too self-absorbed and empty, but I actually dispute that: Pete is always honest, at least in his dealings with himself if not always other people and if you’re a fan you’ll want to know all the details about everything in Pete’s life – chances are there’s more extra-curricular projects going on (from bookshops, recording studios and music that never saw the light of the day) than you’d think. Pete is also a very good companion, writing from the heart and admitting his mistakes while also trying to put his side of events in Who life across – the book really skips along from chapter to chapter as you’d expect such an erudite lyricist to do. The problems for me are that Pete doesn’t spend enough time talking about his songs; taking its cue from Keith Richards this book is more a list of the drug abuse and rehab visits than it is a detailed take on when, how and why Pete wrote what he did. Despite being quite a large book there also isn’t as much detail as I’d like – and a curse on the editors for asking Pete to trim the manuscript down to size (as if a generation brought up on double disc Who rock operas want to see their hero cut down to size!) Sadly, too, there’s not as many untold stories in this book as in some others – The Who wore their hearts on their sleeves so often that there’s less to find in this book than in, say, Dave Davies’ or Brian Wilson’s (as much as the latter book can be believed anyway). However, I enjoyed Pete’s book a lot more than all the nagging reviewers seemed to and there are some excellent passages on the band’s early years (when an anxious Pete reveals that he was far more immature than his school friends, John Entwistle included) and on the deaths of Keith and John. Pete is open too about the ‘paedophile’ story that broke a few years back; true fans like me have always said that Pete was only doing ‘research’ for his art and to help come to terms with his own confused childhood, but it’s nice to hear Pete break his silence on the matter when he could so easily just have skipped what must have been a hard chapter to write. If you’re a fan you won’t learn much you didn’t already know, but this is still one of the better Who books around and I for one would love to see a second volume one day with a more detailed look at Pete’s music and early career. Overall rating – 7/10

“Classic Rock Albums: Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy” (John Perry, Schirmer Press, 1998)

Albums have been king for music collectors since about 1968 but they weren’t always the most important items in a musician’s back catalogue. This study of a compilation of Who singles is therefore a welcome chance to tell the in-depth stories behind the earliest and most important Who songs in their catalogue. In fact there might well be a little too much detail here: the section for ‘I’m A Boy’, especially, lost me a little bit: is it a tale of personal identification? An analysis of masculinity? A subversion of a typically 1950s ish ‘oompah’ beat with very 1960s ish subversive lyrics? Or simply, as I’ve always taken it to be, a bit of mickey taking from Pete Townshend? To be fair we go on a lot more than this on our website so I shouldn’t pick on this book too much – certainly there’s a lot more readable and accessible thoughts in this book than most ‘classic album’ type books. ‘The Seeker’ especially, never the most well known of Who songs, really comes alive and reads like the pinnacle of the Who’s long list of songs about frustration and identity crises, instead of the semi-flop single released after ‘Tommy’ most people know it to be. The one problem is that this book is so intense in places that it’s hard to dip in and out – you have to study it, instead, bringing back lots of horrible memories of school lessons along the way. I’d love to see Perry write a full book about all The Who’s songs though, perhaps with a little less space to get so carried away, because he certainly does nail the 14 songs covered here in 160 odd pages or so. He also sensibly covers the songs in chronological order so that we get to hear the band grow and mature before our eyes, forethought the compilers of the original record could have done with! 7/10.  

“The Complete Guide To The Music Of...” (Chris Charlesworth, Omnibus, 1998)

The 10th in our series of 11 Omnibus music reviews that are small enough to fit in your pocket, this is amongst the weaker entries simply because it doesn’t have as many albums to cover (despite lasting some 17 years The Who could go years and years without releasing albums so compared to the, say, Neil Young issue there isn’t much here). That said all the book sin this series are well written, well researched and are never less than entertaining, whether the author is studying a heralded gem like Who’s Next or berating the poor post-Moon albums like ‘Face Dances’ and ‘It’s Hard’ (‘How did this get past quality control? Bah!’ runs one typically spot-on review!) There is a section on solo albums but it’s not as long as some other entries in the series – it would have been nice to have read what Charlesworth made of Townshend solo albums like ‘Psychoderelict’ for instance. Like the Kinks set in the same series the early non-album ‘Who’ singles are handled in the opening chapter, which is good for casual collectors who only care about the ‘hits’ but is a bit ofg a struggle if you’re trying to get to grips with the story in sequence and suddenly have to start understanding the depths of ‘Tommy’ before you’ve even hit ‘My Generation’. The photographs are, as ever, superb, especially the endpiece of a scarily young looking Who daubing graffiti on a wall. The ‘ooligans! 7/10.  

“Anyway Anyhow Anywhere: The Complete Chronicles Of The Who” (Andy Neill and Matt Kent, Virgin Books, 2002)

Another whacking great big book without much actual info in it, this is a list of all concerts played and records released by the ‘orrible ‘Oo that should be fascinating, but isn’t. The research is tremendous, listing everything The Who ever did in Keith Moon’s lifetime, but compared to, say, The Monkees or CSNY books treated the same way its all a little dry, without the song analysis or setlists of those books respectively to keep the reader occupied. The photographs are gorgeous throughout and the chapter ‘headings’ detailing the story behind each year in turn is a pretty good attempt to condense a lot of information into a short space, with some excellent snippets from period interviews with band members and associates. That said, there’s something curiously unfulfilling about this book, which loses the bigger picture in a sea of detail and is often as confusing and frustrating as it is illuminating. The authors seem unprepared to criticise The Who for anything either, perhaps the reason they sensibly end the book in 1978 and ignoring the four years the band had still to run with Kenney Jones on drums. Nowhere near as good as it looks (although to be fair it looks amazing), beware of buying the much smaller, less impressive paperback edition, which doesn’t even have as many glossy photographs to gaze at. Curiously unsatisfying. 3/10.

“Won’t Get Fooled Again: The Who From ‘Lifehouse’ to ‘Quadrophenia’” (Richie Unterberger, Jawbone, 2011)

This book sounded wonderful when I first heard about it – at last a detailed look at two of the most intellectual and complicated albums ever made, with each tale told in order from grand high visions to (for Pete Townshend’s ears at least) pale shadows of what might have been for both projects (‘Lifehouse’ turning into ‘Who’s Next’ along the way). Alas while Unterberger excels himself with the detail, with excellent notes on what was recorded when, where and in which order, you feel the author loses sight of the bigger picture, with the reader getting as confused as Townshend while they try and juggle first takes, outtakes, abandoned songs and re-writes as the two albums take shape. There’s also not as much input from Townshend as I’d hoped, even without any ‘new’ interviews to add to what we know – and as the only person who ever really understood either project this is more vital than normal for a Who book. Still, where this book excels is in making sense of how other people have understood the albums, looking at the views of record critics of the day and what fans thought of the sudden leap from ‘Tommy’ in 1969. As we’ve said before on this issue, the true test of a book is whether you understand the subject more after reading a work – I may well have learnt something new reading this book but I’m so confused and so overwhelmed by detail that I’ve forgotten it now anyway. 5/10.

From a later edition of News, Views and Music:"Keith Moon - Instant Party" (Alan Clayson, Book, 2005)
More a series of essays linked by interview clips by those who knew Keith, this is an intriguing companion to 'Dear Boy' that isn't as comprehensive a work and is clearly meant for those who know their Who chronology in-depth so they can follow the story (this is very much Keith's stories, not theirs) but adds quite a few fascinating titbits of detail. The book starts with a quote from Tony Hancock about not being able to take his 'character' on or off and you sense that our old friend Alan Clayson is more interested in what made Keith tick than in telling all the old stories about cars driven into swimming pools and TV sets being thrown out of windows. Ultimately, though, a list of Keith's faults and biggest mistakes (including running over his own chauffeur after being mobbed by a crowd) is only half the story - the 'darker' side of Keith so apparent here and the fun-loving soul largely sketched in 'Dear Boy' are two parts of the same coin, Keith's mistakes and larger than life personality driving the fun and vice versa before the whole thing got out of hand by the mid-70s. Still, Clayson does get to grasps with at least part of Keith's character and this is a maturer, kinder book than most in the same spirit. There's almost no mention of the actual music Keith made, though, which seems odd - he might not have driven The Who like Townshend but his contribution was key to all the albums he played on.


Neil Young "Waging Heavy Peace" (2012)

Neil’s book is as curious and mercurial as the artist himself. The singer admits early on that he’s writing this book not in some big outpouring of emotion but in-scattered half hours between other events in his life and admits too that this book was only written because for the first time in about 50 years there was no great wealth of music trying to push through his sub-conscious (something thankfully healed by the double CD set ‘Psychedelic Pill’ last year, although to be honest that album – like this book – needs a good editor). The chapters come in scattershot form depending on whatever is on Neil’s mind that day, switching quickly from his early years to career highlights to the present day in the same way that his music veers from electric to acoustic seemingly overnight. This actually isn’t as irritating as that might sound (as long as you’re not actually trying to look anything up!) and Neil is a likeable reading companion, much warmer and open than you’d probably expect from the years of no-media and being ‘cushioned’ by his close business pals. In fact there’s more about Neil’s family, friends and colleagues than there this about himself, which is a lovely touch but slightly grating as all Neil can add about his friends are potted biographies or interviews fans will already know inside-out. If nothing else it’s nice to hear Neil being open about his son Ben, born with cerebral palsy and proudly referred to as ‘Ben Young’ throughout, as if Neil can’t believe he’s related to such a strong and courageous fighter. Neil, infamously, didn’t even let his record company or band know how poorly his son was when he was born or how many hours of therapy Neil and wife Peggy spent with him, so its nice to hear Neil talking properly about his very special bond with his son. Elsewhere like so many AAA stars Neil also spends comparatively little time talking about his music: the only song that’s discussed in any detail is the legendary curio ‘Will To Love’ and the story of how that song was born seemingly in one go (when, typically, Neil should have been doing something else) is the highlight of the entire book. Had the other chapters been as good as this one then the curiously titled ‘Waging Heavy Peace’ (‘Broken Arrow’ might perhaps have been a better name as it all means the same thing) then it would have been the book of the decade – as it is Neil’s autobiography feels a little lightweight, exactly something done to fill in the time (and while Neil, sacred of inheriting dementia from his father, can still remember everything) but not definitive. My advice is to read this book alongside the ‘Shakey’ biography if you want a full-blooded and detailed account of Neil’s life and frankly the OTT ‘best music book ever’ reviews of the day are wrong, but for all its rambling nature and non-linear order this book is still of much interest to fans. Overall rating 6/10.

“A Dreamer Of Pictures” (David Downing, Bloomsbury, 1994)

This book has been all but superseded now but at the time it was the first book to fully cover the many twists and turns of Neil’s career. It was released on the back of Neil’s sudden rise to fame in the ‘grunge’ era, his ‘second wind’ of creativity (it covers everything up to ‘Unplugged’ in 1993), although its for the ill-fated Geffen years in the 1980s that this book comes alive. Covering the whole story without the drama and fuss of ‘Shakey’, author Downing is a thoughtful writer who maybe spends a bit too long trying to find links through Neil’s life when there aren’t any (the book ends with the author detecting a Shadows influence in the way Neil was playing ‘Like A Hurricane’ that tour). There’s a pretty rum lot of photographs too for a man whose been seen in so many poses in so many guises and characters down the years. However everything you’d want to see about Neil’s career up to 1993 is covered here well and its a much easier book to find your way round than most on this list, thanks to a detailed index and the fact that it tells the full story in order for a change (without the flashbacks of some biographies). If you want a book with as much flair and panache as Neil’s shown in his career then go for the McDonaugh one – but if its a simple re-telling of the basics of a story then you could do much worse than this. 6/10.

“His Life and Music” (Michael Heatley, Reed International, 1994)

This book features the best of both worlds, with lots of illustrations and a complete (till 1994) section of mini-reviews at the end of each chapter but still lots of text for fans to get their teeth into. There’s no drama here, as there is in ‘Shakey’, no woozy rambling interviews with the man himself as per the Rolling Stones Files and not as much critique as in the specific album review books. But this is still as good an overview as you can get of Neil’s many cul-de-sacs and genre switches, getting pretty close inside the story of a man who just won’t sit still. The book ends, like the last one, with ‘Unplugged’ and finds Neil back on top again heralded by grunge kids and releasing his best music for years. It’s the record sin-between, though, that most come alive – the much discussed, little understood ‘doom trilogy, the late 70s acoustic revival and the troubled Geffen Years are all treated with the respect they deserve and even if there’s little ‘new’ here for the long-term collector it’s a story told admirably well for the most part. One minor point though: CSN seem so come in for a bit of kicking (Young fans can legendarily be divided into CSN and Crazy Horse fans; typically I love them both) with remarks like Neil’s songs for ‘American Dream being ‘arguably some of the album’s best’ (arguably they’re the worst of a pretty bad bunch) and that the album ‘marked an upturn in CSN’s fortunes’ (it killed off most sales for their next two LPs). 7/10.   

“The Rolling Stone Files” (Various, Hyperion, 1994)

Like many ‘compilation’ books, this set of Rolling Stones interviews and record reviews veers from spot-on analysis of Young’s mercurial moods (the 1975 interview has been quoted so many times its nice to read it in full, with Neil at his most articulate) to some rather unexpected conclusions (‘Landing On Water’ his most consistent record of the 1980s?!) That’s part of the fun, of course, with Neil leading down as many cul de sacs as he has main roads on his pledge to make the most of whatever muse he has in his head that any particular day. Naturally enough a lot of the CSNY articles have appeared in CSNY books so there might be a bit of an overlap here for the big collectors of Young writings, but for the most part what we have here is all you’ll really need to understand how each Young record was treated at the time. 6/10.

“The Complete Guide To The Music Of...” (Johnny Rogan, Omnibus, 1996)

The final CD-sized Omnibus guide is perhaps the least of the 11, not because of any faults with the writing but because Neil Young is too prolific for his own good. To keep the word count down the ‘extra’ section at the back of the book is small, some minor albums such as the ‘Where The Buffalo Roam’ soundtrack and Neil’s curious films ‘Journey Thru The Past’ and ‘Human Highway’ are absent and the Buffalo Springfield and CSNY albums aren’t reviewed in full, just Neil’s songs for each. That said, it’s still a good book, with some spot on observations that has a good go at reclaiming the Geffen years for posterity (though Rogan’s hatred of the terrible ‘Landing On Water’ album is hilarious!) and making sense of the ‘doom trilogy’. Like all the books in the series, album artwork for each album is printed in full alongside the review – a good call, making these books look rather tasteful and polished. 7/10. 

“In His Own Words” (Omnibus, 1997)

Neil Young has of course had plenty of fascinating and insightful things to say about a whole range of subjects – however, being Neil, he’s not been on top form every single time he’s sat through an interview. This collection of soundbites either needs a better editor or to be several pages shorter, because for every gem (‘probably the biggest lesson learned at an American place of learning’ is his comment on the murder of four protesting students by Richard Nixon’s Government at the Ohio University in 1970) there’s a really boring pointless quote such as ‘I love Hendrix and the way he plays guitar’. Hearing so many quotes out of context and out of order also makes for some confusion: Neil has veered through his career from being as peace and love as any hippie to backing Ronald Reagan’s decision to escalate the cold war and threaten the Communist half of the world; here the more controversial quotes have been taken out but the confliction and contradictions remain. This book does best when it sticks to the music, with quotes about most of the albums Neil’s played on listed in order, from the Buffalo Springfield days up to his then-new album ‘Broken Arrow’.  The photographs, too, range from the brilliant to the downright scary, with all of them black and white and most of them taking up a full page, with Neil wearing almost the same beatific stare in them all, despite the change of hair and costume. A few nuggets of inspiration aside, you don’t really learn any more about Neil than you did before you started reading the book, which is a shame given that this is the most changing, ever-restless musician that probably ever lived. 4/10.   

“Music Makers: Neil Young” (Alexis Petridis, Unanimous, 2000)

You’re never going to get to the heart and soul of a character with the complexities of Neil Young in a book just 130 odd pages long, although the author does have a good go at outlining all the key events and explaining Neil’s sometimes impenetrable songs. I’d like to have read more about the making and the quality of each album, instead of just having most of the text given over to individual songs and the opening 50 page attempt to tell the story is understandably skimpy, sounding more like a timeline than an in-depth discussion of the story. That said, most of the opinions are spot-on given that they rarely run longer than a sentence each and I’ve referred back to the post-Mirrorball reviews often (as alas that’s as far as my ‘Complete Guide...’ book ran to). The best section might well be the last, as Petridis attempts to explain Neil’s legacy among other performers in an 14 page spurt of detail and finally lets his conversational writing style get into full swing. If its a proper in-depth analysis book you want then buy ‘Shakey’ and if its a fit-in-your-pocket book than that Omnibus complete guide is the way to go, but this is still a fair second-division publication. 5/10. 

“Shakey” (Jimmy McDonaugh, Johnathon Cape, 2002)

Fans were scared about what this book might reveal because, despite getting close to the biographer and actually inviting him to tell an ‘authorised’ tale, Neil pulled the plug on the idea several years into the making of it and actually took the author to court. As it happens Neil didn’t have much to fear, with McDonaugh an artist’s gift as a biographer, one prepared to understand and give him space to explain his wrongdoings and give him a swift kick up the rear when he falls short of expectations. Not that Neil comes out of it that well: all the people ‘dropped’ along the way, right back to his schooldays are interviewed and their memories are not warm and fuzzy, even those of the men closest to him (surprisingly David Geffen doesn’t rant much but the late manager David Briggs does – and how). That said, Neil comes over much more human and caring than ever before, given the chance to debate his ability to cut people off (and, frankly, you couldn’t have made that much new music in so many styles with all of them there) and apologise to some of them. Crazy Horse and CSN all come out terrifically badly, though, with the former terrible musicians who got lucky and the latter lucky musicians who became more and more terrible as the years went on in McDonaugh’s eyes, not something I can agree with (even if I hate the later-period Crazy Horse solo album that Billy Talbot plays to the author too, in the book’s funniest passage when he desperately tries to hear Danny Whitten’s last recordings). There’s less on the Stills-Young partnership and brotherly bond than I’d have liked, although no other book has ever given Danny Whitten such a great send off, his terrible tragedy unravelling for several chapters and hitting you like a train when it comes. The music, too, is well covered, with several conversations between author and subject about each album spread across a chapter, giving them the space and size they deserve but don’t normally get even in a book this size (750 pages). Neil has apparently already written his autobiography, titled ‘Waging Heavy Peace’ and due to be published this Autumn; if its half as revealing and honest as this book it will be a treat. 8/10. 

“Long May You Run: An Illustrated History” (Daniel Durchholz and Gary Graff, Voyageur Press, 2010)

Good on illustrations and memorabilia, short on any actual insight or stories, this book is still a good purchase but it helps if you already own one of the Neil Young biographies from this list (or Neil’s forthcoming autobiography if you’re reading this in the future!) The book isn’t so much a straight forward ramble through Neil’s life and career so much as a series of essays written about, among other things, the history of Crazy Horse, the feud with David Geffen and Neil’s relationships with punk and grunge. This makes the book different to the others around and works well in places (the study of Neil’s troubled relationship with Kurt Cobain, despite the fact that the two never met, is better handled here than in every other Young volume), although it does make the book somewhat fragmentary. There’s also a few too many boring tour posters and ticket stubs filling up precious pages, although some of the shots of Neil in concert (in all his many guises) are superb. The book goes all the way up to the ‘Archives’ set so as I write its the most comprehensive Young overview out there (only ‘Americana’, out last month, is missing). 6/10.

Various Artists

“The Guinness Guide To British Hit Singles and Albums” (Paul Gambacinni, Tom Rice and Jo Rice, most years between 1977 and 2004): Features every AAA band

Among the many reasons to hate the way downloading has taken over from physical contact with your music source (no packaging, no info, bad connections interrupting downloads, no chance of stacking your music in alphabetical and chronological order, etc) is the fact that it seems to have killed off this once great institution. For years this “socially approved form of madness” (as the first edition put it) of chart lists and record breaking sales statistics was the music anorak’s favourite Xmas present – and no prizes for guessing that yes I did own several volumes of it over a 27 year period. Alas music charts are filled with so many re-releases and one-week chart stays in this day and age the books would have to triple in size to contain them all – and these books have filled up enough space on my shelf already between them! Still if you’re new to this collecting lark and want to know, say, whether the Beatles had more album sales than Abba in their career (they did, I’ve just looked it up!) or whether you can genuinely refer to Nils Lofgren as a hit artist in the UK (he has a very respectable 30 weeks on the UK album chart in fact) any edition of these books are essential. In fact if your music tastes are as dominated by the 60s and 70s then mine are then you can buy any of these editions safe in the knowledge that most of the statistics post 1977 will be depressing and irrelevant anyway (how the hell did the Spice Girls become the 173rd most successful act of all time in the UK? Sob!) The only shame is that there isn’t, as yet, an American equivalent so you can check the sales of, say, ‘Beatles VI’ against ‘Beatles For Sale’! 7/10.

“The Rolling Stone Interviews” (St Martin’s Press, 1981): Features interviews with members of the Beatles, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Rolling Stones, Paul Simon, The Who and Neil Young

Another must for the music fan’s bookshelf, this mammoth volume features no less than 35 quite lengthy interviews with (almost) anyone who was anyone between the magazine’s first issue in 1967 and 1980 (when this book was published). There’s lots of non-AAA stuff of course, including some articles I still haven’t read yet (fancy talking in-depth to Neil Young one week and then having to lower yourself to speaking to Billy Joel or Donovan the next!) but what is relevant to our site is very good indeed. The ‘stoned rap session’ with two of Jefferson Airplane is the best thing of theirs in print, with Grace Slick on wicked form and Paul Kantner on angry, world-reforming mode; Pete Townshend’s first of two interviews only consists of about a dozen questions but so long and detailed are the guitarist’s answers you learn more about The Who in this one book than many hour long documentaries on the subject; Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney (interviewed twice each) are their usual friendly-but-not-giving anything-away selves; the extract from ‘Lennon Remembers’ is frustratingly short but wonderful all the same; Keith Richards is effortlessly outrageous; Jerry Garcia is interviewed in tandem with girlfriend Mountain Girl, bringing out the ‘Morecambe and Wise’ in his delivery; Paul Simon revels in the chance to talk in depth about his songwriting for pretty much the first time; Keith Moon is as mad as you’d expect, with ‘ah-hah-hahhh’ puncturing every other sentence, but with hints of his intelligence breaking through with the right questions; finally, Neil Youg lets his guard down like never before, talking to us with a new love in his life and a new Crazy Horse album in the works, as bemused as the rest of us as to the ‘doom trilogy’ of legend. Never have these musicians been shown to be so human – and never has there been such a strong case that rock music of the 60s and 70s was made by curious intellectuals not the grunting Neanderthals of legend. A must for every fan who liked even one of these artists. 9/10.

“Abbey Road” (Brian Southall, Manset Ltd, 1982): Features chapters on The Beatles and Pink Floyd (though sadly The Hollies are ignored!)

A disappointingly boring account of what happened in the revered studios between their completion in the late Victorian period and publication in the 1980s, you sense the definitive account of life in Abbey Road has yet to be written. That said, this is a key book in many ways for McCartney’s revealing interview, pretty much the first he gave that relished talking about the ‘old days’ rather than plugging something new and keeping The Beatles at arm’s length and this one chapter might have opened his mind up to the Anthology project. Lennon, too, hangs like a ghost over the book, having died partway through the making of it and in many ways this book is a finer epitaph for him than any of the specifically Lennon books that came out in the years after his death. Alas, though, the section on Pink Floyd is boring and uninformative (the band didn’t speak to the author – they were too busy threatening to strangle each other in the studio at the time) and there isn’t more than a passing mention of the studio’s second best-selling band from the 60s The Hollies. What a waste! 4/10. 

“The NME Rock and Roll Years” (The NME Staff, Hamlyn, 1990)

Another superb ‘compilation’ book, this time from the New Musical Express and delightfully designed, with a mock-newspaper front page for each and every month between the mid 50s and the late 80s. To be honest, I’d have preferred a book looking at just, say, the 60s or 70s in more detail and several good stories do get lost, but this is still a good book giving you a wonderful potted history of 25 years of rock and roll, with one year’s idols giving way sharply to the next. What’s most interesting about this book is the fact that every cutting is direct from the time, written without the benefit of hindsight, so we get pieces on things that either came to nothing (such as a Hollies film, in the vein of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’) or in retrospect weren’t as major as we thought at the time (‘Davy Jones to be drafted – will Mickey Rooney’s son be a Monkee?’ runs one headline, while another article has Graham Nash worrying over a throat operation that might ruin his singing voice). Looking things up is difficult unless you know the month something occurred and the use of small sentence-long bullet points in the ‘other news’ section can be frustrating if like me you always want to know more; that said, this is still a delightful time capsule lucky dip kind of a book from a time when rock and roll really was the most important event taking place, far and beyond all that silly politics and wars. 8/10.    

“Monterey Pop” (Joel Selvin and Jim Marshall, Chronicle Books, 1992): features Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Simon and Garfunkel and The Who

A glorious pictorial account of the greatest show the Earth has ever seen – forget Woodstock, forget Candlestick Park, this is the concert I wish I could go back in time to see (OK The Cavern Club or Beatles in Hamburg might have a chance too!) So many AAA stars took part and even the ones who were cut out of the film or refused to be filmed are here at least once: a young Buffalo Springfield with David Crosby filling in for Neil Young and sharing a stage with Stephen Stills for the first time; a ridiculously young Grateful Dead with an acne-faced Jerry Garcia pre-beard; The Byrds with Crosby sporting a newly grown moustache and a sticker advertising drugs hanging from his guitar; Janis Joplin at the point when 99% of people discovered her, looking far more fragile and nervous than she does later on; Otis Redding in his element saluting the mixed race crowds with his mixed race bands and looking like the 6 foot 6 giant he was; Simon and Garfunkel looking edgy and out of place but enjoying themselves all the same; the Jefferson Airplane heading in six different directions at once onstage but all with the same glint in their eye and finally The Who, angry and snarling after a difficult meeting backstage where they’ve been told they won’t get paid and are looking to smash through the peace and love vibes of the festival. There’s even shots of Monkees Peter Tork introducing his friends in the Buffalo Springfield (‘my favourite group’) and Micky Dolenz embracing his Indian ancestry – why the Monkees never played Monterey (at the time they were the biggest band on the planet, if not loved by everyone) I’ll never know.  The photographs are wonderful, a time capsule when everyone was young and the audience was as integral to the music as the bands were. The text, however, is a little on the skimpy side and deserved to be much longer, embracing everyone involved in the festival including the names that have since been forgotten. The tales of how the festival was started by Paul Simon, Paul McCartney and the Mamas and Papas among others deserves a much bigger space and the way the festival went from being paid to being free is a fascinating tale that still hasn’t been told fully yet. Not the definitive book on the festival, then, but if its a book of photographs from the 60s you’re after then this is the book for you. In fact, its Monterey Purple. 8/10.

“The All Time Top 1000 Albums” (Colin Larkin, Square One Books, 1994): features pretty much every AAA group in there somewhere!

A simply glorious book that puts all the awful later sanitised ‘albums to hear before you die a rock and roll death’ type books to shame. Coerving every era (up to the publishing date, obviously) and divided into blues, rap, metal, soul and avant garde the list is still dominated by a fantastic rock and pop section that features just about every AAA band in there somewhere. It’s hard to argue with an author who puts the comparatively obscure David Crosby album ‘If Only I Could Remember My Name’ into his own personal top five, but Larkin doesn’t use his choices – he’s gone for a mixture of best-sellers, critically acclaimed and fan-voted albums to make up this list. Each album is then given insightful and often witty write-ups, discussing the background to each record and the section under ‘brilliantly unlistenable classics’ (which includes a handful of AAA-related albums, mainly by Yoko Ono) is especially hilarious. Not everyone will agree with the choices, of course (I’m surely not alone in thinking that 25 punk and 25 rap albums is about, ooh, 25 too many) but that’s part of the fun of being a collector and you can always write your own list one day (partly inspired by this book mine is ongoing; in fact you’re reading part of it right now). An excellent means of discovering that someone else out there is as passionate about this stuff as you. 8/10.   

“100 Great Albums Of The 60s” (John Tobler, Little Brown, 1994): features pretty much every AAA group around in the 1960s!

Another well-thumbed book in my collection, I don’t agree with all of the 100 records listed here but I still have the greatest respect for Tobler as a fellow collector desperate to chronicle the loves of his life. In total 34 AAA-related albums are here, including no less than 10 we also feature in our original 100 under-rated album reviews. There are some surprises as well: The Beach Boys’ ‘All Summer Long’ doesn’t usually make these kind of lists but the author argues well for its case as the last ‘fun’ Beach Boys album; the Al; Kooper-Mike Bloomfield-Stephen Stills ‘Super Session’ jam is a nice surprise too. Each album is given a page (two for double albums), with album credits, running time and front cover listed above a few paragraphs outlining the history of the album and a special ‘boxed’ paragraph dealing with something particular about the album that makes it stand out (the packaging, the cover material, the reception in the press or in CSN’s case the invention of the supergroup). It’s not the most in-depth book on this list, but if you’re new to collecting 60s music then A) buy this book and B) welcome to the club that will change your life forever, turning you into a record collecting obsessive on a par with Tobler and you humble creator of Alan’s Album Archives.

“It Happened In Manchester” (Alan Lawson, Multimedia, 1998): features The Hollies and 10cc

Less impressive than Spencer Leigh’s similar book on Liverpool (below), this is a cheap and cheerful look at how Manchester swung before those pesky Londoners got involved, with big print and no index (although the list of all the groups around in Manchester and suburbs is still handy). There’s less on The Hollies and The Mindbenders (Eric Stewart’s band before 10cc) than I’d hoped, although Eric Haydock (bassist for the former) gets a rare chance to put his side of the story across without Clarke Hicks or Nash getting in the way and it’s nice to see now-forgotten groups get their turn in the spotlight. Best quote of the book: Eric’s comment ‘Brian Epstein turned John Lennon into something sophisticated – which most people would have said was impossible!’ 4/10.

“Not Fade Away: A Backstage Pass To 20 Years In Rock and Roll” (Ben Fong-Torres, Miller Freeman, 1999): features The Beatles, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin and Rolling Stones 

Ben Fong-Torres was the second-in-command at Rolling Stone magazine for their early days, later becoming editor when Jann Wenner stepped down. His reputation rests on a number of speedily written, deadline-looking interviews with the stars of the day and they read well collected together, even if the author seems to be losing interest by the end of the decade when the music loses its relevance and impact a little bit. To be honest the ’20 years’ tagline is a bit misleading: practically all the interviews here comes from the first half of the 1970s and inevitably includes many AAA faces. The Airplane always made good copy, with their mixture of cosy family details (Kantner and Slick have just had their baby Chyna) and casual political rebellion (civil rights and ‘war protest’ are ‘battles won’ by 1971 says Kantner; if only that was true). Janis Joplin spends one of her very last interviews with anybody discussing the ‘good place’ she’s in and worrying about the hippies being beaten up for protesting Government policy. Paul McCartney in 1976 is high from touring from Wings but still fairly sour on The Beatles, with his typical deft mixture of cheeky mischief and guarded defence. Mick Jagger, chatting in 1972, is surprisingly informal. Finally, George Harrison gives one of his best interviews, defending his poorly received (and only) European tour promoting ‘Dark Horse’ and revealing himself to be more than the cipher many expected. All the interviews are accompanied by the stories behind their creation, although these aren’t quite as revealing about the personalities as you’d hope, being more about that ever ticking-clock and its haranguing deadlines. Still fascinating, however, and for AAA fans worth buying for these articles alone – naturally the ‘other’ interviews with lesser artists with less to say are depressingly ordinary for the most part. 7/10.

“The Rough Guide To Rock” (Various authors, Rough Guide, 1999): features just about every AAA band – but with some very notable exceptions!

The individual Rough Guide books about the Beatles, the Stones and the Floyd are among the best on this list, so an over-reaching guide looking at every rock group under the sun must be a good purchase. Mustn’t it? Well, the problem with this book is that its written by so many authors, some of them who haven’t got the knowledge or, perhaps more generously, the space and time to study a group’s career in-depth, so that what we have here ends up looking like a lot of shortened Wikipedia entries (not that Wikipedia is the running joke it is with me that it is with some authors – it’s an excellent source for dates and times or for checking something you’re already pretty sure you know; just don’t do all your research there).Trying to fit Neil Young’s 60-odd album career into two and a bit pages, for instance – even of minute text – is asking for trouble. What’s odd too is what’s included and what’s missing: if this book is pure ‘rock’ then why is Abba there? If the terms a bit looser then why no Moody Blues or Cat Stevens (who surely count as closer to rock than some of the metal and rap bands)? Nice as it is to see names you don’t know that well, why include, say, The Seahorses and Sebadoh and not The Searchers? Some of the comments are really poor too: the ‘rudimentary musicianship’ meant that The Kinks ‘were never going to make sense in a market dominated by Cream?!’ The Kinks were twice the players Cream ever were – and I say that as a fan of both – just have a listen to the ‘Preservation’ shows or the 1977 tour. That said, many of the highlighted sections dealing with an artists’ best works are spot on, accepting compilations and live albums as well as famous studio LPs and the work is occasionally entertaining: the quote from Keith Richards that ‘the older you get...the older you want to get’ is a far better choice than the usual rubbish totted out for Stones biographies. Useful for looking up groups you’ve only just discovered and fallen in love with, just be warned – like many of these ‘compilation’ books if you start looking up groups who you know backwards it can only lead to arguments and the book being hurled across the room. 3/10.

“The Top 10 Irreverent Guide To Music” (Alex Ogg, Channel 4 Books, 2001): features Human League, John Lennon, Monkees, Moody Blues, Pink Floyd, Otis Redding, 10cc and The Who

We’ve spent a long time looking at ‘serious’ music books this week but here’s a fun one. I loved Channel 4’s ‘Top Ten’ music prog when it was on in the late 90s (its the one with the broom if that brings back memories!), even if it did keep taking the micky out of my bands (The Moody Blues’ Ray Thomas as a Spanish waiter! I’ve never seen the clip of ‘Ride My See-Saw’ the same since!) This companion book is slightly less tongue-in-cheek but still very funny, especially the chapters on ‘teen idols’ and ‘really annoying songs’ (no prizes for guessing Agadoo comes top)! The potted biographies of people like Otis Redding and groups like The Human League are still quite useful, even without the gags. For the record Otis is #8 in soul performers (he should be #1), The Monkees are #9 on Boy Bands (even though they aren’t one!),The Human League are #4 in Electro-pop and #5 in 80s Romantics, John and Yoko are #2 in the Xmas songs list, prog rock has the Moody Blues at #3 and Pink Floyd at #1, 10cc’s ‘I’m Not In Love’ is at #4 in the ‘heartbreakers’ ballad section and finally Pete Townshend makes #6 as a ‘guitar hero’. 6/10.  

“Twist and Shout!” (Spencer Leigh, Nirvana Books, 2004): features The Beatles, The Hollies and The Searchers

A collection of soundbites about the Mersey sound in general and the Cavern Club in particular, this is a real period piece about what it felt to be there at the time from the mouths of the people who were. Like many books compiled like this, the comments range from the banal (a whole paragraph on the type of jackets a band wore on stage) to the spot-on (‘Brian Epstein was the Keith Fordyce for America!’ Chris Curtis). The main problem with the book is that every comment is made by a contributor listed with a number – trying to look up a particular number is then made difficult because the list at the end of the book is by contributor, not number. We’ve heard most of the Beatles stuff before, with no new contributions from anyone connected with the fab four, although the chapter devoted to Hamburg and the section on Pete Best’s sacking are both still well worth reading. The Searchers on the other hand really come to life in this book, with three members of the original line-up on terrific form: Curtis, Mike Pender and John McNally. Graham Nash, too, is on fine form, giving his thoughts about the Mersey scene from the point of view of a Mancunian outsider, although a little known fact is that The Hollies played the Cavern Club almost as many times as The Beatles. The photographs, though, are terrific, including what’s thought to be the last shot of Searcher Chris Curtis and a lovely rare shot of Paul McCartney with Julia Lennon (John’s mother) shortly before her death. The best section of the book may well be the last, however: mini-biogs of all the contributors who took part and a list of every known still-unreleased track from those heady 60s days. One of those books you just can’t put down. 8/10.

“Best Selling Albums” (Gene Sculatti, Igloo, 2004)

I’m still not sure if I ought to recommend this book and its various spin-offs or not, seeing as I’ve spent most of my time reading it going ‘oh no, how could Donovan outsell anything by The Hollies’ or ‘fancy the Spice Girls conning so many people into buying their vacuous empty product’. For a monkeynuts obsessive like me, though, these books are a must, simple lists of the best-selling albums of all time that however simple still cause an awful lot of outrage. The book we’ve outlined above is the ‘mothership’ book listing the top 20 books of most decades (with only 10 each for the 50s and 2000-04), but there are other volumes featuring the top 100 of the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s (with the 60s, naturally, being the place where most AAA records can be found). The lists are dominated by The Beatles, even if the likes of Shania Twain and Norah Jones threaten to topple them off their perch in the modern era, with almost all their 13 albums making the top 100 sixties list (with The White Album a controversial #1; controversial because, being a double album, each sale is counted as two). The statistics at the back, dividing the lists up into best-selling artists, groups and countries is fun too, while the decision to use whacking great page-long spreads of each and every artwork is both genius (in the case of most of the 60s sleeves) or hideous (in the case of the 90s and 00s sleeves, where Norah Jones looks like a witch and Britney Spears looks like the devil (dressed as a 17 year old schoolgirl). Nice research, its just a shame there isn’t space for a longer ‘album history’ for each entry than the potted sentences we get here. 6/10.

“Legends On Tour” (Martin Creasy, Tempus, 2007): features Beatles, Hollies, Kinks, Small Faces and Cat Stevens)

Blast it, why couldn’t I have been around in the 60s? There’s a picture in this book of Cat Stevens, the Walker Brothers, Jimi Hendrix and Englebert Humperdinck backstage at a package tour – the Hump aside they don’t make tours like that anymore! The best section, though, is the chapter on The Hollies and The Small Faces touring together, clashing over who closed the show and Graham Nash recalling an incident where a girl hung onto him so hard it took four bouncers to prize her off!  Elsewhere things go surprisingly smoothly between The Kinks and The Yardbirds, with Ray Davies described in the press as ‘looking for all the world like a mad magician!’ For The Beatles its just yet another tour with yet more screaming girls (although there’s a fun picture of them eating leeks I haven’t seen before!) This book about the UK package tours of the early 60s is impressively researched, with lots of wonderful photographs that have been well cherished in private collections and newspaper files for far too many decades. The text isn’t quite up to the images, relying on fan recollections rather than that of the stars, although the quotes from newspaper clippings of the day are still excellent and insightful. A real time capsule of another era, it’s well worth owning even if it won’t actually take you that long to read. 7/10.

“Fire and Rain: The Lost Story of 1970” (David Browne, Da Capo Press, 2011): features The Beatles, CSNY and Simon and Garfunkel

This is a terrific idea, telling the story of one year from the eyes of four different groups who despite representing different eras and ambitions all seemed to come a cropper in 1970. Dividing the book into four parts (James Taylor being the non-AAA 4th member) means that out of necessity the book jumps around jarringly and that each section seems to end just as it begins to start moving again. The lack of space means that The Beatles section, in particular, seems a little wet around the edges (although the tale of the ‘Let It Be’ release and McCartney sessions is well told). The making of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ is tremendous, however, with the factors pulling these two ‘old friends’ apart marvellously told, with Art’s growing frustration stuck on the movie set of Catch 22 contrasted with Paul’s low-key decision to become a lecturer on songwriting for a semester. The many ups and downs of life in the CSNY camp, too, is excellently told with the quartet’s fall from grace from the band with the most eagerly awaited album fallen by the end of the year to band splits, lost friendships, accidents (such as Stephen Stills falling off a horse) and death (Crosby’s girlfriend Christine) comspiring to prevent them ever being so relevant or worshipped again. The author could have taken the easier decision of tracing a more popular year, say 1967’s summer of love with warning bells or the 1969 Woodstock versus Altamont years. However he makes a great case for 1970 being as important as either of those watershed moments in rock and you have to salute both the research and the readable writing style, however disjointed the format of following four different groups might be. 8/10. 

That’s it for another issue after what must be one of the longest newsletters we’ve ever written! Join us for some more music and frolics when we return to our normal size and content next week!

A complete collection of April Fool’s Day Columns (Plus Other Bits and Pieces):

#1 (published 2009, set in 2034):

#4 ('Swedish Elizabethan' edition, published 2012, set in a timeless universe):

#5 ('Max's Space Museum' edition, published 2013, set in 7114):

#6 (Max's Scrapbook' edition, published 2014 set in 2099): and

#7 ('Multiverse with famous authors writing for the AAA' edition, published and set in 2015)

#8 ('The Story and Discography of Pixie Drainpipe', published 2016, set in 5838)

#9 (‘All Hail President Bingo!’, published 2017, set in 2020)

#10 (‘Spice Up Your Life!!!’,  published and set in 2018)

#11 (‘Brexit Maxit and Farewell’, published 2019, set in 2029)

Every Single AAA Studio and Solo Release in Chronological Order: