From Them to You

The Beatles compile their greatest hits, er, life story.

THE GREATEST ROCK biography of all time is Paperback Writer, Mark Shipper's 1978 history of the Beatles—a book that in this year of the band's umpteenth marketplace revival, really deserves to come back into print. The book describes every stage of their careers: from the recording of their first album, 1963's We're Gonna Change the Face of Pop Music Forever, to the 1970 breakup and subsequent solo careers (Ringo fares best, on a series of hit singles made by other people—his name, but not his person, appears on them—while John Lennon does worst, thanks to his and Yoko Ono's ill-fated association with Sonny and Cher, with whom they form the Plastic Bono Band). Most fascinating—given that the book was issued a full year before it could have taken place—is 1979's Get Back, their disastrous, Phil Spector-produced reunion album, featuring songs like "Disco Jesus" ("You should see him do the hustle on that funky cross"); the album led to a disastrous tour that saw the once biggest band in the world riding the bottom of a bill headlined by Peter Frampton and the Sex Pistols. The Beatles Anthology

by The Beatles (Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, John Lennon) (Chronicle Books, $60) Shipper's treatment of the Beatles' tale remains the best ever because it's the only one that tops the real thing and gives you any important information the group's cultural ubiquity might not have allowed you to glean by osmosis—even if Shipper did make the whole thing up. Nobody will devour the band's new book—which is said to be (snicker) the final constituent of the group's ongoing Anthology project—because they need to know the story: We already know every detail. Fans will read the book because they want to wallow in it. Any story that's attained the mythological proportions of the Beatles' has transcended facts; all that's left is details to sift through. And that's exactly what Anthology does: sift and wallow. It really is the Beatles book to end all Beatles books because it's sort of like each of the others rolled into one—literally, in some cases: Most of Lennon's quotes come from his justifiably legendary 1970 Rolling Stone and 1980 Playboy interviews, both of which have been released as books (the Stone talks, with Jann Wenner, have just been re- issued by Verso as Lennon Remembers). Much of what McCartney says echoes the lengthy sit-downs documented in Barry Miles' 1997 book, Many Years from Now. The views of the more press-shy (or maybe just less-in-demand-for- interviews) George and Ringo are lesser known and act as welcome balances to the overall story. BUT REALLY, THEY should've called this thing Scrapbook. How else could one explain a coffee-table book containing an entire page—the text of which is probably at least double the length of this review—devoted entirely to the fact that Paul's moped accident inspired the group to grow mustaches in 1967? (Page 236, Beatlemaniacs.) Of course, why shouldn't the Beatles get to obsess over their own mythology when everybody else has? (Check Alan W. Pollack's series of mind-bendingly extensive technical and musicological notes on every single recording the band ever made for ongoing proof: http://rmb.simplenet.com/public/files/awp/awp.html.) Still, there's no contesting Anthology's packaging, from its lovingly restored photos to the neatly playful layout. When the Fabs take acid for the first time, for example, we're treated to an LSD-influenced page that spreads the paragraphs out and echoes their words in color underneath the main type while staying basically readable. And if you buy the idea that "if you remember the '60s, you weren't there," you'll be amazed by how detailed the book is. The Beatles were the '60s, and not only do they seem to remember everything, they manage to do so synchronously. (The only disagreements on who said or did what and when come when John or Paul disagrees on how much the other contributed to a song.) I just wish that Anthology contained one scene as riotous as Paperback Writer's description of the band's having run out of material but needing to record another song in order to put their comeback album over the 30-minute mark, then capitulating to Lennon's gleaming-eyed suggestion of David Crosby's "Almost Cut My Hair." And though Anthology contains plenty of great quotes, I wish there were one that summed up everything as dead-on target as Paul's response: "That piece of shit?!"

 
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