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Can't Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, and America Paperback – November 4, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. SignatureReviewed by Mark RotellaAs a teenager, I collected every album the Beatles put out, starting with their first U.S. release, 1964's Meet the Beatles, to their last, Let It Be, in 1970. As Paul sang Mother Mary comes to me/ speaking words of wisdom, I heard the wisdom of an aged sage.But as Jonathan Gould states in his brilliant biography of the Beatles, the band had effectively ended before any of them had reached the age of thirty. There have been several biographies of the band (including two outstanding ones, Bob Spitz's The Beatles and Devin McKinney's Magic Circles:The Beatles In Dream and History), but Gould leaves the gossip to others and instead relies on their music to tell the story, starting with the early days as a band in Liverpool (with Paul McCartney on guitar and Stuart Sutcliffe on bass) to the recordings at the Abbey Road studios in London (where Yoko became everpresent and George stormed out threatening to quit). They got their start in Hamburg, Germany, and were soon managed by a young, eager former furniture salesman named Brian Epstein, and produced by George Martin, a recording executive known for novelty records.Gould, a former musician, has written an engrossing book, both fluid and economical (aside from one overlong section on the concept of charisma). Page after page, you can hear the music; Gould's deft hand makes the book sing. This is music writing at its best.It begins with a musical wake-up call, Gould writes of A Hard Day's Night—the harsh clash of a solitary chord that hangs in the air for an elongated moment, its densely packed notes swimming into focus like eyes adjusting to the light. On Here Comes the Sun, Gould describes George's music, written as he became more steeped in Indian philosophy amidst turmoil within the band, as rays of sun cutting across the melting ice of winter... of coming through a long and arduous experience and emerging whole at the end.Focusing on the Beatles' influences, musical (Elvis, Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys) and otherwise (marijuana, LSD, the Maharishi Mahesh yogi), Gould elucidates the mystery of the band that changed the course of Western popular music. (Oct.)Mark Rotella, senior reviews editor at Publishers Weekly, is the author of The Saloon Singers, about the great Italian-American crooners, to be published by FSG in 2008.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
*Starred Review* Gould's combination group biography, cultural history, and musical criticism artfully places the Beatles in their time and social context while examining with great skill how they became an international phenomenon comparable only to themselves. He examines cultural and historical moments on both sides of the Atlanticthe impact of John Osborne's epoch-making play Look Back in Anger, the arrival of Elvis Presley and the rise of rock and roll, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Summer of Love, Woodstockwhile limning Liverpool, the working-class port city in England's industrial north from which the Beatles hailed, and the individual Beatles' strong senses of regional solidarity and fierce local patriotism. To understand the Beatles, Gould implies, you must understand where they came from. He follows them through their roller-coaster career: Hamburg, early days at Liverpool's Cavern Club, their "conquest" of America, the hysteria that came to be called Beatlemania, Sgt. Pepper's, and the eventual breakup. All bases are covered, but setting Gould's book apart are his careful dissection of cultural history and his astute critical eye (his masterful critiques of "Eleanor Rigby," "Penny Lane," "Strawberry Fields Forever," and "A Day in the Life," in particular, are miracles of economy). Long on history, short on gossip, he gives nuanced assessments of the world's most admired rock band and of its era. Sawyers, June --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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You are most likely to enjoy this book if you appreciate the band when you hear the music (and tap your feet to it), but also want to build a little bit of understanding of their phenomenon -- to develop some new insights into what made them such a remarkable cultural force. The author puts their breakthrough moments into the context of the Profumo affair and uses sociological theory, especially Max Weber, to interpret why their fans went through such frenzies, after all. You will meet Aldous Huxley and Carl Jung as well. An author can very easily fall into pseudo-intellectual BS by drawing in so many cultural influences, but in this writer's case the story of the band is the meal, while such background events and theories are the seasoning. He talks of these both to draw the reader into that time and place, and (in some cases) to illuminate why each of the band's members took the courses they did. I think he does really well at this. In particular, when he talks about the obvious sexual appeal of the band to its teenage fans, he barely mentions Freud. He stays away from the more pretentious and dubious speculations that initially greeted the band, instead pointing out that two were different kinds of handsome, one was a charismatic rebel, and one reminded people of an adorable puppy, giving the female fans a virtual smorgasbord of options for their infatuations, as well as re-forming social cliques around those totemic figures.
If you are simply interested in learning as much as you can about the members and the details of their lives, you will find plenty of that material here. You may want to skip over the analytical bits, which is easier done in a print than the Kindle edition, as he does not separate the analysis neatly into chapters. You may also want to start with Hunter Davies' 1968 authorized biography The Beatles (Updated Edition), and Michael Braun's early and more gritty Love Me Do!: "Beatles" Progress. But for my money, Gould has done the best job of making the Beatles and their times come alive, as if the reader had been, not in the inner circle, but within visual range of it.
"Can't Buy Me Love" is one of the most fascinating and engrossing books on The Beatles that I have read in quite a while and is a necessity for any serious Beatle Fan.
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