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Non-Prog Book Reviews

The Beatles

Can't Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, and America written by Jonathan Gould

Review by Steve Alspach

In the course of Jonathan Gould’s book he speaks about how few true biographies have been written about the Beatles – as a band. Gould lists four – other than his own. I will certainly take him at his word on this, as he’s the one who’s done the research. I am seriously shocked, though, that there haven’t been many. Well, while I haven’t read the others, I’d have to say that this book is an in-depth look that explores things that are often overlooked in musician biographies.

For one thing, a good amount of this book focuses on the music itself, going into great detail about both lyrical and musical techniques being used in each song. This is both a great thing and the only complaint I would raise about the tome. I should preface this with a bit of personal background. I’m what you might call a “non-practicing” musician. I spent too many years than I care to admit as a bassist, vocalist, keyboardist, occasional guitarist, songwriter and (in general) all around musician – in genres as diverse as jazz, metal, punk, prog rock, etc. I was never a “trained” musician. In other words, while I could read music, I definitely could not “sight read.” I took lessons from time to time but never really took courses in the rudiments of music theory. I’d have to say that this background probably makes me somewhere above the median in terms of my understanding of musical technique and terminology. That said, much of Gould’s descriptions and explanations of the inner workings of the Beatles’ songs lost me. I’d have to guess that if I found myself in somewhat frequent bewilderment, non musicians probably would get completely left behind in these passages. Still, it’s a breath of fresh air to have the music critically addressed in a book of this nature. While I’ve seen it done before, it’s certainly something that’s rare – and that’s as surprising as the lack of biographies on the Beatles.

Another point that needs to be addressed here – this one fully a positive – is the way Gould avoids addressing the Beatles (and their music) in a vacuum. Indeed, he does an excellent job of framing the success and effect of the group with the events and culture that surrounded them. This goes a long way to explaining why the band had such an earth shattering effect on the world. Having been too young to get caught up in the Beatles thing at the beginning, I’ve always found myself a bit at a loss to understand how they took hold of the world in such a way and transformed the musical landscape. By delving into the musical (and political and other aspects) of the world in which the Beatles were living, Gould has given me more of an understanding and appreciation of the reasons for this sort of revolutionary effect these four lads from Liverpool had. I’d recommend this book to hardcore Beatles fans, and those like myself who are far more casual listeners. I’m sure that it will bring new appreciation and insights to the devotees, and it’s a great way for those link me to gain a more rounded perspective of the band. If you are not musically literate you might find yourself scratching your head at points, but it’s well worth it in the end.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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