Monday, January 22, 2007

Beatles Books

Rhian can attest to my inexplicable and undying affection for rock and roll documentaries--I've made her sit through about half a dozen. It's not the music that gets me--though I often like it--but the spectacle of (usually) four (always) arrogant (traditionally) men, desperately trying to get along with one another for years on end. As a portrait of group creativity and its pitfalls, these movies are instructive indeed.

It's amazing the Beatles lasted as long as they did, but because they did, we can spend our entire lives reading books about them, if we wish. Two recent ones are standouts, though--Geoff Emerick's Here, There, and Everywhere, and Recording the Beatles, by Kevin Ryan and Brian Kehew.

The former is an as-told-to memoir by the head engineer on the late Beatles sessions; Emerick started in at EMI Studios (now Abbey Road) when he was 16, and found himself behind the mixing board, recording Revolver, before he was out of his teens. Emerick is responsible for a lot of the now commonplace, but then highly innovative, sound experiments that characterize the last few Beatles records; he invented many of the effects recording musicians take for granted today. The book is a very fast read--it's told in a direct, engaging style, and is packed with entertaining anecdotes. Emerick comes off as a regular bloke who happens to be brilliant at one specific thing, and it's this thing that makes him a witness to, and maker of, musical history. He doesn't have a lot of tolerance for moodiness--he loves Paul and never cared much for George--but he's otherwise a pleasure to be with for a few hundred pages.

The latter book, Recording the Beatles, is for geeks only. It explains, in exhaustive detail, every piece of equipment used on every Beatles recording, and offers up some major eye candy as well, in the form of glorious photographs, diagrams, and maps. The book is superbly written, is perhaps the best book about recording music, ever. Most surprising is the authors' meticulous examination of the culture of EMI--the heirarchy of its employees, what rules were broken (often by Emerick), and why. It's a unique portrait of a particular time and place.

Even as a physical artifact, Recording the Beatles is an amazing achievement--it's enormous, printed on heavy stock, and comes in a clever cardboard slipcase that mimics the boxes that used to house EMI's analog tape. It'll also run you a benjamin and, if you prop it open on your lap for more than an hour, you'll soon be writing checks to your urologist. It's worth it, though, if you're as big a dork as I am.

6 comments:

5 Red Pandas said...

This leads to the question- what are the best rock and roll novels (besides anything Nick Hornby has written)?

zoe said...

I can think of a few pretty awful rock and roll novels. It seems hard to write about the subject without cliches.

jrlennon said...

Madison Smartt Bell's recent one was pretty decent...and I'm told Don DeLillo's Great Jones Street is good, though, bizarrely enough, I haven't read it.

Gotta do a DeLillo post one of these days.

Ed said...

One time I read a a great rock and roll short story about an indie rocker who gets stuck with a baby, and maybe (it's been some time) it goes on tour with them, or goes along in the filthy van...my memory of it is deteriorating as I remember the best rock and roll movie I've seen, at some film festival--Via Okinawa--about a bar band on Okinawa, its rise and fall. I've never been able to find the movie again, nor any reference to it, but it existed. Perhaps I have the name wrong.

Amanda Boyden's first novel _Pretty Little Dirty_, published last year, is a good rock and roll novel, set around the punk rock scene of Kansas City in the 80s.

Trying to think of others...nope.

zoe said...

I once read a great book about groupies, specifically, a gang of girls who called themselves the Plastercasters (for obvious groupie reasons). However, I think the great thing about the book wasn't its writing style, but more its amusing voyeurism. Plus the book is from and about the 70s, which makes a lot of the detail funny rather than disturbing. I don't think I'd find a similar book set in today's climate as comfortable a read.

jrlennon said...

"One time I read a a great rock and roll short story about an indie rocker who gets stuck with a baby, and maybe (it's been some time) it goes on tour with them, or goes along in the filthy van..."

Wisenheimer. ;-)

I gotta see that Okinawa movie.