Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review: “Meow! My Groovy Life with Tiger Beat’s Teen Idols” by Ann Moses

Reviewed by Amy Hughes

MEOW! My Groovy Time with Tiger Beat's Teen IdolsDear Younger Self,

Remember when you went to the newsstand at the drugstore with your parents? Looking at all that cheap newsprint, something jumped out at you. The faces! The pop art colors! The headlines with lots of exclamation points! Wait! Is David Cassidy looking at me?! Why, yes he is. And for that you can thank one woman: Ann Moses.

Aptly titled, ‘Meow! My Groovy Life With Tiger Beat’s Teen Idols’ (Q Coding, LLC, 2017) author Ann Moses recounts the life moments she led as the editor of Tiger Beat magazine. This is a highly personal and fascinating glimpse into an era of innocent admiration, yet laced with the stark reality of Moses’ unique, coveted position.

As a teenager growing up in Anaheim, California, Moses had a chance encounter with ‘Uncle Walt’ at Disneyland while working at the Sunkist orange juice kiosk. His encouraging response to her mentioning she had written for the park’s newsletter set her off on her journalistic career.

Volunteering as an usher at the Melodyland Theater in 1965, she had the gumption to approach a gentleman at the side of the stage, stating she was “on assignment” to write about the group that was performing: The Dave Clark Five. The man was their tour manager Rick Picone. He graciously arranged the meeting and Moses got her interview published in her junior college newspaper.

She gained steam writing for ‘Rhythm ‘N’ News’ covering gigs in south Los Angeles (considered unsafe by most for a teenager). However, an off-chance remark from a fellow writer about Tiger Beat (and a connection with former Beatles press officer Derek Taylor) quickly propelled her into the office of the upstart to ‘16’ magazine and the beginning of her mind-blowing journey into the world of teen idoldom.

Throwing aside ‘respected journalism,’ Moses adapted the jargon and lifestyle that appealed to the young, aspiring teens who read Tiger Beat: as noted by her “everyone was presented as single and free.” And using descriptors like ‘groovy’ ‘heavenly’ and ‘fab’ were de rigueur. And as many exclamation points as possible!!

By the summer of 1966, Moses had been cast headfirst into a world of music, photography assignments and close encounters with Jefferson Airplane and The Rolling Stones. Her travels had also led her into the world of Paul Revere and The Raiders, then one of the biggest pop groups in the US, helped by their exposure on TV’s ‘Where The Action Is.’ Moses’ exclusivity to the band and her first-person encounters didn’t help to win her friends with ‘16’’s Gloria Stavers, the matriarch who could power play herself onto the band’s tour bus. Moses was angry and intimidated by Stavers, but recognized she could turn the tables with help from her pop idol peers at any given time.

Moses became feature editor as Tiger Beat’s boss Chuck Laufer handed her more assignments, a handsome salary and a car. She was out and about, meeting people and when The Monkees hit the TV airwaves in September 1966, Laufer’s relationship with Screen Gems gave Moses access unlike any other writer or photographer. While she became close to Peter Tork, Davy Jones and to a lesser extent Micky Dolenz, she hit a roadblock with Mike Nesmith’s abrasive personality (which she didn’t recover from for nearly a year).

Another group that Moses had access to on tour was The Standells. While they were the support act to the Raiders in November 1966, Moses found herself drawn to the band’s lead singer and drummer, Dick Dodd. A former Disney Mouseketeer, his background in show business kept him “un-Hollywood,” as Moses wrote. She also found herself with a major crush on her hands. With this dilemma, she decided to move into her own apartment and later, when she and Dodd slept together, she was left somewhat disappointed and confused. Dodd never called her again. However, a new love was on the horizon.

After attending the Monterey Pop Festival, she details her good fortune in becoming the Hollywood correspondent for UK’s ‘New Musical Express,’ and in July 1967 she flew into the orbit of The Bee Gees. What followed was a whirlwind romance with Maurice Gibb, that at the time seemed destined to be true love. He and Moses set out – first in England and then when she returned home – on a courtship that spoke of intense attraction through shared interests, especially music.

However in the brief weeks that encompassed her life with Gibb, she was blindsided with the news that he had married pop singer Lulu. While he kept his word to attend her twenty-first birthday party, the gathering was the last time she was with him. She later learned that he was in fact not with Lulu (a ploy Moses suspected was instigated by manager Robert Stigwood to keep a clean, freewheeling image alive), although the singers did marry in 1969 (and divorced a few years after that).

Moses’ complete devastation swung her back into covering the pop music scene (and marriage to a high school sweetheart). She continued with various outings (the taping of Elvis Presley’s 1968 comeback special and a subsequent, tho unexpected, conversation with The King on the set of ‘Change of Habit’), but her life at Tiger Beat was going through tumultuous changes.

She continued into the early 70s with (then) up-and-coming teen idols Bobby Sherman, David Cassidy and more personally, The Osmonds (who she stayed in touch with when she later moved to Utah). But in 1972, just as the magazine’s offices were moving to a bigger and better space, she discovered a bombshell: while she made good salary for the times, she was making half of what a sister publication’s editor was making. Floored, she marched out. And while she was coaxed into finishing out publication dates, she left Tiger Beat in May of 1972.

Moses quickly sums up her later years – divorce, second marriage, adoption of two children and a jaw-dropping spoiler from her former co-workers that I won’t mention here. All in all, ‘Meow!’ has the tasty ingredients that pull you into a time warp, reported and lived by a sharp, insightful lady given incredibly fortunate circumstances and access that could only have happened in that era.

I give this book 4 out of 4 beetles!

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family” by Ron Howard and Clint Howard

The Boys Ron Howard Clint HowardI’m always on the lookout for a Beatles related book that can hold my attention. I’m a huge fan of biographies and first hand experiences as compared to academic studies of the Beatles work and catalog. I’ve been lucky in the fact that Amy Hughes came along and asked if she could review books for this blog since she seems to excel at not only writing reviews, but she also likes reading those books that I can’t seem to get into. Thank you Amy!

About two weeks ago, I saw The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family by Ron Howard and Clint Howard on Amazon and knowing that Ron had directed the documentary – The Beatles: Eight Days a Week, I ordered a copy for myself. And lucky me…there was a used SIGNED First Edition for just $11 available!

The best way to describe this book written by Ron and his younger brother Clint is to imagine if the cast of Leave It to Beaver were a real family in Hollywood! We all know that in his younger years, little Ronny Howard played Opie on the Andy Griffith Show and..

a lot of first generation Beatles fans may remember Clint Howard as the adorable little boy with a pet bear on the TV show Gentle Ben. Star Trek fans will also know Clint from a first season episode where he played a 600 year old alien named Balok (Clint was 7 years old at the time).

And who can forget Ron Howard as Richie Cunningham on Happy Days! Well, these two were actually that cute as children growing up with parents who both put their own acting careers aside to support their two sons’ stardom. Not as stage parents…but as loving, supportive parents who were always there as they juggled auditions, rehearsals and stage time while maintaining a normal, all-American family life. It wasn’t always easy, but Ron and Clint tell the story honestly and with undying love and respect for their parents.

Only twice is the word “Beatles” uttered in this book, once when Ron admits to having donned a Beatles wig in his youth and once when he mentions that he was a fan in the 1960’s, but the lack of mentions of the Fab Four doesn’t stop it from being an exciting story of two brothers who were both the same and very different at the same time…but have a never-ending tight bond. It’s a true tribute to the American family and the more beautiful side of Hollywood fame. And for that reason…

I rate this book, 4 out of 4 Beatles!

 

 

 

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Book Review: “The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music” by David Grohl

The Storyteller tales of life and music david grohlUnfortunately, I didn’t give The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music (Dey St. Publishing, October 2021) by Dave Grohl the respect that it deserves. I actually let it sit HALF READ on the end table next to my couch for a month! Oh…the humanity…I hang my head in shame. But now that my load has been lifted (I work as a temp, but have decided not to take any new jobs this month), I finished it in two days…something that any sane person could have done with the entire book!

Is this book everything you think and expect it to be? Well…yes and no!

Does it contain:

The grungy little details about Kurt Cobain?…no.

When and who Dave lost his virginity too?…no.

Details of his first marriage?…no.

The suggestion that he may have been abducted by aliens?…yes!

The gory details of him falling off the stage and breaking his leg?…yes!

For those of my readers that may are not aware, Dave Grohl was the original drummer for Nirvana and the founder of the Foo Fighters and he is a huge Beatles and Paul McCartney fan. So, if you’re looking for Paul McCartney stories, he doesn’t disappoint. The book is filled with stories of meeting his musical idols and how he himself turns into a ‘fan’ upon coming face to face with them.

As a doting father, Dave also tells of the excitement he feels when he gets to introduce his daughters to rock royalty. Imagine Paul McCartney playing piano with your three year old or Joan Jett reading her a bedtime story! And Dave tells the stories so humbly that (unlike other rocker memoirs) it doesn’t come off as bragging. Along those same lines, you won’t be forced to read through endless tales of his sexual conquests, but you’ll learn how much he loves and respects his mother.

In 375 pages, Grohl covers a lot of ground, but leaves so many things untold. This book will definitely leave you wanting more. And I have a feeling there will be at least one more book to follow this one. After spending much of the book telling stories about being the father of three daughters, the youngest two don’t get their fair share of page worthy stories. Also, in the credits, he thanks his publisher Liate Stehlik, “who allowed me the honor of telling my story (or at least a tenth of it) to the world. Thank you. Someday I’ll have to tell you the rest.” I look forward to hearing them too!

And for that reason…

I rate this book, 4 out of 4 Beetles!

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “Paul McCartney and His Creative Practice – The Beatles and Beyond” by Phillip McIntyre & Paul Thompson

Paul McCartney and His Creative Practice

Reviewed by: Amy Hughes

Paul McCartney is his own definition. He inhabits an environment that pretty much everyone else that isn’t him, finds difficult to describe.

Approaching a study of his creative output in all its facets requires an open mind and an affinity akin to a history of sociology, pop culture and the mysterious process called songwriting.

What Paul McCartney and His Creative Practice (Palgrave Studies in Creativity and Culture, 2021) achieves is not solely a critical analysis of how he writes a song or a deconstruction of his life’s work. Instead, authors Phillip McIntyre and Paul Thompson couch the theory of flow with the outside influences of his world into a package that has many layers to uncover.

As an explanation to address this book’s function, it is a serious, academic-minded reader for those interested in McCartney’s one-of-a-kind creative process. And although The Beatles take up quite a portion of the text, the vital connections from the end of that tenure right up through 2020’s ‘McCartney III’ examines how he grew as a musician, songwriter, producer, and engineer with ‘a little help from his friends.’

Owing to considerable forethought, the authors bring to the table one of the more enigmatic, yet common perceptions attached to someone of McCartney’s stature: Romanticism. Like the label ‘genius,’ most people associate the concept of Romanticism with awe and reverence. To hold McCartney to that limited definition – minus the technical and personal achievements he gained from others – belies all the pieces that has formed his personal character and musical artistry.

While there is no doubt few individuals can amass the accolades in their lifetime associated with reverent creativity, McIntyre and Thompson also impart significant import to how McCartney’s sociocultural touch points – listening to his father’s piano playing, gregarious family singalongs, and his uncanny ear in picking out tunes – weigh into a system of interwoven related communal support and geographical upbringing.

Weighing this, one can start piecing together the early structure that brought a teenaged McCartney into the orbit of John Lennon and thru that into The Beatles. Often quoted yet undeniable, is the shared experiences all four individuals had as they grew into their musical roles.

While many outsiders gave them opportunities to test the waters, Lennon, McCartney, Harrison (and later) Starr inhabited their own world as they began in Hamburg – Starr with Rory Storm – and found their footing in the hazardous, grueling schedule that honed their playing skills. Critical to the genesis of The Beatles was the departure of Lennon’s classmate Stuart Sutcliffe on bass. McCartney inherited that position more as a “well, it better be you, then” attitude and thus his future was solidified.

As a bassist, his style is fluid and dynamic. However what the general public considers his greatest achievement is his songwriting. While McIntyre and Thompson address his process in three specific cases, his ultimate masterpiece has been and will be ‘Yesterday.’

Effective as McCartney continues to be in extolling the mystical inspiration of its origin, ‘Yesterday’ as deconstructed by the authors paints a more realistic history: McCartney while living with the Ashers in November 1963 did have the oft-told musical dream, and then awoke to play it on a nearby piano. Doubtful that he had actually concepted this original melody, McCartney played it to several people including John Lennon. All assured him it was of his own making.

Yet what became the driving force was McCartney’s belief that it might have come from somewhere in the past or that he had subconsciously heard it elsewhere. While the persona of his habitus instigated this internal questioning, McIntyre and Thompson adhere to many practical instances where McCartney’s childhood spent listening to the music around him imbibed a sense of familiar, encapsulated memories that stuck in his head where he could conveniently pull them out years later. Hence his dogged nature in pursuing this tune’s origin.

Living the professional musician life, McCartney continued to hone ‘Yesterday’ (most famously fine-tuning the “scrambled eggs” placeholder lyrics) over a two-year period. By mid-1965, he had it complete and ready to go. After presenting it to the band and producer George Martin, the consensus was, beyond McCartney and a guitar, there was nothing more to add. While Martin came up with the idea for the string accompaniment (much to the songwriter’s horror), the arrangement was through McCartney’s intuitive ear for tonality. The only surprise that has surfaced since then was what transpired at EMI Studios the day of the recording: McCartney’s first two vocals were ‘I’ve Just Seen A Face’ and the larynx-shredding ‘I’m Down.’ The strings were overdubbed a few days later and ‘Yesterday’ – finished on June 17 – was infused into the lexicon of songs that will continue to mystify and polarize generations to come.

McIntyre and Thompson also delve into McCartney’s creative collaborations and help to clarify his partnership with John Lennon. As written about in the past fifty-plus years, the duo’s alliance – while popular to imagine as a person-centric perspective driven by mythical free-thinking, self-expression embedded with romanticism – has markedly changed to a more pragmatic, rational-based approach since the dissolution of The Beatles.

Debunking the myths surrounding their singular, isolated genius brainstorming, the authors lay out the dyad of their collaborative partnership. How these two individuals with starkly contrasted backgrounds found their common ground is not unfathomable: both had a shared geographical and sociological connection, a similar interest in songwriting and a love for rock ‘n’ roll.

As their status germinated and grew, both men were forced into tight deadlines and even tighter spaces that had them together with few contacts, except for the inner circle of Harrison, Starr, Mal Evans, Neil Aspinall and Brian Epstein. As the overall arc of their influence permeated the rest of the music scene, the ‘mid-period’ in their alliance afforded more focus, more time in the studio and for McCartney, a more disciplined approach to songwriting.

Although Lennon’s mindset was shifting towards introspective soul-searching, McCartney gave way to taking his fully-formed ideas to Lennon for input and constructive criticism. This worked on many levels, each dovetailing their own unique work habits into the others’ space of works. Each had – through their joined association – the ability to start or finish or bring together the possibilities surrounding them musically. But as they began the transition from simple pop band to respected, critically acclaimed songwriters, the duo drifted apart from their tight-knit bond of collaboration to one of competitive rivals.

Lennon, as the authors note, is one for endless speculative psychological analysis. But McCartney was far less interested in self-examination. While Lennon was the force of nature in the early years, his younger colleague quickly gained speed and surpassed him artistically. From this vantage point, it only seems natural that they would move on personally and professionally. While their global creative world was simultaneously shifting and constraining, it was uncertain at that juncture what was going to transpire for McCartney in the foreseeable future.

What did happen was that McCartney assumed the mantle of jack-of-all-trades. Free from social dynamics and power relationships, he began his complete immersion into the creative system. McCartney was fortunate to have as his mentor a skilled and multifaceted individual like George Martin to learn from. Thus it enabled him to move into a coworker mode, as he worked with Martin on ‘The Family Way’ soundtrack. Independently, he assumed producing duties under the pseudonym Apollo C. Vermouth for The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and then when Apple Records formed, constructing a resume that included Badfinger, Mary Hopkin and The Black Dyke Mills Band.

McCartney moved on after The Beatles to become his own production boss, with gained confidence, and as he was more musically-inclined, trusted the judgment of engineers to help calibrate precisely the technicalities of recording. His esoteric choices in studios were sometimes called into question (cutting the basic tracks for ‘Band On The Run’ in the less-than-hospitable location of Lagos, Nigeria and laying down tracks on boats in the Virgin Islands for ‘London Town’), but no-one could argue that McCartney himself played safe.

He continued to hone his vision through several amalgamations of musical partners – Eric Stewart, Elvis Costello – and then most importantly, McCartney came together with Harrison and Starr to bring back their version of The Beatles (with Jeff Lynne as producer) to re-work demos of John Lennon’s for the ‘Anthology’ project starting in 1994.

Having said that, McCartney expanded his playground of sound to many locations and invited band members throughout the years to give input during those sessions. Even when he built his current studio Hog Hill Mill near his home in Sussex, England he could sometimes butt up against stronger personalities at the board or be at odds with collaborators; as previously mentioned, although Costello was a magical connection, it was a partnership fraught with tension that for whatever reason did not gel with his musical output.

The authors, however, make it crystal clear that despite the metallurgy process, McCartney has deftly blended his vintage leanings – continuing to play his beloved Hofner bass – with the stylistic turns in technology to this day. The authors note in detail McCartney’s musical processes in the studio (he likes to work quickly!) and his laser focus on creating the music at hand with the vast array of instruments he has at his home studio.

McCartney since the ‘60s had shown interest in the esoteric and experimental, in the studio and social situations. As he moved along, his musical output may not have equaled his stellar reputation as he ventured into areas that the general public and critics labeled ‘risky’ and ‘unbearably inept.’ But with his habitus in the singular mode, he forged ahead with electronic music (as The Fireman), orchestral presentations and organizing the Concert For New York after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Another less ventured avenue are his business practices. While a good portion of the popular media took to task his later struggles with Michael Jackson’s acquisition of his catalog, McIntyre and Thompson see with a keen eye the history of that timeline. Early on, his negotiating savvy took off as he acquired publishing rights to various songs that would generate phenomenal earnings. His foray into scriptwriting and acting wasn’t as successful, however his strong preservationist eye had him restoring his old school Liverpool Institute into the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. He also retains a dedicated team at his McCartney Productions Limited (MPL) to help keep in touch with engaging social media and manage his massive tours.

McIntyre and Thompson have undertaken an enormously complex personality such as Paul McCartney and pieced together the diverse domain that he has inhabited since his childhood. Having characterized his position in the musical ‘ecosystem’ as it pertains to the multiple components that he represents, his fully formed knowledge of music has enabled him to be continually relevant and deeply valued to this day.

I give this scholarly book 4 out of 4 beetles

 

 

 

 

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Book Review – Ringo Starr: The Comic Book

Reviewed by Amy Hughes

Ringo Starr The Comic Book

To be honest, I find the concept of portraying the Fabs in comic book form to be a unique prospect. With the advent of graphic novels, the ability to revisit key points in their lives via illustrative media is an intriguing avenue. While the epitome to match would be ‘Yellow Submarine’ (in of itself it’s own tangled saga), the popularity for their story is ripe for comic form.

Ringo Starr – The Comic Book (Tidalwave Productions, 2022) is the latest in a series of short-form comics (via hardcover, Kindle and comiXology) from their ‘Orbit’ collection: biographical comics of people who have ‘made a difference in the world.’ Starr now has his turn in the Fab spotlight and while it’s a nice addition, there is a message.

The focus for the majority of the 26 pages is on Starr’s childhood and the adversity he overcame with his various health issues. Author David Cromarty and illustrator Victor Moura focus on those passages, shown in dark tones and to-the-point dialogue.

Most of the well-known incidents from his childhood thru the hospitalizations and early adulthood are portrayed very simply and with well-placed urgency. As the story ramps up with his interest in the drums and onto his seat with Rory Storm, his form is shown with humor at these key points. His intro into The Beatles is kept tight and ends with his own words as to how they came to understand the mania of their fame.

To be honest, you will find no deep insight here. Starr’s earnest and down-to-earth personality come through and for the most part, this style of storytelling is best aimed at a younger audience for this brief dip into his early ‘Starr-dom.’

I give this comic 4 out of 4 beetles.

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson” by Bruce Conforth and Gayle Dean Wardlow

Up Jumped the Devil Robert Johnson Conforth Wardlow“Robert Johnson”

“World’s greatest blues guitarist”

“Went to the crossroads and sold his soul to the devil to play the blues.”

These are the things I had heard over the years, but not being into the blues, I had no idea who Robert Johnson was…and this lead me to buy Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson by Bruce Conforth and Gayle Dean Wardlow last week and read it in 3 days. It was published in 2021 and just 270 pages (without including bibliography and index).

I’ll admit, I’ve never been a fan of the blues, though a lot of people will say it’s the roots of rock n roll. But after spending years hearing about a mysterious blues artist from the Mississippi Delta that was so good, people said he had to have gotten his skills by hoodoo or the Devil, the only way to find out for myself was to find the best book written about him. And from this list of awards this book has won, I think this one is it.

The Mississippi Delta wasn’t an easy place to grow up in the 1920’s and 30’s. Most black families were sharecroppers working for plantation owners. On the weekends, though, these hard working people would find their release at balls or jukes (without or with alcohol, respectively), dancing and listening to music. This is where Robert Johnson was born in 1911. But he wanted no part of farming, he just wanted to play music. He’d sneak out and sit outside jukes at night just to hear the music. At 11, he built himself a diddly bow on the side of the family shack (strings connected between 2 nails on the side of a house), just so he could play.  Not long afterward, his sister bought him his first guitar and from that moment on, he study and played wherever he could, learning from anyone who could teach him.

How good was Robert Johnson? Listen to Dead Shrimp Blues….a song that people have insisted there was no way one man was playing…there had to be 2 guitar players, they said. But there wasn’t….this was Robert Johnson:

Robert Johnson loved women almost as much his guitar. Families would hide their daughters when they saw Robert coming…”He plays that devil music!” He would be married twice and widowed twice by the age of 25. And just when the time had come for him to become a major musical force at age 27, he was poisoned by the husband of one of his lovers.

Did he sell his soul at the crossroads? Well, this book sets out to find out the true story behind this legend…a man who influenced Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin. Well researched, the authors have found more details about this man of mystery…a man who they say would turn his back when playing his guitar, so no one could see how he formed his chords. Now, it’s your turn to decide…

I rate this book, 4 out of 4 Beetles!

 

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “A Cozy Beatles Mystery Series” by Kal Smagh

Another review from Amy Hughes:

A Cozy Beatles Mystery Series Kal Smagh

As Beatles literature goes, one can never fully appreciate the care and for want of a better word research, that goes into what is termed ‘fan fiction.’ All the more surprising that an entire full-length series with a strong, funny and multi-layered female lead can leave The Beatles in a secondary narrative!

Author Kal Smagh has done a fine job integrating a fact-based historical narrative, while weaving a mystery/alternate universe character through A Cozy Beatles Mystery Series (independently published, 2021). What I found most entertaining through this 4-volume series (including a short story) was the completely formed universe that we know, and love of The Beatles wrapped around a 60-year storyline that – to be honest – really encompasses the main character, the down-to-earth, disarmingly charming Helen Spencer.

What begins in 1962 Liverpool as Helen begins her journey with Freda Kelly and Brian Epstein, winds it way through the decades as we come to see her lifelong friendship (and employment) with the band expand worldwide. Smagh’s imaginative storytelling is actually told in flashbacks for the entire series – as an elderly Helen (retired and living in Florida) is recounting her experiences to a character we as readers are not quite sure is entirely forthright in their intentions!

As individual ‘stories,’ each holds its own: Helen’s crime-solving beginnings are told in ‘Larceny in Liverpool,’ and given a short nudge in ‘Punching Up,’ then gather steam in ‘Mayhem for Her Majesty,’ ‘The Beverly Hills Burglary’ and finally conclude in ‘The Beatle Car Bandits.’ Smagh has interwoven timely characters and locations pivotal to the band’s story, while taking liberties with their dialogue and interactions.

I can say I found Helen’s story fascinating as Smagh spends a great deal of time with her and her family – and that is a tentative warning for those of you out there that are hardcore fan-fic readers. His series really hangs on Helen and her sleuthing abilities and how certain real-life elements – from the Cavern Club to London to California to Oxford University – can be stretched to fit nearly the entire history of the band’s lifespan – and beyond.

What is also crucial is to the ability to suspend disbelief in certain situations, yet find Helen’s hilarious observations and determined mindset (which is key in linking this series together) believable in this Beatles AU. What I will say – and this is a little tough with no spoilers – is that the narrative is poignantly written and very sweet as Smagh brings us to the present day. I find that in this age of cynicism and social media bashing, the ability to convey a fictional character’s travails (sometimes not altogether perfect and with hints of self-doubt and a smattering of guts) with the real-life Beatles – without graphic blandishment or judgmental abandonment – is refreshing and to be honest, entertaining and readable.

I recommend getting all 4 books (including the short story) for the complete picture and then giving the series 4 out of 4 beetles!

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “The Beatles and the 1960s: Reception, Revolution, and Social Change” by Kenneth Campbell

Note: Amy Hughes and Jenn are presenting to you another duel review of a recently published Beatles book.


Amy Hughes’ review:
The Beatles and the 1960s: Reception, Revolution, and Social ChangeWhile the world of academic studies continues past the history of The Beatles’ lifespan, I will never tire of the deep dive (yes, an overused term, I admit) with regards to those whose research and passion go above and beyond the usual biographies and fact-checking in the world they helped to define during those 10 glorious years.

Author Ken Campbell has given an intriguingly personal, yet historical account of the band in that crucial decade with authority and dare I say, love. The Beatles and the 1960s: Reception, Revolution and Social Change (Bloomsbury, 2021) captures what few volumes are able to do: give those details that are already familiar to the devoted and yet place these memories inside a contextual, readable and relatable narrative, not usual for this style of book.

Campbell, as a noted scholar and historian, has been able to pluck out the familiar anecdotes and incidents intrinsic to The Beatles intensely devoted fans, yet crucially place all of this into graphic perspective. I didn’t just find this a dry timetable of distant facts and stories, but rather a highly important historical treatise, gathering steam from Kennedy to Kennedy, from Profumo to Paris.

Most importantly, Campbell has woven many interviews from male and female fans who lived through the Beatles in real time, especially as the songs were released then. How they reacted, how they changed as people, what they decided to aspire to in their life… their words are quite honest, insightful and at times humorous when juxtaposed against some of the more serious situations that were rumbling around the world during The Beatles musical lifespan.

While most of their early days were void of political commentary (much of it culled at the behest of manager Brian Epstein), as the decade wore on (and the band’s personal fortunes, both personally and musically changed), the group were able to divulge highly individualistic comments, ranging from Lennon’s famous Christ comment to McCartney’s LSD revelation and Harrison’s stance on Transcendental Meditation and his love of India.

Of course what is most important to The Beatles legacy is the music and how it became the yardstick for which all others were measured. Campbell does a superb job of invoking the “which album is better” debate (‘Revolver’ vs. ‘Sgt. Pepper’) by suggesting that each – only separated by a year’s time – are highly influenced by each of The Beatles contributions and experiences. While the aspect of their stoppage in touring surely impacted the sound of ‘Pepper,’ which had the benefit of time, money and energy, one can see how it can also be viewed as dated, closed and vintage in many respects. Of its time in 1967, it is absolutely certain. Viewed from afar, however (and with Lennon’s pithy recollections of lifting off from newspapers and LSD-inspired laziness juxtaposed to McCartney’s workaholic attitude), it suffers greatly. ‘Revolver’ on the other hand (and near to the ‘White Album’ in a sense) has aged much better.

Taken with the charged and scarred political atmosphere, 1968’s ‘White Album’ and more pointedly The Rolling Stones’ ‘Beggars Banquet’ heralded a coming of age for both bands. But it also signaled the change in personal gain for both fans and the bands themselves. The gap between radicalism and protest coming from Lennon and Jagger seemed somehow removed from reality. And while Campbell’s interviewees were handed a newer version of both, laced with the mature viewpoints, inner soul seeking, and mouthy call-to-arms, one began to wonder if these ‘pop stars’ really understood their audience anymore.

As 1969 came over the horizon, the political juggernaut that was Richard Nixon was coming into play and conservatism on both sides of the Atlantic are covered neatly by Campbell as the 60s come to a close. As is well-documented, The Beatles time in January was taken up with the ‘Get Back/Let It Be’ sessions which segued into separate career pursuits, both musically and personally. McCartney and Lennon’s marriages in March were the focal point of the group’s splintering dynamic, though not entirely the cause of tensions mounting within the band. And while managerial efforts were thumping across the table (also well-documented from those times), the real maelstrom of publicity was whether the group would lash themselves down at Abbey Road and produce an album.

While the namesake studio and album seemed to signal a return to the classic group sound, it was also a foreshadow of life events to come. While Lennon and Ono had used their marriage to cajole world leaders to seek peace and McCartney retreated to home, farm and studio production of others, most of the summer of ‘69 was taken up by other sounds: the Stones’ Brian Jones’ death, Apollo 11, Woodstock, Chappaquiddick, Vietnam and the notorious Manson murders. In short, an upheaval that signaled an end to the ‘Summer of Love’ and yet gave growth to the four members, most pointedly the one soul who had come across as the most troubled and withdrawn Beatle: George Harrison.

His two most poignant (and to this day) most popular compositions – ‘Something’ and ‘Here Comes The Sun’ – were the jewels that shimmered on each side of the album. While Lennon’s ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ was a thick chunk of vocals, synthesizers, knotty bass lines with a droning abrupt ending, Side Two’s medley from mostly half-finished songs was brought together beautifully with the support and wisdom of George Martin.

The autumn of 1969 – while ‘Abbey Road’ was showing it’s grandeur – had the curiosity of the ‘Paul Is Dead’ spectre mixed into the fold. As Campbell points out, all the signs were (supposedly) there as he generously gives way to the acres of coverage that were posted by not only fans but serious rock writers. McCartney defiantly stonewalled the entire debacle, only to be tracked down in Scotland and resigned to quote that he was in fact, still alive as Campbell delves into the relationship between fans relationships with a band like The Beatles and their emotional reactions to breakups and death.

This mindset quickly became apparent as those January 1969 sessions would soon become the band’s swansong. As we have recently witnessed, that time period is covered with misinformation and hazy recollections of sour relationships. In accordance with the publication of this book, Campbell can only cover what was available as far as the film and album, both of which suffered greatly in the wake of the public announcement that the band was no more by May 1970.

The dissolution of the group has – and Campbell quotes Lennon directly – been compared to a divorce. While the tightest pairing of Lennon & McCartney would draw the strongest connotation, the entire band were moving in different directions, both personally and musically. As Campbell notes in Joshua Wolf Shenk’s ‘The Powers of Two’ he quite rightly identifies reasons for a split in partnerships: wedges (where something comes between two people) and stumbles (unable to clear obstacles in the path). No one thing or incident defined the break, not Yoko Ono’s presence or the disagreements on Allen Klein as a business manager. Everyone had simply grown up. As had their fans.

Some fans did not simply care about The Beatles and their influence during the 60s; they came to view them as a cultural phenomenon, one that changed their lives forever. As Campbell concludes, the 1970s began with growing cynicism and doubt. The Beatles would splinter into their solo careers and as we know, Lennon would rage with his ‘Plastic Ono Band’ release, McCartney would be the self-styled DIY with ‘McCartney’, Starr would go nostalgia with ‘Sentimental Journey and Harrison – he would emerge from the ashes and fly the highest at the start with ‘All Things Must Pass’ and ‘The Concerts for Bangladesh.’

The 1970s would give more of the four – in spurts of grandeur or depths of questioning – but the one overriding question was who would succeed them. Campbell puts forth with some intrigue Steely Dan and of course The Who and The Stones. Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd are also a strong consideration and even The Police, Elton John (not thru coincidence I may add!) and even Bruce Springsteen.

However no one person or collection of people or movement or genre would replace The Beatles. As Campbell cannot ignore Lennon’s death in 1980 (and how could that not be ignored), we’ve come to appreciate that short time that they did change us for the better.

I give this book 4 out of 4 beetles!

 

 

 


Jenn’s review:

When a publisher surprises me with a review copy of a new Beatles book, I try my best to read it. And I did that with The Beatles and the 1960s: Reception, Revolution, and Social Change by Kenneth L. Campbell. But I have to say, I failed in that task and I’m going to now explain why.

One of the very first things I noticed when I thumbed through the book was the small font. This obviously isn’t an author error but none the less, it did hinder my ability to read for long stretches of time without having to rest my eyes. Maybe they were aiming for the under 50 crowd? Well, that’s not me!

Second thing that became a standout issue…HOWEVER. Yes, the word ‘however’. I was only on page 58 when I realized the word kept appearing again and again. Since Amy had a .pdf copy of the book, I sent her a text and asked her to do a search on the word ‘however’. She shot back with a total of 199 times does the word appear in 226 pages. Eegads! This always makes me wonder…who is editing the book if I’m the one noticing these things? Is this another publisher issue or author issue?

Twelve more pages into the book, I came across the following sentence:

Without the music, it is safe to say Beatlemania would not have existed; if people did not like what they heard on the radio or the Ed Sullivan show, people would have quickly lost interest. – Page 70

I’m just going to leave that there and let you judge for yourself. Needless to say, I didn’t make it much further…only to page 102. It’s not that it’s a bad book…it’s a scholarly study. Not my bag. Ken does a great job of sourcing out his material, and I was actually happy to see a couple friend’s books among those listed in the extensive Notes and Bibliography (they take up 1/6 of the book). I just didn’t feel like I was reading anything new. HOWEVER, a newbie to the Beatles world may find this all very interesting. And for that reason…

I rate this book, 2 out of 4 Beatles!

 

 

 

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OT Book Review: “These Five Words Are Mine” by Jennifer Lynne Croneberger

These five words are mine jennifer cronebergerA little over a month ago, I attended a local women’s event called Lifting Your V.O.I.C.E. (don’t ask me what the acronym stands for…I don’t know). I had heard about this event for a couple of years and in fact, I worked through a temp agency as a server at the country club where the event was held in previous years. I had hoped that I would be called up to work the event, but that never happened, so this year, I decided to cough up the money and go it alone. The event is hosted by local news anchor Tracy Davidson and motivational speaker Jennifer Croneberger. I decided to get a copy of Jenn’s book –  These Five Words Are Mine: Conversations With Life. My Journey to Awareness . . . Five Words at a Time after spending the morning listening to her speak.

It’s taken me a couple days of thought to figure out how I want to approach reviewing this book. That’s not a bad thing…and it’s not necessarily a good thing. I can’t even think of what category to put this book in…autobiography? self-help? enlightenment? Let’s just go with ‘all of the above.’

Jen Croneberger knew from a very young age that she wanted to write and publish a book and finally in her 30s she got around to achieving that goal. The book is a collection of 60 posts from her personal blog where she explores and examines her life experiences from the past and present.

Is this a feel good book? Yes, but it also made me angry at times. I’d put it down for days and eventually pick it back up again and only to find another beautiful story from her life’s journey.  The book will make you reflect on your own life choices and how you approach various situations in your own life.

Confused? I can’t find the right words to tell you about Jen and what she stands for, so here is a video of her giving one of her TEDx talks:

These Five Words Are Mine is a book you will read and then want your friends to read and probably like me, you won’t know why…but you’ll just know that more people need to connect with Jennifer Croneberger and her work. And for that reason…

I rate this book, 4 out of 4 Beetles!

 

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “What They Heard: How The Beatles, Beach Boys and Bob Dylan Listened To Each Other and Changed Music Forever” by Luke Meddings

What They Heard: How The Beatles, Beach Boys and Bob Dylan Listened To Each Other and Changed Music Forever Luke Meddings

An astounding thought crosses the mind when even thinking about the title of Luke Meddings’ book. The metaphorical and analytical analysis of these three entities has been decades in the making.

In What They Heard: How The Beatles, Beach Boys and Bob Dylan Listened To Each Other and Changed Music Forever (Weatherglass Books, 2021), Meddings has unfolded a heartfelt dissertation on how the three B’s (and for contextual purposes, he also includes the fourth B – The Byrds), with minute clarity, couched in appreciation with the subjects at hand.

Each set out on their own path, yet within the circumstances of the ‘60s music and art scene, diverged at various points along the way. This isn’t a highbrow, how-the-stars-and-planets -aligned tome. It points to the inevitable for the times: Dylan breaking the barriers of folk and be damned; The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson as the troubled genius who saw beyond the accepted musical norms and finally The Beatles whose presence not only affected the aforementioned but occupied a massive, revered space that neither they nor anyone could have foreseen.

The hindsight for this book proves entirely relevant as Meddings intersects the creative influences of that time with the development of his own understanding of musical composition and theory. Translated: he gets us to the core of why we love those unexpected chord changes, why we hear something different every time we listen to every song. And why getting a handle on a note from ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ to ‘Good Vibrations’  to ‘Paperback Writer’ leaves us more confused than ever.

One overall aspect here are the underdogs in this character study: the members of The Byrds. The scattershot pickings when viewed from afar (covering Dylan, influencing George Harrison, conflicting integrations and genres that were amplified by Wilson) is indeed intriguing. I found entire backstories on the individual members enhanced the merit of their music and needed to be brought forth in the context of this narrative.

But while Meddings sets the needle into the groove of where this all began – the very late 50s to be fair – the crux of this book really centers on Wilson. He is living and breathing music. Not content to play in a band and wear the stereotype facade of the perceived groovy  ‘California lifestyle,’ Wilson reaches for stratospheric goals that as we see moved his mind far beyond what Lennon & Co. were tripping to with recreational drug use.

Wilson and the magnum opus of ‘Pet Sounds’ has of course been acknowledged by McCartney as the trigger for ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ start. Dylan on the other hand – in an oblique way – had already pushed the buttons and pissed off the folk purists with his jump into electric-land. Meddings gives us a view that while there had to be changes coming, the face of folk’s movement didn’t have to be nice or polite or meek. And if Wilson placed his Moog-minded, choral-vocal beauty out there, musicians like McCartney had to step out or be run over.

Meddings does conclude ‘What They Heard’ on what I would consider a downturn. As he ruefully reminisces that the paths of the book’s subjects did not cross over much past their heyday and obviously with the loss of Lennon in 1980, that was put to pasture. He does however lend a bit of spark for Dylan in recent years. While McCartney and Wilson have in varying degrees struggled vocally as they age, Meddings puts forth the fact (and I agree wholeheartedly) that Dylan is the one who has aged the best; growing into his voice – the nasal growl – and his learned historical and extensive references for 2020’s epic 17-minute ‘Murder Most Foul.’ Dylan with all his work is still a hard act to categorize to this day.

Charting the course from 1961-68 gives the reader a concise snapshot of where they all stood – eyeing each other through music, personal connection and as this book notes, how all of those ingredients combined gave us what we have today, most importantly for the better.

I give this book 4 out of 4 beetles.

 

 

 

 

 

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