McCartney 3, 2, 1

You would think that with all the streaming world has to offer, you would rarely find yourself thinking, “There is literally nothing worthwhile to watch.” While Paul McCartney shares some of the same stories and tidbits he has shared in the two billion other interviews he has done (really, he just can’t resist sharing the creation of “Yesterday” one more time and can you blame him?), the new Hulu series McCartney 3,2,1 does not fall under that category, offering enough meaningful content to keep even the most devout of Beatles fans interested (well, unless you’re one of those whiny types who is just never content with anything, ever, in which case try some therapy or see if buying a villa in Florida makes you happy — spoiler! it probably won’t).

The format of McCartney 3, 2,1 is straightforward: each episode features a dissection of a Beatles song (or two…or three) at a mixing board with producer Rick Rubin. Stories and memories ensue, with a few common threads coming through — here are some of my favorites:

The pure love and joy the music brings to Paul. He’s a fan just like the rest of us.

Listening to a playback of “Back in the U.S.S.R.”, he is dancing, smiling, and shouting, “Whoo!” He loves it. During one episode, he discusses the process of becoming a Beatles fan again. After the pain of the breakup (“I thought I would be in this band forever,” he reflects), it took several years for him to be able to listen — and play live — Beatles songs again. Yet, once he did, he remembered and appreciated what a good little band they were, which becomes more and more evident as McCartney and Rubin take apart select Beatles tracks.

One such track is “And Your Bird Can Sing,” which John Lennon bluntly wrote off as “another horror” and “another one of my throwaways.” Yet, at the mixing board, showcasing the different parts that make up the whole, the artistry and musicianship of the band becomes evident and, as Rubin points out, a listener can hear the energy and excitement the band generated playing together in the studio — an energy and excitement that is delightfully infectious, even if you’re Paul McCartney listening to your band some fifty-odd years later.

Creating music was (and still is) a simple, natural process for the band.

During many of these mixing board moments, Rubin will ask Paul if the different components required hours of laborious rehearsals before recording. The answer is simple: no. As the main songwriters, John and Paul would present the basic song to the rest of the group (and George Martin) and together they would develop the finished product, each contributing. Listening to “And I Love Her,” Paul remembers how they felt the beginning of the song just needed something. George played the opening notes, and the song was complete. “I couldn’t imagine this song without that…It was good, you know,” Paul muses. Similarly, Ringo’s militaristic drumming of “Get Back” took the track in a completely different direction.

Paul also explains how he learned to play the piano — a simple process that begins with finding middle C and creating chords. The band lacked formal training, yet it obviously didn’t matter. Their innate ability to create came, in part, from their unique bond with one another.

Paul has great affection for John, Ringo, and George…

While some may consider Paul’s re-telling of his memories rose-colored and self-serving (how’s that down payment for that villa coming?), I find him to be incredibly endearing and generous.

The first tune featured in the series is “All My Loving.” Paul is quick to point out the driving rhythm guitar — something John was equally proud of. (“‘All My Loving’ is Paul, I regret to say…Because it’s a damn good piece of work…But I play a pretty mean guitar in back.”) The discussion then moves to the differences in their personalities: John was more defensive and cynical, while Paul was optimistic and diplomatic. You see it famously in two Beatles tracks: “Getting Better” (Paul: It’s getting better all the time; John: It couldn’t get much worse) and “We Can Work It Out” (Paul: We can work it out; John: Life is very short, and there’s no time for fussing and fighting, my friend). Paul attributes their success as a songwriting partnership, in part, to these differences and reflects on what made them so different, namely their upbringing. Paul came from a close-knit, loving family, while John was essentially abandoned by both of his parents. While he was raised by a loving aunt and uncle in a comfortable suburban setting (certainly the most prosperous of the four Beatles), he also knew his mother lived close by with his two half-sisters and their father, which had to be difficult for a young adolescent to understand and remain indifferent to.

Ringo was, of course, the last Beatle to join the band, yet his effect on the band is indelible. The band felt complete once Ringo joined; Paul remembers how different it felt from the very first time Ringo played with them. He lifted them up. Cut to Ringo banging away to “I Saw Her Standing There” at the Washington Coliseum during the Beatles’ first visit to the United States, and John is rocking, head bopping, completely enthralled by and feeding off of Ringo’s energy. “He just brought the whole band together,” Paul concludes.

George lived closest to Paul, and they met by chance on the bus ride on the way to school. There was an empty bus seat; George sat down, and they discovered their mutual interest in music. Rubin asks Paul how many other kids on that bus cared about music? “I would guess one…if you were lucky,” Paul answers. Chance – magic – divine intervention – whatever you want to call it – it is incredibly rare to sit on a school bus next to someone with whom you form this lasting connection. Not only do you become close friends but also have a shared extraordinary experience that forever molds you together, and at the end of the day, you have the greatest love and respect for each other. “From the little guy I met on the bus — a little guy with a quiff…He turned to be this very wise man,” Paul says.

The juxtaposition of the guitar and bass on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is fascinating to listen to in isolation. Reminiscing about the fact that Eric Clapton — not George — played the distinctive solo on the track, Paul observes: “It was very generous of George to give Eric this moment, when he could have had it for himself. But it’s just like, George was very like that. He was very open.”

…Even if he was the Bossy Beatle.

Some of Paul’s memories are, admittedly, carefully framed to downplay this fact. He recalls the use of the piccolo trumpet on “Penny Lane”; the solo includes an impossible high note that the player, David Mason, told Paul was out of the instrument’s range. Paul’s response? Well, you can do it! And he did. What Paul omits from this memory, however, is the fact that he asked Mason to record the solo a second time; George Martin had to convince Paul to be satisfied as the musician had just accomplished an inconceivable feat.

Listening to “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” Rubin seems surprised that Paul played drums on the track. Why? Well, Paul was probably showing Ringo what he wanted him to play on the track, and Ringo just said, “Well, you do it!” He neglects to mention the fact that Ringo actually quit the band at this point, precipitated by Paul’s overbearing direction.

Best butt in the Beatles? Is it not obvious?

At another point, Rubin plays “Another Girl,” an odd choice, as I always found the most memorable part of this song the sequence in the Bahamas from Help!, which clearly points out who had the best butt in the Beatles (ummmmmm, Paul).

“Who played the guitar on that?” Rubin asks.

“I’m not sure,” is Paul’s unconvincing answer. “I’m wanting to say it’s me ’cause it’s bad enough.”

“It’s a bold choice for you to play that,” Rubin compliments.

“Bold mistakes…That’s me. I specialize in bold mistakes.”

Yes, it is you, Paul. You played the guitar solo because you were unhappy with George’s rendition, and George just said, “Well, you do it!”

Yes, Paul was the bossy Beatle, but we still love you anyway.

Paul values John’s opinion — even now.

In some ways, John Lennon’s murder also made him a martyr, certainly at times to Paul (and perhaps George and Ringo, too). He was increasingly seen as the Beatles, the leader of the band (which, of course, he was, but it was also an equal partnership between the four–“How many Beatles does it take to change a light bulb?” George Harrison once quipped. “Four.”). Consequently, it has seemed, at times, that Paul is still competing with the memory and legacy of his dear friend. Yet, he has great love and regard for John, and you see how much Paul values John’s opinion and relishes his praise and respect even now.

Rubin reads Paul a quote about his bass playing: “Paul is one of the most innovative bass players that ever played bass and half of the stuff going on now is directly ripped off from his Beatle period. He has always been a bit coy about his bass playing, but he’s a great, great musician.”

“Did I write that?” Paul asks, laughing.

“That was John Lennon.”

“He never said that to me,” Paul replies — not begrudgingly, just matter-of-factly. And while I find it hard to believe he has never heard that quote or read it, he is genuinely pleased to hear it.

When asked to choose a favorite song he has written, Paul is tempted to say “Yesterday” because he finds its genesis so magical, yet he wants to say, more than ever, “Here, There, and Everywhere,” the beautiful love song found on Revolver that he wrote one day by John Lennon’s pool, waiting for him to be up and ready for a songwriting session. John himself always liked the song, telling Paul, “I like this one.” And that was enough — great praise indeed coming from John Lennon.


When asked, “Do you believe in magic?”, Paul responds that he has to, considering the way “Yesterday” came to him.

Magic is a word used often in this series, and it is a word that could be used to describe many aspects of the Beatles’ story. And while in some ways a fitting adjective, the word magic seems too easy. This band worked hard. They had great supporters behind the scenes who encouraged and augmented their strengths and creativity. They believed in and supported each other as friends and bandmates. “The Beatles is over, but John, Paul, George, and Ringo…God knows what relationship they’ll have in the future. I don’t know. I still love those guys! Because they’ll always be those people who were that part of my life,” John Lennon once said.

“That didn’t have to happen,” Paul says at one point. “We could have had five years and gone back to the factory.”

The final scene of the series finds McCartney at the piano, holding the final chord of “A Day in the Life.”

“Yeah. You know, there’s the magic again,” he says with a smile.

The Song That Broke Up The Beatles

As the world adjusts to its new normal, with some finding comfort in innumerable rolls of toilet paper (hey, that’s one for you, nineteen for me) or choosing to purchase cleaning supplies for the first time ever (apparently), I still find contentment, joy, and comfort in the same things, and near the top of that list has always been The Beatles.

I have spent the past several weeks immersing myself completely in their words and music (nothing else sounds good anymore), and I find myself still amazed by the craft and beauty found in so many of the songs. (I think I could use my fingers to count the truly abominable Beatles songs on a single hand.) These songs are undoubtedly part of my DNA at this point, but it is startling to hear a song as if it is the first time and be utterly blown away.

Let It Be has never been a favorite album. (Even with the release of Let It Be…Naked, I wasn’t sufficiently swayed, although the omission of the horrid “Maggie Mae” and “Dig It” is an obvious improvement, and it might contain the best version of “Across the Universe,” a beautiful Lennon composition that never got the production it deserved.) When an editor used Let It Be as an example of a classic record that would receive a full five-star rating, I was appalled and lost respect for that individual’s opinion (although in retrospect, I suppose the Beatles at their lowest ebb is better than 99% of any other musician’s output at any time). Despite the band’s disintegrating relationship, they still managed to produce some astounding songs, but I’ve never really wanted to listen it repeatedly — until now, with the impending end-of-the-world. (But I need the world to not end before Peter Jackson’s film is released. And the final two volumes of Mark Lewisohn’s biography. Is that too much to ask?)

The initial idea behind Let It Be was to show The Beatles rehearsing, recording, and ultimately performing an album of new material in front of a live audience. “Someone mentioned The Colosseum in Rome, and I think originally Paul might have even suggested a bloody boat in the middle of an ocean. As for me, I was rapidly warming up to the idea of an asylum!” John Lennon stated, reflecting on the number of “live” performance options that were discussed before The Beatles finally just went up to the rooftop of their Apple building.

The original intended title, Get Back, was an expression of the band’s desire to “get back” to the simplicity of their old recording days with no studio trickery or hours of overdubbing. The original cover even copied that of their first studio album, which had been recorded in just under twelve hours. The final result: approximately 96 hours of film and 30 hours of music that no one could agree on a suitable production sound (ever). The record was subsequently shelved, and the band returned to the studio to record the superior Abbey Road later that year.

John and George, however, approached Phil Spector to re-mix Let It Be for release. Although Spector did the opposite of the album’s original purpose, adding a female choir and orchestra to four of the album’s tracks, three of the Beatles liked the album’s sound, and it was slated for release, more than a year after its initial recording.

Paul McCartney was upset with the extensive overdubbing that was added to two of his hallmark compositions, and he attempted to have the “raw” (later re-christened “naked”) versions from the Glyn Johns mix placed on the album instead. His request was blocked by the ever-magnanimous Allen Klein (because he “waited too long to ask,” according to Lennon). This was the final straw for McCartney and what ultimately cemented the band’s demise–not to discredit Yoko (please, do not play nice and naive and claim she had no role, it’s delusional and irritating), diverging interests, and sheer boredom. Not only had McCartney lost control over his music–unforgivable in itself–but his voice and opinion were no longer respected. He released his debut solo album, titled simply McCartney, on April 17, 1970 (a controversial date, as it clashed with the releases of both Let It Be and Ringo’s Sentimental Journey) and announced to the world that The Beatles were no more.

Yet it is “The Long and Winding Road,” the song that broke up the Beatles, that I find myself listening to constantly during this time. (When Ringo recorded his drum part for “The Long and Winding Road” on April 1, 1970, he was the last Beatle to attend a recording session. This was, unfortunately, not an April Fool’s joke.) It has never been a favorite; I think I found it too saturated in syrup (maybe a by-product of Spector’s over-production), and it reminded me of Peter Frampton contemplating suicide. Now, though, I cannot decide which version I prefer.

The “naked” version is arresting in its simplicity and bare emotion, and it is clear why McCartney wanted to release this version. (Interesting to note, however, that McCartney has used Spector’s arrangement for many of his live performances. Again, it may have been less that Spector added orchestration and female voices to his song than the fact that he did it without McCartney’s consent and approval. The man likes to control things, understandably so.)

By comparison, Spector’s version does seem over-the-top. Yet, in an over-reaching way, it does augment the song’s emotional weight. And I absolutely love the slight break in Paul’s voice around the three-minute mark: “You left me standing here….” That just might give it a slight edge. Thankfully, in this age of copious takes of Beatles songs being available, one does not have to definitively decide which one is superior.

Paul wrote “The Long and Winding Road” with Ray Charles in mind; Charles cried the first time he heard it. “It’s a sad song because it’s all about the unattainable; the door you never quite reach. This is the road that you never get to the end of,” McCartney has said of the song’s melancholy. And that is perhaps what makes it the perfect soundtrack to these uncertain times–even if it is the song that broke up the world’s greatest rock and roll band.

Without Precedent

I often wonder about my love for The Beatles–why it is so inexplicable and embedded in my DNA and how millions of people, different from me in innumerable ways, feel precisely the same. Maybe this ingrained, intense feeling is why fans are so incredibly protective of the band’s legacy and equally critical of anything pertaining to The Fab Four, even if it is a feature-length documentary directed by an Academy Award winner named Ron Howard.


John Lennon, with son Julian, visits Ron Howard and company on the set of Happy Days in 1974.

The producer of the film, Nigel Sinclair, who also produced Martin Scorsese’s documentary about George Harrison Living in the Material World, explained fans’ dual reaction to the announcement of the film: “Ron had people come up to him in the street and [they would] say ‘Mr. Howard, I’m so glad you’re doing the Beatles film.’ Ron said, ‘Of course the subtext is “And don’t screw it up.”’

From me to you (hey, I’m trying my zest here), he does not mess it up.

(My criticisms are few and minute, so let’s get them out of the way. I find the commentary from individuals not part of the Beatles’ circle superfluous, unnecessary, and rarely insightful. Do I care what Sigourney Weaver wore to see The Beatles at Shea Stadium? Not really. Do I care that Jon Savage’s parents wouldn’t let him go to a Beatles concert? Not really. What makes them different from the thousands of other ordinary people who loved The Beatles just as fervently? Oh, right, they are of some renown. Whatever. Get out. Secondly, the film’s tagline boasts that this film is about the band you know but the story you don’t…well, not really. I didn’t really learn anything new, but I did see lots of new photos and footage, and I got to see The Beatles on the big screen, replete with the entire Shea Stadium concert. Horrid snobby portion of this post over.)

Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years tells the story of The Beatles, using their live performances as its focus, which, on the surface, may seem odd, since The Beatles were never exactly synonymous with extraordinary live performances. They didn’t have pigs or light their instruments on fire or create auto-destructive art. Their audiences were not rapt in hearing the words of a lyrical poet, as Dylan’s fans were (a fact he was proud of in his early career, especially when The Beatles’ phenomenon surfaced). For much of their performing career, the music was secondary to the spectacle of seeing The Beatles. By choosing this least-regarded facet of the band, however, Howard is able to more fully reveal how the Beatles progressed and evolved by contrasting it with the circus-like atmosphere of their increasingly stagnant live performances.


Foreshadowing in Hamburg, 1960: “Their name liveth for evermore.”

The Beatles’ stage performances weren’t always so stagnant, though, and their success was not an accident that happened overnight. Ringo states in the film that playing was the most important thing for the band, and their stints in Hamburg, Germany, allowed them the opportunity to perfect their craft while playing for eight or more hours every night—to unruly, difficult-to-please crowds or to an empty club (empty except for a bearded drummer from another Liverpool group, Ringo Starr). This was their apprenticeship, this is where they learned how to play in front of people–how to mach schau, and when they returned to England, they broke the jazz-only rule at Liverpool’s The Cavern Club, performing a total of nearly 300 times. Having dominated The Cavern Club and garnered a local following, the group was still looking to improve and to move the next step up the ladder.

That next step up the ladder was not what any of The Beatles expected: Beatlemania. Opening with color footage of the band playing in Manchester in November 1963, the film shows the excitement and the burgeoning mania: girls screaming, fainting, and the sheer joy John, Paul, George, and Ringo exude. The film illustrates this joy and excitement perfectly with its abundance of unseen (or, at least, under-seen) concert and interview footage. Fans debate the sexiness of the members (“Ringo’s got a sexy nose.” “George’s eyelashes are sexy.”) and declare their undying love for them: “Paul McCartney, if you’re out there listening, Adrian from Brooklyn loves you.” Fans’ adoration for the Beatles ignites laughter but is genuine—and contagious. Just as contagious and laughter-inducing is The Beatles’ humor—then and now. Just a few favorites: John introduces himself to a reporter as Eric, George uses John’s mop top as an ashtray, George thanks Ringo for his contribution to a fan club record and remarks “We’ll phone you,” and Ringo recalls his inability to hear the band’s music at their concerts, “I couldn’t hear anything. All I could see was Paul’s arse, John’s arse…” Ringo had the best seat, am I right?     


After conquering Europe, the Beatles arrived in the United States, where the madness escalated to a whole new level. While the Beatles complied with the larger venues (and greater profits) and increasingly manic American crowds, they refused to accommodate the demands of segregated venues. In this regard, they were pioneers, standing for what they believed to be right. As journalist Larry Kane, who accompanied The Beatles on their 1964 North American tour, remarked, he was touched by The Beatles’ kindness, their genuineness, and their intelligence.

After 1964, though, The Beatles’ pioneering in the live arena stalled, except by breaking attendance records by playing in larger venues. The opposite was true of their recording career, where they continued to flourish. With each record, they progressed, wrote better songs, and experimented with new sounds and ideas, culminating with the release of Revolver in May 1966. Tellingly, the Beatles never performed any songs from Revolver live, demonstrating how the sophistication of their recording career had overtaken the circus that was their live show.

By 1966, the group’s rosy relationship with the public was fraying. Not only were their performances inaudible but touring had become a life-threatening situation, which escalated with John Lennon’s remark that The Beatles were, in fact, more popular than Jesus Christ. (Real talk hurts.) Even their relationship with the press, who had adored their wit and cheekiness, was verging on hostile. In a clip, one journalists asks The Beatles why they are so “horrid snobby.” Paul, irrefutably the most diplomatic Beatle, answers that they are not snobby but the journalists and their questions are not particularly nice and get what they deserve. (Again, real talk hurts.) Death threats, Beatle burnings, and exploding firecrackers at concerts became the new norm for The Fab Four. They arrived to their final concert, at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park on August 29, 1966, in an armored truck. They decided they’d had enough–of touring, at least. Still, in these tense moments, you can still see their camaraderie and the joy their music brings.


Paul McCartney and George Harrison at The Beatles’ final concert in 1966.

Despite all the obstacles this band faced — touring was a money-making venture not an artistic one, their concerts lasted no more than thirty minutes and offered little variation in terms of set lists, and oh yeah, the screaming which made it impossible for them to hear one another — the film shows what a good live band The Beatles were. They could have easily not put any effort into their live shows at all, but they were often in tune and played as a cohesive unit. That unity is a testament to their closeness as individuals and their faith in one another, my favorite aspect of the film.

“I was an only child, and I suddenly felt as if I had three brothers,” Ringo states in the film. Paul gets emotional recalling the first moment Ringo played with the group, and George expresses how he was always glad that they had one another to lean on and share the experience, unlike an isolated Elvis or Sinatra, declaring, “We were very, very close to one another.” This is the band that went from staying in a single cramped room in the back of a theater in Hamburg to occupying the entire floor of the New York Plaza Hotel, where they found themselves gathering together in one room to get away from the pressure of being Beatles and just be with each other.

They loved one another and had faith in each other, just as many individuals around them had faith in them — notably George Martin having faith in their artistic vision to not touch the unorthodox structure and sound of “Tomorrow Never Knows” and Brian Epstein sacrificing so much for them and maintaining his faith in them despite no measurable success for so long (John Lennon once said there was a period where the only people who had faith in the band were Brian Epstein and George Harrison). And by having faith in each other, they inspired others to have faith in one another — so that it didn’t matter if you were black or white, weird or popular, young or old; The Beatles were a uniting force, beautifully encapsulated by the chorus of grown men singing “She Loves You” to celebrate their football club’s victory season. And there it is — that inexplicable feeling of love swelling inside me. I love The Beatles like no other. They are, quite simply, without precedent.

Six million dollars says I won’t watch this movie again…


I recently fulfilled a life-long dream (nightmare?) of mine and finally saw Paul McCartney’s infamous Give My Regards to Broad Street.

The plot (I use the term loosely here) goes something like this: A famous pop star named Paul McCartney (played by Paul McCartney) has completed his latest album, which is sure to be a smashing success, but the master tapes, entrusted in the hands of an employee named Harry with a seedy past, have disappeared! And if Macca can’t locate them by Midnight, he will lose his company. He will also turn into a pumpkin (not really, but I wouldn’t put it past him).

What ensues is a film that doesn’t really make too much sense, rich with wonderful musical performances and ridiculous dream sequences. It all begins with Paul driving this awesome car…


PM 1. Get it?

With this awesome personal digital assistant before there were personal digital assistants or smart phones or anything…


Wearing this awesome outfit…


Sweatpants and sneakers sadly not pictured. Sorry, girls, he’s married!

The film really starts to take off with the entrance of the seasoned actor that is Ringo Starr (of Caveman fame), whose one liners make the film a lot of fun. He wears equally ridiculous outfits and says things like, “Can we get some heat in here or are we practicing to be Canadians?” We also see him meet a reporter who looks a lot like Barbara Bach…


She wants to talk about the relative value of popular music as a therapeutic tool for social services or something and Ringo’s all…


“I’m on drums.”

Yeah, it’s pretty awesome.

The film may be short (like really short) on plot and making sense, but it (sort of) makes up for it with all the musical performances. The repertoire is a mixture of Beatles classics (most of which were rarely, if ever, played live by the Beatles themselves), Wings standards, and some of Paul’s (the real Paul, not the character in the film) latest solo material, namely Tug of War tracks. As the movie poster advertises, “When the music stops, the mystery begins.” That is pretty much true. When the music stops, I actually have no idea what is happening in this movie. It goes from present day Paul at a radio station to a long dream sequence where Paul, Linda, Ringo, and Barbara, in full Victorian attire, head out a picnic, then Paul sees a vision of Linda on a horse with her hair crimped, and Paul ends up in a seedy alley witnessing his missing employee being beaten up by a big, bad guy. Like, what the heck just happened? I am just going to assume that this is one of those things that only makes sense to you if you are on drugs. (Let’s not forget this only a few years after the infamous Japanese pot bust…) This sequence does, however, give us a glimpse of what Ringo and Paul would look like as Dark Shadows characters.


Count Petofi, is that you?



George, where are you? How could you pass up the opportunity to appear in this film? George would totally make a perfect Barnabas. Oh well. I think I recall George saying he was a fan of the film, anyway.

Which, when it comes right down to it, I am, too. Yes, it’s not the best-written (the screenplay was penned by Paul himself) or the most sublimely-acted film. It doesn’t always make too much sense. (Similar to Magical Mystery Tour, where the plot is tenuously held together via the musical sequences.) It is, in fact, more than slightly ridiculous. But it is entertaining, moreso at some points than at others, and because I love Paul and co., I love it. Plus, there’s a huge twist at the end! But six million dollars still says I won’t watch this film again (in full, at least)…


Sorry, Paul.

(Yes, that is the real Paul McCartney, pretending to be the character Paul McCartney, busking in Leicester Square. No, most people did not know it was the real Paul McCartney. Yes, some people gave him real money. No, he did not keep it. Yes, he is amazing.)

The Toppermost of the Poppermost

I have read a lot of books about The Beatles, so many that I began to lose faith in ever finding another one that would teach me something new or let me see them from a different perspective. I have become more and more picky about which books I will spend my time reading, especially when it comes to the Beatles — so much so that when I am in the midst of reading one and an author refers to John Lennon as the oldest Beatle, I stop reading. Because if you can’t get something that simple correct, what else are you mucking up? So, this past holiday season, when The Fest for Beatles fans touted not just one but three books as essential for every Beatles fan, I was skeptical. But oh, was I wrong! These three books are, you might say, the toppermost of the poppermost when it comes to Beatles reading…

1. All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Beatles Release by Jean-Michel Guesdon and Philippe Margotin 

I adore this book so much I’ve already read it twice, stuffing it with post-it notes along the way. As the title suggests, this book gives you the full story about every Beatles release. This first includes an overview of each studio album and EP, and then a delicious (yes, delicious) track-by-track dissection — we’re talking the genesis of each song (i.e. what inspired them to write the song or, if it’s a cover, when they started working the song into their impressive and extensive repertoire), discussion of each song’s production, technical details, who played what, who wrote what, recording and mixing dates, the technical team (bless ’em), and the number of takes (this gets kind of crazy around oh, I don’t know…”Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” Bang, bang!). Oh, and there’s also little yellow boxes exclaiming “FOR BEATLES FANATICS” (…who else?), and they are packed with the tiniest, coolest tidbits…like how there is no bass after the first minute of “Strawberry Fields Forever” or the mono version of “She’s Leaving Home” is slightly faster and higher than the stereo version (boo, mono forever). Here’s what a typical spread looks like:



I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Paul definitely has the best butt in the Beatles.

Isn’t it beautiful? The spread design, I mean — not Paul’s butt (although it is pretty great, let’s be real, people).

All the Songs is a great (albeit hefty) reference book that I know I will return to again and again. William J. Dowlding’s Beatlesongs has been my go-to when it comes to specifics about the Beatles’ music for years, but All the Songs just may replace it. 

I love that this book’s main focus is on the Beatles as musicians, songwriters, and recording artists with minimal personal information or defamation. I thought I knew it all, but this book taught me so much more about their songwriting and recording processes, and I came away with an even greater appreciation of and love for their music and the Beatles as musicians — who would have thought that was even possible? Not I.

2. The Beatles: The BBC Archives: 1962-1970 by Kevin Howlett



Again, the title gives it all away — this book digs into the BBC Archives and gives readers every available detail about the Beatles relationship with the indomitable BBC (who, eager housekeepers that they were, got rid of so many of their performances). The book comes with reproductions of some of the documents Howlett uncovered in his extensive research, including manager Brian Epstein’s application for the Beatles (which, at the time, still included Pete Best on drums) to audition for the BBC radio and the staff’s subsequent response to their audition: “An unusual group, not as ‘rocky’ as most, more C+W [Country and Western], with a tendency to play music.” The same staffer approved of Lennon as a singer but not McCartney (“Paul McCartney — NO.”).

The early years are fascinating because, like the recordings now available on Live at the BBC and On Air: Live at the BBC, Volume 2, they tell us so much about the Beatles as musicians and their personalities. First, the Beatles worked hard and often a relentless, frantic pace. Their first album (well, ten of its fourteen tracks) was recorded in about ten hours; this is seen as a remarkable achievement, but, as Howlett writes, their work rate at the BBC was even higher: “Apart from when they were performing in front of an audience for a broadcast, The Beatles had to complete five or six songs in a short session. They were not fazed by this requirement.” Furthermore, their radio performances were limited by the BBC’s equipment: they had to record on mono machines and any mistakes would have to either be edited out and replaced with a separate take or a lengthy overdubbing process. Thus, most of their BBC performances were recorded live, direct to tape, revealing their strength and talent as musicians and what exciting performers they were.

The other aspect of their BBC performances is that they offer insight into the Beatles’ as music fans — what they liked to listen to and what inspired them. During their radio program Pop Go the Beatles, 39 of the songs heard in the series were not available on the Beatles’ records by the series’ conclusion and 26 of those 39 would remain unreleased during the Beatles’ recording career. Of course, many of these are now available on the Live at the BBC series, and they tell us what the Beatles liked — lots of Chuck Berry, Elvis, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and records and artists that remain rare and unheard to this day (“Devil in His Heart” by the Donays, anyone?). This large repertoire of songs that remained unreleased on record gives us an indication of what accomplished musicians they were and how much variety they were able to have in their set-lists in their early performing days. And not only did they cover these songs, they made them their own, they gave them the Beatles sound.

Then there were the interviews and on-air banter between the performers and presenters that tell us what naturally charming and witty people the Beatles were. Howlett’s book is full of transcripts of such banter, some available on the BBC recordings, some not (I would love to hear a recording of the 1964 interview with Paul by George, who, at the end of the interview, thanked Paul and told him he’d receive his “three shilling fee at a later date!”). They liked to call presenter Lee Peters Pee Litres (tee hee), and when presenter Rodney Burke introduced himself, “My name’s Rodney Burke, thank you very much!” John Lennon interjected, as only he could: “That’s your fault!”

Later, however, the Beatles simply had less time (and, likely, interest) to drop into the BBC and thus their final BBC session was in 1965. They still offered interviews and television appearances, and the details of these offer insight into how they were changing as a band and as people. For example, when interviewed for a program called The Lennon and McCartney Songbook, Howlett’s transcript indicates McCartney’s diplomatic nature, while Lennon is subdued, grumpy even, showing how he was becoming restless with being a Beatle (and likely very stressed and nervous about their upcoming tour of the US, who didn’t take kindly to his “more popular than Jesus” remark).

Interesting also is the interviews of 1969 and 1970, when relations between band members were very tense and strained at times. In 1970, George was asked about the split of the group and answered, in part: “It’s the end of The Beatles like maybe how people imagine The Beatles….I can see this year us all doing a separate album each and by that time people will probably think there’s no chance at all of there ever being Beatles again. And then suddenly, there’s Beatles again.” Only eleven days after this interview was broadcast, Paul McCartney announced he had quit the band (well, basically). Jerk!

The BBC Archives is a fascinating examination of the Beatles as recording artists and people, demonstrated by their recordings and interviews given to the BBC. I’d argue that the following statements made by Howlett are some of the most important to be written or uttered about this most-written and most-uttered-about band: “The brilliant innovations made by The Beatles in their latter years are, quite rightly, regarded as pioneering achievements that continue to influence musicians. But if you did not experience the group’s musical progression as it happened, listening to The Beatles without that chronological context can distort an historical view of their career. The picture on With the Beatles may not seem so now, but in 1963 it was extremely radical. So was the album’s music: energetic, visceral, and cutting edge. Indeed, the initial years of The Beatles’ success, 1963 and 1964, may well be their most revolutionary.” Yes, yes, yes!

This book, coupled with the Live at the BBC recordings, shows just how revolutionary and fun they were in those early years. In a BBC Audience Research Report, a solicitor, self-described as “definitely over-twenty,” wrote:  “How can anyone fail to like them? Their music is so gay and uninhibited, and they themselves are so full of joie-de-vivre.” Amen, brother.

3. The Beatles: All These Years, Volume 1: Tune In by Mark Lewisohn 

When Mark Lewisohn, renowned Beatles scholar and author, told the late Neil Aspinall that he was beginning a three volume biography about The Beatles, Aspinall responded, “Does the world really need another Beatles book?” Yes, Neil, it does, and this is it!

This first installment of Lewisohn’s trilogy takes us up to the end of 1962, just on the cusp of Beatlemania. In other biographies, this section of the Beatles’ story is glossed over — not here. The book is just over 1100 pages (and there is an extended version of the book but it’s currently only available in print in the UK, what gives? This is the 21st century, where is our global village?). Other biographers, too, make this period of the Beatles’ story somewhat dry — not here. I couldn’t put this book down. I even dreamed about it. That’s normal, right? And other biographers — still, here, now, in 2014 — repeat (or even create) myths and legends that simply are not true — not here. Lewisohn is a scholar. He has source upon source upon source. And as a result, his writing is scholarly but, at the same time, engaging.

Lewisohn gives the full facts and truth about so many parts of the Beatles story — how they finally got that coveted recording contract, where those haircuts come from, and yes, not only did Pete Best have zero drumming talent but zero personality. It’s so refreshing (…especially after the headache that was Larry Kane’s When They Were Boys).

Similarly refreshing is how Lewisohn portrays and discusses the Beatles’ individual faults without making them out to be horrible people. He does not excuse their faults (John and Paul’s early views on women, Paul’s jealousy, John’s strange fixation with cripples, etc.), but he does put them in perspective by putting them in context of their lives and times, allowing some understanding of why they were the way they were.

Reading this book, I came away with a greater appreciation of how hard the Beatles worked and similarly how hard the people around them worked — specifically Brian Epstein, bless that man — to make their career happen. I appreciate how certain people, whose lives had run parallel to their own, had to come together with them to make it happen. The Beatles always had the potential to be the greatest, they always had the talent and charisma, and they certainly always had the belief that something would happen…but without certain people and opportunities, it would not have happened, and we would still be listening to Pat Boone records.

One of the most interesting things I learned was how Decca didn’t necessarily reject the Beatles — well, they kind of did, but they also offered to assist Epstein in getting the Beatles on a record. But Epstein, amazingly (albeit thankfully), refused. Lewisohn explains Epstein’s thinking: “The bottom line seems to have been that Brian couldn’t accept the Beatles’ records being made by someone who didn’t appreciate them and was doing it only for money. In a perfect world they would come under the wing of a man who, like him, could see their potential and was interested in adding his talents to theirs.” That man, of course, was George Martin who was actually forced to sign the Beatles! Oh, what stories are in this book.

I especially love Lewisohn’s thoughts about a recording of the Quarry Men’s evening performance the day Paul met John. Writing of the tape and this early Lennon vocal performance, Lewisohn hits so many things about Lennon (and by extension, the Beatles) that make them so remarkable:

“And this, even more than its highly improbably existence, is the most extraordinary thing about the tape: it is unmistakably John Lennon. Although inspired by Elvis and Lonnie, he’s not attempting to imitate their voices or their style, and more strikingly still he’s not adopting any phoney American or mid-Atlantic accent. Singers always start off as impersonators, mimicking whoever made the record they’re performing, some perhaps going on to develop their own voice. That John Lennon already had it at Woolton, that he was so audibly himself, is the mark of a true original. Not only does he have a great rock voice, it’s an honest one.”

Influenced, yes, but unmistakable an individual, an original — a natural, honest original, not painstakingly groomed for prime time but just being himself.

I just finished this yesterday, and I am so depressed. I just wanted it to keep…going. It took Lewisohn ten years to research and write this volume, and he hasn’t written the remaining two volumes, and I don’t know if I can sustain the will to live long enough to see them written and released. I hope so.

Good Ol’ Freda (Ryan White, 2013)

When it comes to The Beatles, there are plenty of myths and legends. There are the tell-all books and exclusive interviews of close and loose associates of the band that sometimes create or perpetuate these falsehoods, distorting the truth in the process. Then there are the words, memories, and opinions of the Beatles themselves – and sometimes even they contradict themselves! (See their recollections of receiving the MBE in The Beatles Anthology!) And then, rarest of the rare, there are the untold stories of those who were actually there.

Good Ol’ Freda tells such a story.


Freda Kelly had the dream job of countless teenagers (and adults, too, I’m sure!) in the 1960s: she was head of the Beatles’ fan club…and personal secretary to the Fab Four themselves, placing her in their coveted inner circle and giving her a front-row seat to the madness that was Beatlemania and all the crazy, wonderful stories that went along with it. There are so many stories — and kinds of stories — in Good Ol’ Freda.

There is the story of her close relationship with all of the Beatles and their families — how George’s father taught her to ballroom dance and how Ringo’s mother eventually influenced Brian Epstein to give Freda a raise. There is the story of how John Lennon’s laugh once saved her job. There is the story of how George, sweetheart that he was, got her all of the Beatles autographs. There is the story of how she made John Lennon, who moments earlier had declared she was “sacked”, get down on his knees and beg her to once again serve as his secretary. What a sight that must have been!

Then there are the stories of how she took care of the fans because she was, first and foremost, a Beatles fan, and she knew what that meant. She understood the intense devotion, admiration, and love the Beatles inspired in their fans. And so when fans wrote requesting locks of hair, she scoured the floor of the barbershop and sent them real locks of their hair. When a fan sent a pillow requesting that Ringo sleep on it and send it back to her, Freda made sure that Ringo slept on that pillow. And when scores of fans wrote for autographs, she did her best to make sure that they received genuine autographs. (She — like John Lennon — disliked the use of the stamped autographs Brian Epstein tried to make standard practice because, quite simply, they weren’t the real thing. And she understood the disappointment and frustration that a fan would feel when they received not only a stamped autograph but a stamped autograph that had smudged.) Even after the Beatles had disbanded, she gave away memorabilia worth literally millions to real Beatles fans in the mid-1970s.

And then there are the stories of Freda as a person — staunchly loyal, unfailingly trustworthy and honest, not swayed by materialism or wealth, and highly protective of the Beatles and their fans. Freda was kind, but she was not to be crossed, as the story of how she fired an assistant once she discovered she had cut her sister’s hair and tried to pass it off as the Beatles’ hair demonstrates. The situation was simple to Freda: she could no longer trust the assistant and thus she had to go. Freda was fiercely loyal. She was once offered money in exchange for as many bits of information she could fit into an envelope. Nobody would have to know — she could place an envelope through a door and an envelope, with a large check enclosed, would be returned. Looking back on the situation, Freda explains how everybody needs and likes money and often would like to have more money — but she did not want it that much. Her integrity was worth more to her. What a gal!

To Freda, fame and wealth do not mean much. Because, as she reflects on the deaths of those once part of the Beatles’ circle, all the fame and money in the world still can’t cure cancer, can it? Throughout the years, Freda has refused offer after offer to write a book and tell her story — and the only reason she chose to tell it recently was for her posterity, spurred on by the birth of her grandson and the death of her son who had often asked her about her memories of working with The Beatles.

Watching Good Ol’ Freda, it’s easy to fall in love with Freda. You recognize yourself in her because she, like you, is a Beatles fan. She has been one since she visited The Cavern Club during her lunch break one day and will forever remain one. And you appreciate that she was there, in the midst of all the craziness, to take care of not only the Beatles but also their fans. You see the genuine love she had for the Beatles, their families, and those other close associates she worked with. “I worked with a lot of good people,” she remarks toward the end of the film.

She, too, was one of the good people, and I am so glad her story has finally been told. Thanks, Freda!

Macca and Me

Sixteen (going-on-seventeen…yes, really) years of loving and breathing the Beatles and I never could pick a favorite Beatle. But it would have been easy–so, so easy–for me to pick Paul McCartney, who turns 70 today.

I wish that was me, clad in a light pastel pink Paul McCartney t-shirt, sitting on the tube with Paul McCartney. Just sayin’–in case that wasn’t obvious. 

For my ninth birthday, I received Paul McCartney’s tenth solo album, Flaming Pie. I’d been coveting it for months, but CDs actually existed back then and downloading wasn’t rampant, CDs were also pretty expensive, and I had no steady income. So I had to wait for my birthday and hope that my parents loved me enough to help me in my quest to keep the ten commandments. (“Thou shalt not covet they neighbor’s copy of Flaming Pie.” Remember that one? I totally coveted every other nine-year old who owned this album. There were so many of them, although I was slowly plotting their demise, fueled by my envy.) Well, they did, and I was ecstatic. That album is probably my single favorite Macca solo album. Probably. There’s a lot of good ones.

My elementary music teacher had a system where if we earned so many “points” our class was allowed a “CD Day,” wherein we were each allowed to bring a CD to class and when your CD was selected, you picked which song we listened to as a class. I brought Flaming Pie, and I remember some kid was like, “Why did you bring that old guy’s CD?” And I was like, “Hey, did your parents drop you on your head as a baby or…?”

‘Cos Flaming Pie is an awesome album–so awesome I could even forgive “that old guy” for chopping the beloved salt-‘n’-peppah mullet (which he totally needs to bring back, by the way).

And of all the Beatles, Macca’s post-Beatles career is the most satisfying for me. Lennon was too hot and cold, Harrison was sparse and sporadic, and Ringo always needed a little help from his friends. McCartney was always quite fearless–unafraid of making an album with songs as diverse as “Heart of the Country” and “Monkberry Delight,” unafraid of forming a completely new band with unknowns–including his musically inexperienced wife, unafraid of letting said unknown musicians take turns in the spotlight on Wings at the Speed of Sound, unafraid of singing all those silly love songs, unafraid of disbanding his new (and pretty successful) band to make an experimental album full of synth-based compositions that was way ahead of its time. He was also unafraid of packing some pot in his suitcase, but let’s not talk about that right now.

For all his musical talent and success, though, I still sense an inferiority complex in McCartney that upsets me. To the world at large, Lennon was gritty and hard-edged, a political radical and lyrical adept; McCartney was all soft–ballads and babies were his main interests, not world peace, revolution, or anything “important.” When Lennon was murdered, this image spiraled–and continues to spiral–out of control. Lennon’s place in history as an indelible musical and cultural force is solid; McCartney often seems worried about how history will remember him. He likes to point out that he, too, was politically active in his songwriting (“Give Ireland Back to the Irish” is better forgotten, though, dear, sorry), he introduced the other Beatles to the avant-garde scene (which is true), and he could be just as hard-nosed as the best of ’em–just as Lennon could be incredibly tender in his songwriting (in fact, I might even argue that his half of Double Fantasy is softer than McCartney). Let me just say this: I don’t think Lennon ever wrote anything quite as funky or downright cool as, say, “C’Moon” or “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five.” He just didn’t.

McCartney would have been an easy choice for a favorite Beatle. He wasn’t just the cute one; he was the diplomatic one, hardworking, dedicated to perfecting his craft, constantly pushing the musicians around him, always generous to fans, the one with the best post-Beatles hairstyle, the perfect mix of business sense and artistic integrity, just as ardent in his crusades for animal rights as Lennon ever was in any of his causes, the one with the most imaginative and varied song catalogue, really just a nice guy who I used to imagine was my dad who was going to pick me up early from school. He would have been an easy choice for a favorite Beatle, but I loved them all just too darn much to pick just one.

A few years ago, Alan McGee made a controversial, moronic, and insensitive comment that musicians like McCartney should retire once they turn 40 because they become mediocre and complacent. A day does not go by that I do not wonder what Lennon would be doing, musically and otherwise, were he here, and I’m so glad McCartney is still here and still making music (and pretty good music, at that, Memory Almost Full is one of his best) at 70. And I’m hoping he’ll be here for a long while yet.

Photograph by George Harrison 

Happy birthday. Now let’s go to that party, party.

Nine Reasons Why Press Is My Favorite Macca Video


Paul McCartney released his sixteenth solo studio album, Kisses on the Bottom. It is essentially an album of Paul McCartney singing really, really old songs like a really, really old man and creating an entirely new genre in the process–easy easy listening. I might actually be able to enjoy it when I’m–I don’t know–sixty-four. Or something.

No, really, it’s okay, but after listening to it and nearly falling asleep, I had to go back to what is probably my favorite solo Paul McCartney (not to be confused with Paul McCartney & Wings, Paul McCartney and Wings, or Wings) song for about an hour on repeat to remind myself that the man once had edge: “Press,” from 1986’s Press to Play. “Press” also happens to be my favorite Macca video.

Macca waiting to get on the tubeWhere’s Macca? Can you spot him among all the lonely people on their way to jump on the tube? 

SYNOPSIS: “Press” is a video that shows Paul McCartney, former Beatle, riding the tube (just like all the common people do) and miming his latest single, “Press.” No one that appears in this video is a paid extra. These are all real people riding the tube. And they think nothing of Paul McCartney standing around, picking his nose, singing. It’s completely normal. As early as 1963, Macca was telling journalists that one of the things he missed most about becoming famous was riding a bus. Well, in 1986, he was able to make a dream come true and use public transport once again. Luckily, it was all captured on film, and here nine reasons why it’s my ultimate favorite Macca video.

9. Little known fact: it features a cameo by Yoko’s cousin


I don’t know. I just think that’s really cool.

8. It shows us what a great person Paul McCartney really is, part one: helping a kid, who is obviously lost, find his way in the tube station.

Paul McCartney is just so darn nice. And cool.

7. It shows us what a great person Paul McCartney really is, part two: he spares some change for a street musician.

It’s probably fake money, but whatever.

6. I don’t know, but I think I see Robin Williams’s inspiration for Mrs. Doubtfire

Maybe? Kind-of-sort-of? I really don’t know. Let me just use this opportunity, though, to say that this is my favorite Macca Mullet. Ever. Salt ‘n’ peppah. He should bring it back. Just. Sayin’.

5. Two words: no comment

Except to say that I really, really, really love Paul McCartney.

4. Macca totally fits in with the crowd; he acts like a completely normal person

I just think that’s really refreshing.

3. It shows us that Paul McCartney cares about his fans

This is totally not a set-up. Real person, real fan, real t-shirt, real Paul McCartney. If you don’t think this is the sweetest thing ever, then you probably also hate kittens and think Fredo didn’t deserve to be killed in Godfather II.

2. Paul McCartney, at 44, is still The Cute Beatle and can still totally pull chicks. 

Linda is notably absent from this video. She would not be happy. (That perm totally clashes with Paul’s mullet, by the way.)

1. Paul McCartney picks his nose

This is probably the coolest thing ever. Yeah, I’m actually 12.

Don’t take my word for it, though, watch the video for yourself. Have a different favorite Macca video? Don’t tell me unless you want me to inform you that you have absolutely no taste because “Press” is the best video EVER!!