Friday, January 17, 2014

Tune In: Lewisohn Makes His Mark

Tonight I finished my comparative reading of the long two-volume version of Mark Lewisohn's unprecedented Beatles biography part one, Tune In, which follows the Beatles through the end of 1962. The one-volume edition is a remarkable biographical work in itself, but the massive two volume set (currently published in the UK only, so you'll  have to get it through an import source) is even more packed--longer interviews, more detailed quotes, etc. It's an eye-opening biography, the first of its kind as far as the Beatles are concerned: no one has gone to such effort to actually research the "facts" that Beatles fans have known for years, and as a result Lewisohn is able to disprove some points about Beatles history, setting the record straight and clarifying things. (For instance, the old saw that Pete Best was a great drummer who was dropped because Paul was jealous of the attention he got: time and again, people point out that Best was a workmanlike drummer who had basically one unvarying pattern, and producer George Martin was particularly unimpressed by his skills. Ringo was a much better drummer, and he fit in much better with the group. Or the myth that Stu Sutcliffe was such a bad bassist that he turned his back to the audience to hide the fact that he wasn't really playing at all; Sutcliffe wasn't great as a bassist, but he was an adequate player who improved rapidly, as did every member of the group. Or the tale that John Lennon watched his mother run down in front of him; in reality, she was hit by a car after a visit with John's Aunt Mimi, and John didn't find out about her death until later that day. Or the old saw that Brian Epstein ordered hundreds or thousands of copies of Beatles singles to boost their chart position; in reality, record charts in the UK at this time were ranked by the top 30 sellers reported in each store, so it wouldn't matter how many copies Epstein ordered, the record store he owned would still be just one store reporting their sales figures and would not have any influence over national sales rankings.)

Where Lewisohn really shines, though, is his ability to bring the Beatles to life as people; you get to know them as teenagers and early-twenty-something musicians who have to overcome setbacks before they achieve success. You see them progress from struggling local musicians to the polished professionals we know them to be. You get a full picture of their unpleasant experiences in Germany, and you can appreciate the Star Club recordings in perspective.

The longer version is positively massive (1728 pages compared to the 800 pages of the standard edition), offering much more of the supporting documentation; I find it fascinating, although the standard version may be all the biography that most will want. And remember, this is just a biography through 1962--the Beatles were on the cusp of fame as the book ends, leaving us eagerly awaiting the second volume of his biographical series.

After reading so much in here about the sessions that produced "Love Me Do," "PS I Love You," "Ask Me Why," and "Please Please Me," I decided that I wanted to hear those again, so I pulled out no my complete Beatles vinyl sets, but a less well known collection: The Beatles--From Liverpool, an eight-album boxed set overview of their career. It's a must-have for collectors, even if you have the most recently remastered Stereo boxed set, because it includes a lot of versions of Beatles songs not found on the standard releases ("All My Loving" with the five-tap "hi-hat" cymbal intro, "And I Love Her" with the six bar acoustic guitar fadeout, "Love Me Do (Version 1)" with Ringo on drums, just to name a few). It's also the most comprehensive chronological "best of" that there is, featuring 124 Beatles tracks from their first release "Love Me Do" to "Her Majesty," the final song on the final album the Beatles recorded, Abbey Road (Let It Be was released after Abbey Road, but recorded earlier... don't worry, half of the Let It Be album makes it onto this set as well). The vinyl quality is superb, the production values are excellent... I'm surprised this set hasn't been reissued, to be honest!

I put on the first disc, cued everything up, and rediscovered the joy of those first four songs, heard with a new appreciation of what the Beatles went through to get them recorded. For a brief moment, I could imagine what it was like for them to hear these songs on a tape playback or an acetate for the first time...

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