on March 22, 2009
As I bought this book based on all of the very high praise found on this Amazon page, I now feel obligated to warn future potential buyers that this book is nowhere near all it's cracked up to be.
First of all, if you've read at least a few other Beatles books before, a lot of the information in this book purported to be "revelatory" is actually old news, and well-known even by casual fans. Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds was a drawing by Julian Lennon? Well, I'll be. Strawberry Fields Forever was a reference to John Lennon's special, childhood hideaway? No way! Penny Lane is a district in Liverpool? These are the kinds of shockers that just keep coming and coming.
Of course, as someone who truly does obsess over the Beatles, I was expecting to reread lots of things I already knew. The problem is the things I didn't know. There was, in fact, all kinds of information that I had never before come across. To the point that I would almost be impressed.
If I could believe a word of it. And sadly, I can't.
The book is riddled, just riddled, with ridiculous typos and factual errors. There seems to have been no copy editing done in this book outside of computerized spell checking. And so all kinds of typos remain, because the words they spell are in the dictionary. One of my favorites is when the author seriously refers to previous Beatles films as "Help! and Hard Day's Write." Yes, the author got the Beatles film confused with his own book, and no one managed to catch it. A mere few paragraphs later, he claims that the song added to Let It Be... Naked is I've Got a Feeling. Which it is not. He also claims that George Martin came up with the idea for the Sgt. Pepper Reprise, even though it's well-documented that Neil Aspinall was the true inspiration behind the idea. On and on it goes.
So, is the reason that "Badfinger Boogie" was the original title for A Little Help From My Friends because John had an injured finger at the time of writing? Perhaps. Sounds believable. But who knows. The inexcusable errors, coupled with the painful lack of any citations, leaves me unable to trust a word, no matter how much I'd like to.
As a final note, while other reviewers refer to John Lennon constantly being psychoanalyzed by the author, even to the point of ridiculousness, and the glossing over all of Paul's compositions as written about Jane Asher, George Harrison is the one who gets the true short end of this stick. All of his song entries are excruciatingly short, up to and including a mere 97 words -- I counted -- written about While My Guitar Gently Weeps, one of the greatest Beatles songs ever written. Though Turner could find a whole page of information about It Won't Be Long and how he believes that John's mother inspired the song's sentiments (WHAT?), he couldn't find nary a word to say about what George's profound lyrics in this song said about his philosophical thoughts or world views.
It's a shame, because this really could have been an excellent and truly invaluable book, as the cover quotes all claim. Indeed, it should have been. But it's not. It instead goes down as one of the worst Beatles books I've ever read. And that means a lot.
In the music unit my Popular Culture class we look at the songs of the Beatles, specifically those collected on their "Beatles 1" album. Students write a paper looking at the stages of the group as defined by the songs on that album and sometimes they find things on the Internet that talk about how John Lennon and Paul McCartney (and George Harrison for "Something") came to write their songs. Unfortunately that has little to do with putting these songs into distinct chronological stages, but after reading "A Hard Day's Write" you can see where they would be fascinated by some of these stories and forget to just listen to the songs and decide for themselves what they are about and what makes them work.
Steve Turner provides the stories behind every one of the Beatles songs, including "Free As a Bird" and all the songs from "Anthology" and "Live at the BBC" that would not be covered by the other albums. The book is divided into 14 chapters representing 17 albums ("Magical Mystery Tour" and "Yellow Submarine" are combined, as are the three "Anthology" albums). Turner is following the British albums and including those songs that ended up on the two "Masterworks" collections with the albums that were being recorded (e.g., "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "With the Beatles," "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Field Forever" with "Sgt. Pepper"). It does not include the songs by other writers that the Beatles covered during their early years.
Turner makes the point that this is not a book that is attempting to explain what the Beatles "were really trying to say," but tells us about the ideas and inspirations behind these songs, as well as dispelling some of the popular myths connected to some of these songs. You have probably heard about some of these, such as Peter Fonda telling John Lennon "I know what its like to be dead" leading to "She Said She Said," the Victorian poster about "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" and Julian Lennon's drawing of his friend "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." But know you can also learn about the real location of not only "Penny Lane" but also "Blue Jay Way," who was the real "Polythene Pam," and what happened when the Beatles mentioned Denis O'Dell in "You Know My Name."
Nor does Turner present this book as the definitive one on the subject, since that cannot be written until everything the Beatles have to say about their songs is made public. However, he did track down and interview the real-life subjects of these songs as well as going through public records and newspaper archives, and speaking in depth to some of the people who were closest to the Beatles back in the sixties. Turner also provides a brief introduction to each album that talks about where the Beatles were in their careers at that point, such as how "Revolver" represented a significant development in the Beatles' sound since their music was now being created in the studio with no thought for how it could be played in concert (the album came out during their final tour but none of its 14 songs were ever played on stage by the band). So Turner does pay some attention to things other than the individual songs.
The back of the book contains a chronology for the beats from the births of Ringo Starr and John Lennon in 1940 to Paul McCartney filing a suit against the Beatles and Co. to dissolve the partnership, a discography from 1962-1996, a bibliography, and index. There are also over 200 photographs, some in color, many of which are on point with regards to specific songs (e.g., you get to see the gravestone of Eleanor Rigby, the real Bungalow Bill, and the Apple Scruffs who came in through the bathroom window. No matter what level of fan you are of the Beatles you should find plenty of interest and stories you have never heard before. At the very least, you can learn something new about your favorite Beatles songs.
on May 11, 2007
This book is very valuable for people who haven't read many Beatle books and don't know much about them or their music. If you fall into that category you will find this book indispensible. It gives an accurate outline of the stories behind every Beatle song, and what interesting stories they are. The people who inadvertantly influenced their writing, the events that inspired them to write a particular song, (sometimes a TV commercial or innocuous statement made by someone in the room or in their recent past.) A wonderful insight into their creative process and into their minds as well. Unfortunately for me, I've read so many Beatle books, that I have heard all of these stories before, so by the time I came across this book, it was kind of anticlimactic. Even so, there were still some things I didn't know like, Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkee is actually referring to Yoko Ono,(she's John's monkee) and is not about having a heroin habit, like I had assumed. I won't give anymore away though because if you are reading this, I recommend that you read A Hard Day's Write and find out for yourself.
The only thing I found mildly annoying, is the author's slight over analysis of Lennon's songs. Maybe he is right about most of them, he certainly doesn't seem off the mark when he talks about Lennon's abandonment issues. However his editorialising about John's, And Your Bird Can Sing really got under my skin. He seems to have the idea that John is singing about Paul in this song, and trying to say that Paul isn't as cool as he is, when he sings, "Tell me that you've heard every sound there is" etc. According to Turner, when he sings, "You say you've seen seven wonders," he's referring to Paul's "seven levels" remark when they first got high together. (huh?) What does one have to do with the other? John uses the 'seven wonders' reference as a metephor for someone who's 'seen it all'. I picked up on that when I was eleven for heaven sake. It's so obvious. And it's anyone's guess who he's singing about. Maybe he's singing about himself! Or the press, or maybe the fans, or the establishment...whatever. It was beyond stupid for Turner to stick this song with his clumsy oppinions. No one knows what the song is about. It makes me think that maybe Turner is the one who thinks this about Paul and he was looking for something in John's lyrics to validate HIS feeling. He even talks about the Anthology 2 version of the song, where John and Paul break into uncontrolled giggling at the mic, saying that Paul seemed unaware that the song is about him, judging from his giggling. Yeah Mr. Turner, only you and your idol John Lennon are in on what the song really means. I guess he whispered it in your ear and told you not to tell Paul. And what a fool Paul is! Here he is thinking that John Lennon is his friend, when he really isn't! Thankfully there is you, Steve Turner to set things straight. Hopefully Paul read your drops of wisdom and realized once and for all that he just wasn't cool enough to be friends with that wonderful Lennon.
Every once in a while, Turner's feelings seem to peak through like this, and it diminishes what is otherwise, a great read. There are a couple caption mistakes, especially a big one which features more editorialising. On one page there is a large picture of a Beatle reclining in his seat on a PanAm jet. It looks like the flight to New York on Feb. 7, 1964. He has a clothe over his face, so you really can't tell who it is, except...if you look at the watch worn on the right wrist instead of the left,the checked shirt, and the cuff links,you'll know that it is definitly Paul. ( he was dressed this way on that flight, while John had a white shirt and was sitting with his wife.) But Turner writes in the caption that JOHN always needed time to be alone and get away from it all and the picture shows this. No it shows that PAUL needed time to be alone and get away from it all. Or maybe he was just TIRED and needed a nap! This editorialising is dumb. Like he's trying to show that John was the only one who needed to be alone. Because he was cooler?,more brilliant?,the 'artistic Beatle'?,the 'smart Beatle?' Paul was maybe too busy being 'cute'.
In his quest to analyze John's songs (to death) he under analyzes Paul's, even Yesterday, which most Beatle scholars think is subconsciously about his mother. But Turner seems to think that if Paul is not writing about Jane Asher, he is writing about.... nothing. Only John has deep feelings that are revealed in his songs. Only John was hurt by the loss of his mother. Not that 'cute Beatle.' He has no feelings and was hurt by nothing.
Except for these flaws, A Hard Day's Write is an interesting book, and highly recommended. I just hate when Beatle writers try to perpetuate the myth that John was the only smart one. The only artistic one. etc. It reduces their credibility. The best Beatle books never stoop to subjective editorialising.
on January 29, 2002
Steve Turner gives the background story behind every Beatles song on all their officially released albums up to Abbey Road. Other books make the same claim, but this one's the best! To me, the most fascinating entries are about John's autobiographical songs, such as 'In My Life' and 'Strawberry Fields Forever.'
The story behind 'A Day In the Life' is riveting and is partly based on a personal tragedy for Paul.
Find out what John's inspiration was for 'Tomorrow Never Knows.' Does Dr. Robert really exist? 'She's Leaving Home' is based on a true story Paul had read about in a newspaper. Which was the first Beatles song not to be about love? Learn how much of an influence Dr. Timothy O'Leary was. Who's Ocean Child ('Julia')? Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is behind a few songs, but not always the way you might think! A song based on a conversation with Peter Fonda? You bet! What's the story of the sitar in 'Norwegian Wood,' and just who is the mysterious woman in whose bathtub John slept? I could go on and on!
The text is very well researched, and includes quotes from people who were involved with the Beatles.
The photos are excellent and add to the realness of the songs. See Eleanor Rigby's gravestone, Matt Busby (from 'Dig It')and the man who 'blew his mind out in a car.'
AHDW is thorough, accurate and FUN to read. If I could, I'd give it 10 stars!
on August 30, 2001
Beware, this is not a high-brow re-evaluation such as Revolution In The Head. Instead, Steve Turner has written an entertaining, humorous and well-informed lowdown on all self-penned Beatle songs. The narrative is of the sort you might find a kindly hippie-uncle giving his wet-behind-the-ears nephew when asked, "so who were those Beatle guys?' We get to hear plenty from Paul who's clear memory of how and why the songs were written sometimes clashes with what John or George had to say. These two are sometimes quite dismissive about the songs whereas Paul seems far more even about it all.
Light is thrown on the old chestnuts; Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields, Helter Skelter, Lucy etc. Charles Manson's ravings are included. Boy, he could see apocalypse on a blank page.
The book mirrors the way the guys honed their songwriting skills and matured from the lightweight fun of the early songs into depth and genuine insight from Rubber Soul on.
In conclusion, Mr Taylor has joined the pantheon of great Beatles chroniclers, Hunter Davies, Philip Norman and Ian MacDonald and produced an utterly glorious 'let me take you back...'
on January 24, 1999
First of all, when I saw this book in the bookstore, I thought, "Cool! A book all about how the songs were written!" And, being a songwriter myself, I just knew I HAD to have it! I haven't even read the whole thing yet, and I already know it's the definitive book on the work of the Beatles' songs! Things in the book, like the people who inspired the songs, are cool to find out. It's great to know that ordinary people can inspire extraordinary vision! This is definately a fun book to read! I know I'll keep opening it up from time to time! I hope you like it as much as I did! BTW, feel free to e-mail me and chat about the Beatles! My ICQ # is 2564071.
on December 8, 2001
I have read most of the books on the Beatles and this one is my favorite. It has great photos, is easy to read, and tells the story of the Beatles through each of their songs. I especially liked the update with "Free As a Bird" and "Real Love," from the Anthology. This is a great gift for any real Beatle fan. There is more packed into this 224 page book than you could ever imagine. This book is a true joy!!!... You got to get this one!!!
Steve Turner's A HARD DAY'S WRITE: THE STORIES BEHIND EVERY BEATLES SONG focuses on all the material written by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Star that has appeared on offically released albums. Turner gives us a peak into how the popular songwriting team of Lennon & McCartney would turn ordinary every day events or items from their personal lives into the enduring classics that every Beatles fan knows. The book is extremely well written (although there are a couple of proof readings that slipped through the cracks for example there's a picture in the book with an incorrect caption claiming that Chuck Berry sued John Lennon for plagerism--it was Morris Levy's music company that did. Turner also misses the chance to tell about the fiasco of the John Lennon "Oldies" album that was marketed on TV as a result of this suit and the settlement)and factual for the most part.This third edition is the most handsome one yet and the book appears in a coffee paper size in paperback. Turner has filled the book with a nice mixture of rarely seen photos so that this treasure trove of Beatles trivia won't make most fans feel that they've been there and done that with previous Beatle books.
Turner also dispells some myths about the band's popular songs for example "Yellow Submarine" although clearly written as a children's song had a rumors floating around for years that it was about drugs (heck, just about every Beatls song had that rumor but this was one unusual one that I hadn't heard before). Turner also digs up the news item that inspired Paul McCartney and John Lennon to write "She's Leaving Home" and even discovered that the girl that McCartney wrote about in his song had met her idol three years before the song was written (although McCartney never knew it). He also finds out that McCartney's song got a lot of the incidental facts right even though he didn't know the facts of the missing person's report. Likewise, he tackles McCartney's popular "Michelle" and points out that jazz singer Nina Simone was the inspiration for the song and the playing style of Chet Atkins.
"Baby You're a Rich Man" a Beatles b-side that used the same question/answer approach of "With a Little Help from My Friends" was a Lennon-McCartney collaboration with John bringing the unfinished "One of the Beautiful People" and Paul's chorus of "Baby You're a Rich Man". There are also the familiar stories about songs such as "Hey Jude", "Let It Be", "I Am the Walrus" and "Something" (although here it states that George denied that he wrote the song about his wife Patti wherease the popular assumption was that he DID write it about her)in addition to little known stories about some of the "Anthology" tracks. He often comments on the various songwriter's approach and style and how their personality informed their music.
The book has an extensive discography for the band and bibliography with books and interviews that Turner used as the source to verify some of the tales told here. Turner's goal was to write a book that would occasionally surprise the surviving Beatles as well with info about the people that might have inspired a story and their fate. Turner has a terrific job here. The only thing that might have improved his book would have been more first person interviews about the songs included here from some of those who knew the band well. Also, Turner should focus on the songs that have appeared on various bootlegs that they wrote and recorded over the years that appeared on various solo albums (John's "Child of Nature" which morphed into "Jealous Guy"--why THAT song hasn't appeared on an offical release is beyond me).
on August 26, 2003
Never mind the dumb punny title. The subtitle says it much better: "The stories behind every Beatles song." And never mind academic navel-gazing about the metaphors in "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" or nonsensical philosophizing about "Revolution #9." Those of us whose hearts are in the firm grip of the Beatles' rich catalog owe a debt of gratitude to ace British music journalist Steve Turner for this book. Read it for fun and for some insight into the hard work the lads put into the creation of so many deceptively simple little ditties that have deservedly become classics. Enjoy the pictures, too. This book has a couple of hundred very good photos. Books about the Beatles number many hundreds. This one deserves a place near the top of the heap for the quality of the writing and the readable, accessible journalistic format. One quibble, and I'm surprised the editors didn't catch it: there's no alphabetical, page-numbered index of the songs, not in the Table of Contents, not in the Index, either. If you want to find the story behind a specific song such as "In My Life," you have to know which album the song appeared on, and approximately which cut. But that's a minor detail-Beatles afficionados know the songs on every album.
on June 12, 2001
I received this book as a Christmas gift three years ago and am still referring to it constantly. As a die-hard Beatles fan, I not only want to enjoy the music, but I also want to know why the songs were written - who, what, where was the inspiration? Real music fans know that lyrics are the key to an artist's soul. In this book you'll find out what really happens at the end of "Norwegian Wood", who Doctor Robert really was, and where the term Helter Skelter came from. You won't be able to put this down!