Sunday, 6 February 2011

What about the music?

From time to time, I check out what people have been saying about my book on Amazon (there are dozens of reviews on the US site, ranging from 1-star to 5-star) and on various Beatles blogs. If you stick your head above the parapet, you can expect to have a few missiles thrown at you, and there have been so many good reviews of You Never Give Me Your Money that I would be churlish to complain about the occasional bad one. Plus it's always intriguing to glimpse how other people see you.

But there have been two or three themes that have surfaced over and over in critical comments about the book, to the extent that I thought I ought to explain why I decided to do what I did. Whether you agree with me is up to you - but I just wanted to show that I did think about this stuff before I published the book.

Maybe the most common complaint is that there isn't enough about music in the book. And following on from that, people have said that when I have bothered to write about the music, I've often been too critical of the Beatles' solo catalogues.

Well, this is my side of the story. When I started thinking about writing this book, I realised immediately that there was no way I could tell the full story of four solo careers, and four lives, from 1969 to the present day, and expect to collect everything in a book of fewer than about five thousand pages. So my first very decision about You Never Give Me Your Money was that it wasn't a book about the Beatles' solo careers. It was very definitely a book about the Beatles as a collective entity: how they broke up, what the immediate aftermath was, and how they coped, as musicians and human beings, with the pressure of living with that incredible legacy hanging over their heads. I also wanted to write about what happened to the institution of the Beatles after the split: how it was handled by Apple and EMI, and how the four individual members reacted towards each other, and towards the very concept of 'the Beatles'.

That's why (for example) there is plenty in the book about the sour relations at various times between John and Paul, or Paul and George, or sometimes John and George, or even Ringo and George - it's because they were the Beatles, and their post-split arguments were (a sad) part of the Beatles' story. In this book, I was only interested in the Beatles' solo musical careers where they had a bearing on the Beatles as a whole - either because (as on 'Too Many People', 'How Do You Sleep', 'Run Of The Mill' and 'Early 1970') they were writing about each other, or because they were competing for popularity with each other, as was obviously the case in 1971. So no matter how much I loved a particular record, I only wrote about it to the extent that it reflected on their status as an ex-Beatle. That's why, for example, I talked about the very negative reception of Ram in the book, when it's actually my favourite Paul McCartney album. I'd love one day to write at length about why I love that record so much, but You Never Give Me Your Money wasn't the time or place for it. What mattered for the story I was telling was that Ram weakened Paul in the struggle for post-Beatles supremacy, because it was perceived as being a poor record. But I can understand that it is possible to read the book, and come away thinking that I must hate Ram, because I didn't spend a whole page defending it.

As I said earlier, people have also complained that I was too harsh in general about many of their favourite solo albums - and also about the Anthology projects, 'Free As A Bird', the Love album, Let It Be Naked . . . the list goes on. So that's something I'll talk about next time, to answer the question: "Why are you so negative about the Beatles' solo releases?" Also on my list for discussion, in case you're wondering, are the following complaints: "Why are you so cynical about the Beatles?" And not forgetting, "Do you actually like the Beatles?" Bear with me, and I'll get there as soon as I can . . .


  1. Going into your book, I never thought for a second that it would concentrate on the music -- it would be about the dynamics of the four individuals, which overshadowed the music and caused the breakup, which was the point of your book.
    That being said, I would love to hear your opinion on various solo Beatle releases. My own blog basically ignores Ringo after 1973, because he didn't really bring much to the table (nor should he have). And once the '80s happened, it was pretty much all Paul. And even he wasn't around that much.

  2. I think one of the reasons I bought (and enjoyed) your book was because it wasn't about the music. If it had just been about the solo albums I am not sure I would have decided to buy it.

  3. I am new here. Peter - Loved your book. You obviously love the band. I love most of the solo albums in some way. My favorites are the early ones, but I love Mind Games, Flowers in the Dirt, Old Wave, Gone Troppo, Bad Boy, etc. It was always important for me to follow the boys to the end, and I do. Each of them was a quarter of the whole, so each of them gets a quarter of my time. I do not think that the solo albums are any less important than the group albums in terms of enjoyment for me. I am not critical of any of the four of them in the sense that they followed whatever musical path seemed important to them at the time, just as they did when they were a band. I certainly have issues with production values and song writing for any of their solo albums, but there is a little "Beatle" in each album, and it works for me. Music is a very fluid and unpredictable art, and I like it that way. I am always excited about new Beatle/solo product, so the new McCartney titles are welcome in my life. All the best - Gary Norris, Seattle, Ex-Randy Newman Archivist and Beatle person