Another Beatles book? Yes, maybe the best ever.
A new biography by Jonathan Gould chronicles the enduring impact of Britain's greatest export.
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Boatloads of "Yanks" frequently docked in Liverpool and brought their records with them. So even though their rough seaport town was 200 miles and 100 light-years away from a much hipper London, the four lads – even as schoolboys – were exposed to (and smitten with) not only Elvis, but rhythm-and-blues stars like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Smokey Robinson.Skip to next paragraph
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In bespectacled Texan Buddy Holly – the rare star of that time who wrote all of his own music – they found a true role model, as well as the inspiration for their name. (His band was called The Crickets).
But England's war babies weren't content to watch their American idols on TV or merely listen to their records – they wanted to rock, and on their own terms.
Britain's return gift to America
"Just as Britain had once bequeathed one of the world's great literary traditions to America, where it became infused with the native genius of writers like Poe and Wharton and Twain, America was now bequeathing one of the world's great musical traditions to Britain where a tight little band of young Liverpudlians stood ready to infuse that tradition with a native genius of their own," writes the author.
Gould spins out their familiar story with insight and affection. The first awkward encounters between Paul and older schoolyard rebel John, the early days honing the band's stage act and material in Hamburg's notorious Reeperbahn nightclubs, the rise of Beatlemania and their conquest of the ears and eyes and hearts and minds of America.
The Beatles' triumphant arrival in the US, exactly 44 years ago this week, was not only an unexpected thrill for millions of all ages, but a necessary, healing diversion from the deep malaise all Americans were suffering since the Kennedy assassination just three months prior. The country was nearly paralyzed with grief and suddenly, with a shake of their moptops and Ringo's jaunty downbeat, the sun came out.
Writing that sings
But it's not all biography and historical context that makes up the 600 pages of "Can't Buy Me Love."
It's professional musician Gould's uncanny ability to so vividly describe the Beatles' music – so vividly that you'd swear you could hear it playing – that elevates his book above the rest of the Beatles canon: George's guitar solo "knifes into the body of the song like a sinister peal of funhouse laughter"; "Paul's bass, like a dancing bear, turns pirouettes under his voice"; and "the joy that radiates from the blend of their voices sounds like another installment of their gift of grace to the world."
Recounting the dramatic ending of "Day in the Life," the powerful, final cut on the Sgt Pepper's album, "[T]here is the blinding flash of silence, then the stunning impact of a tremendous E major piano chord that hangs in the empty air for a small eternity, slowly fading away, a forty second meditation on finality that leaves each member of the audience listening with a new kind of attention and awareness to the sound of nothing at all."
Whether defining their enduring appeal, illuminating the nuances of John and Paul's complex relationship, or waxing rhapsodically over one of Ringo's signature drum fills, Gould delivers a multifaceted gem of a book that should delight and surprise even the most oversaturated fan.
• John Kehe is the Monitor's design director. He's vowed to never intentionally walk past a Beatles book again.