There are far too many Beatles books and most of them aren’t worth the money or the effort. The Beatles are still a popular subject and publishers know any book about them will sell. Avoid speculation about whether John had an affair with Brian or funded the IRA, and whether Paul is dead—it’s all sensationalist nonsense. You’ll also find 99% of Beatles books are copied from the originals and each other, and contain nothing new.
Insider books from NEMS and Apple staff should be well-informed, but many of them aren’t. I found these insider books interesting for the first few chapters but very poor when they get to The Beatles story we all know. If you can’t resist reading them I suggest this order:
You’d never know Geoff Emerick was an engineer from his account, and Peter Brown appears to know nothing that didn’t appear in someone else’s book first.
I used to like Shout! Philip Norman (revised 2003) because the first two parts are quite good. It has more information than most general Beatles books and an index, but the mistakes and hyperbole in the remainder are unforgivable. He even gets their lyrics wrong.
There doesn’t seem to be a good biography of Ringo or George yet (the Alan Clayson books are wordy, obvious and very hard going). Derek Taylor wrote a limited edition biography of George I, Me, Mine (now available in paperback) which is thin and mostly lyrics. Derek Taylor has written much, including a hard-to-find autobiography that sounds promising. The only books left to be written would seem to be The Beatles business from Alan Williams to Allen Klein, and the stories of Mal Evans and Neil Aspinall.
Here are the Beatles books I recommend. They’ll tell you almost everything about the people, events, recordings, songs and equipment, and have nothing in common with the weaker books mentioned above.
|Many Years From Now||Barry Miles||About Paul McCartney—a brilliant book in its own right with a good feel for the Sixties especially.|
|Lennon||Ray Coleman||Another great (if over-serious) book although the foreword added after John’s death is a bit gushy.|
|All You Need Is Ears||George Martin||Well worth reading. He gets a few minor things wrong and the sequence of events goes haywire in places. Some of those tired old stories appeared here first, but you can’t blame him for that. His story of recording Sgt Pepper, The Summer Of Love, is also worth a look but repeats some of this.|
|A Cellarful Of Noise||Brian Epstein||Written by Derek Taylor, this covers a short period up to the start of Beatlemania and seems to have been shelved then published on Brian’s death. Although not really an autobiography it’s as close as there is and gives Brian’s perspective. More of those old stories appeared here first.|
|Northern Songs||Brian Southall||A very useful aggregation of The Beatles publishing and related deals with some new angles on NEMS and Apple. The narrative is jumbled at times and some of the information is open to debate but it’s a very good account to read alongside other reliable studies.|
|I Should Have Known Better||Geoffrey Ellis||Geoffrey Ellis worked for Brian Epstein at NEMS. At last, here is a sober account of the business basics with some interesting insights. This is the book I expected from Alistair Taylor or Peter Brown.|
|The Beatles Are Coming!||Bruce Spizer||Every conceivable detail about The Beatles’ launch in America: people, records, radio, TV, appearances and gigs. Including the story of Capitol’s rejections, the early releases on Vee Jay and Swan, and related legal activity.|
|The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions||Mark Lewisohn||A brilliant idea, perfectly done. Use this with the Anthology CDs as a recording tutorial. Revolution In The Head (see below) has some additional information about the sessions (Chronology of Beatles tracks). Occasionally out of print in the UK but available at a premium second-hand or sometimes cheaper from the USA where a paperback Hamlyn re-print was published in 2004 (check online).|
|Recording The Beatles||Kevin Ryan and Brian Kehew||A great (and big) studio book that is the perfect addition to Lewisohn’s Sessions book. This one describes the studios, personnel, equipment and selected sessions in meticulous detail with excellent diagrams and photographs. Currently available in hardback from the USA but worth the rather high price.|
|The Beatles Anthology||The Beatles||The DVD box set is better, but the book’s cheaper, although some of the psychedelic pages are hard to read. Agreed between Paul, George, Ringo and Yoko, so somewhat glossed.|
|The Beatles Diary Volume One||Barry Miles||A well-organised, comprehensive and concise day-by-day record of The Beatles career. It is similar to The Beatles Chronicle (see below) but this is the one to read or refer to first. There’s also a pocket version called The Beatles - a diary.|
|The Beatles Gear||Andy Babuik||Goes over the same old ground biographically, but features information about their instruments and amps. Rather weak on the studio side (Recording The Beatles covers that fully) but there’s nothing else like it. Excellent photos.|
|Revolution In The Head||Ian MacDonald||This is a chronological (recording order) analysis of all The Beatles’ songs. It’s inevitably pretentious here and there but good nonetheless—one of a kind.|
|The Beatles Chronicle||Mark Lewisohn||Like the studio diary but with less detail about recording sessions and more of the surrounding events and context.|
|As Time Goes By||Derek Taylor||Episodes from his time with The Beatles and other acts in the Sixties. Well-written, sharply observed and a good bit of rock and roll hype.|
|The Longest Cocktail Party||Richard DiLello||This is not just the chronicle of excess it might appear—some tedious sections and contrived dialogue but a useful insight into Apple and how remote The Beatles were from it all.|
|Those Were The Days||Stephan Granados||A useful recap of the early Apple years, not quite so eccentric as Derek Taylor and Richard DiLello, with post-Beatles events up to the Anthology project. The lists of releases are a bit dry, but useful.|
|The Beatles||Hunter Davies||A good general Beatles book and still worth a read (revised 2002).|
|Inside The Yellow Submarine||Robert Hieronimous||The story of writing, making, releasing and re-releasing the film, with interviews, graphics and script extracts (including drafts). Also some good trivia and a chapter on merchandise.|
|The Beatles Diary Volume Two||Keith Badman||Worth reading although lacking the focus of Volume One (it is somewhat overburdened with marginal information - Yoko wasn’t a Beatle). This volume covers the transition from Beatles to solo artists including the managerial and legal events. This book also appears under the title: The Beatles After The Break-Up 1970–2000.|
|Get Back–The Beatles Let It Be Disaster||Doug Sulpy & Ray Schweighardt||A narrative drawn from tapes of The Beatles’ Let It Be sessions at Twickenham film studios in January 1969. It lists the songs played and describes their development (or lack of) and the surrounding discussions about plans for the film and the group. The Let It Be film itself doesn’t tell a full or accurate story of the sessions.|
|The Beatles Album File & Complete Discography||Jeff Russell||Comprehensive details of official UK, international, USA and other releases. Many interesting sections including a comparison of alternative versions of tracks on different releases.|
|The Unreleased Beatles Music & Film||Richie Unterberger||A chronological catalogue with descriptions of officially unreleased studio, live, radio, TV and film recordings, including bootlegs.|