Can't Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, and America
Reviewed by Mark Rotella
As a teenager, I collected every album the Beatles put out, starting with their first U.S. release, 1964's Meet the Beatles , to their last, Let It Be , in 1970. As Paul sang “Mother Mary comes to me/ speaking words of wisdom,” I heard the wisdom of an aged sage.
But as Jonathan Gould states in his brilliant biography of the Beatles, the band had “effectively ended before any of them had reached the age of thirty.”
There have been several biographies of the band (including two outstanding ones, Bob Spitz's The Beatles and Devin McKinney's Magic Circles: The Beatles In Dream and History ), but Gould leaves the gossip to others and instead relies on their music to tell the story, starting with the early days as a band in Liverpool (with Paul McCartney on guitar and Stuart Sutcliffe on bass) to the recordings at the Abbey Road studios in London (where Yoko became everpresent and George stormed out threatening to quit).
They got their start in Hamburg, Germany, and were soon managed by a young, eager former furniture salesman named Brian Epstein, and produced by George Martin, a recording executive known for novelty records.
Gould, a former musician, has written an engrossing book, both fluid and economical (aside from one overlong section on the concept of “charisma”). Page after page, you can hear the music; Gould's deft hand makes the book sing. This is music writing at its best.
“It begins with a musical wake-up call,” Gould writes of “A Hard Day's Night”—“the harsh clash of a solitary chord that hangs in the air for an elongated moment, its densely packed notes swimming into focus like eyes adjusting to the light.” On “Here Comes the Sun,” Gould describes George's music, written as he became more steeped in Indian philosophy amidst turmoil within the band, as “rays of sun cutting across the melting ice of winter... of coming through a long and arduous experience and emerging whole at the end.”
Focusing on the Beatles' influences, musical (Elvis, Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys) and otherwise (marijuana, LSD, the Maharishi Mahesh yogi), Gould elucidates the mystery of the band that changed the course of Western popular music. (Oct.)
Mark Rotella, senior reviews editor at Publishers Weekly, is the author of The Saloon Singers, about the great Italian-American crooners, to be published by FSG in 2008.