This review is by Amy Hughes…
What a primer book on The Beatles should be is a concise, informative chronicle (with natural branching off) that gives a reader the very essence of its subject. Author Vikki Reilly has stumbled upon that magic formula in her book The Beatles 101: A Pocket Guide in 101 Moments, Songs, People and Places (Polaris Publishing, 2020)
Reilly has delved into what is considered a complex web of music history that requires extricating the wheat from the chaff: to that end, the best thing about her tome are the examples put forth of the band in chronological sequence: from origins and upbringing, the band’s embryonic beginnings onto Hamburg and Beatlemania and into the studio years, their companions and cohorts, tons of well-placed facts and beautifully sprinkled with a dose of rarely-seen photos (one showing Ringo, George and John in Wales upon hearing of Brian Epstein’s death was especially stunning) which gives the book a higher edge than most of the paint-by-numbers (read: inaccurate) quickies that attempt this same style.
By all means, this is not a dry reference manual or a zippy thumb-thru that skips the details. In fact, Reilly has portioned out the writing in a factual, easy-to-understand language that by turns has much humor (her enthusiasm and infectious laugh poured forth in a recent podcast with presenter Chris Shaw that only heightens her presence in this book) and a deep understanding of The Beatles that will have ‘serious’ fans appreciative of her studious research. I also took note of her witticisms and use of vernacular that may not be familiar to US readers (the word ‘quicksmart’ for example) and having interspersed the chapter entitled ‘The Fifth Beatle’ throughout, assigning it to inner-circle people from Neil Aspinall to Yoko Ono to Phil Spector.
There are plenty of well-known stories here for readers to digest and a good number of pages are dedicated to ‘Fab Facts’ in regards to their singles and albums (which are handy to have if you’re caught blank in a trivia quiz!). And as a pleasant diversion, Reilly presents a chapter on the always-debatable ‘Beatles vs. Stones’ in a Friends-Rivals breakdown.
The conclusion takes on several chapters of post-Beatles history, the deaths of Lennon & Harrison, ‘Anthology,’ and the digital/streaming era of their music. While there is nothing earth-shattering in these passages, I was happy to see the inclusion of relevant material that completes the story and frames the narrative more wholly.
With the title that pretty much lives up to its’ subject matter and presented in down-to-earth dialogue…
I give this book 4 out of 4 beetles!