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