Regarded as the greatest and most revealing account of how the Beatles recorded every one of their songs, Revolution in the Head is brimming with details of the personal highs and lows experienced by Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr as they made some of the most enduring popular music ever created.
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Five Stars with an Asterisk
This is a fascinating book - lovingly narrated by an ensemble cast - all listenable, and a couple of them exceptional. After an introduction it traverses the Beatles recording career song by song - going session by session rather than album by album, including unreleased oddities. The writer is very intelligent and almost invariably brilliant in terms of his analyses of the lyrics and the broader role of the group in the culture of the 20th Century. He's also *sometimes* brilliant in his musical analyses - often enough to warrant 5 stars across the board. That said, he's also sometimes annoyingly stupid on strictly musical elements, making some technical musical errors and overlooking critical details. A perfect example is the song Day Tripper, which he pans rather ruthlessly. Failing to grasp the importance of layered thematic riffs in popular music (and frankly, failing to grasp what a musical hook is) he thinks this is merely a 12-bar blues variant that the Beatles rushed out in an uninspired moment. I find it hard to believe that anyone interested enough in the Beatle to consider buying this book could fail to hear the virtues of this song. He's even more critical of All You Need Is Love, whose thematic 7/4 riff is stunningly brilliant to anyone with ears but he ignores this entirely and damns the song for what he considers its nonsensical lyrics ("nothing you can do that can't be done") but then a few songs later he heaps near-Shakespearean praise on the (similarly full of convoluted word-play) lyrics of I Am The Walrus and lavishes modern "concept art" superlatives on Revolution 9. My point is that Walrus and All You Need is Love - whatever you think of their lyrics - are both dumbfounding brilliant and original from a musical point of view and to say that the first is pure genius and the second is a pathetic piece of rubbish is just infuriating. That said, many of his analyses are spot on and the fact that he's so arrogantly opinionated will challenge you to think, even if you sometimes want to reach through the speaker and slap the guy. So, 5 stars, take each opinion with a pillar of salt, and don't let his sometimes inaccurate use of highbrow technical musical terminology override what your ears are telling you. If you filter out the nonsense, there's an abundance of really great insights to be had.
If you're looking for a 5 star Beatles book without the asterisk, Lewisohn's Tune In is without the slightest doubt the gold standard in terms of both content and narration. Can't Buy Me Love is also fantastic.
- A. K. Moore