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 . . .

McCartney and Ram

Returning to this blog after a couple of weeks when I've been lost in non-Beatles-related work, I see that I've received some fascinating information about potential bonus tracks on the McCartney and Ram reissues, hidden away in the comments section of the previous entry. Thanks to those who've contributed, and if you haven't seen those comments, check 'em out!