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Sorta OT: interesting book re the Beatles

Richard W

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My kids gave me for Christmas a book called "Revolution in the Head" by Ian MacDonald. The book critically analyzes every song ever recorded by the Beatles in chronological order (including covers and unreleased material). MacDonald was a British music critic (who died a few years ago).


It's a fascinating read. Each song includes recording date, who played what (including outside musicians), producer and engineer, and release format (album or single). I'm a pretty big Beatles fan and it is really interesting to read detailed descriptions of how each song came to be written and recorded, and the various tricks (and mistakes) that appear throughout the Beatles' recordings. A few interesting tidbits:

  • The chord that opens Hard Days Night is a G Eleventh Suspended Fourth. MacDonald writes that this chord marks the beginning of the Beatles' creative heights, while the chord at the end of A Day in the Life marks the end.
  • Ticket to Ride is in a key somewhere between G# and A because of the Beatles' use of "varispeeding:" recording a song at one speed and mastering it at another (to prove this point, try playing along with the Ticket to Ride recording--it's impossible. My band plays the tune in G.)
  • Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane were recorded for the Sgt Peppers album, but were released as a single instead. At the time, EMI had a rule that no song released as a single could appear on an album released in the same year, so neither song appeared on Sgt Peppers, something George Martin described as "the biggest mistake of my professional career."

The author by no means fawns over the Beatles--plenty of songs he deems poorly recorded, sloppily played, or just plain substandard. He has strong opinions about McCartney and Lennon as lyricists and artists (writing that Lennon was the stronger of the two earlier, while McCartney came into his own later, partly because Lennon spent several years in an LSD-induced haze.) He has many insights about McCartney's bass playing, too, of course.


Anyway, I'm enjoying the book a lot. Anyone with more than a passing interest in the Beatles would find it enjoyable, I think.


"Everyone wants to change the world, but no one thinks of changing themselves." Leo Tolstoy
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You might cross reference the analysis of the songs with the recording notes and more that are in Geoff Emerick's book Here There and Everywhere, my life recording the Beatles.

Many of the technicalities behind varispeeding the recordings are exposed clearly and some interesting tape splices are revealed.

I found also the famous swearing by Paul at 2:58 of Hey Jude, as reported here http://www.anorak.co.uk/224715/celebrities/hey-rude-paul-mccartney-swears-on-beatles-remasters.html/

One strange thing is that they managed to splice together tapes recorded at different speed and different tonalities thanks to varispeed and a healty dose of luck. I do not remember the song.

-- Michele Costabile (http://proxybar.net)
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I've read Emerick's book and it is excellent. The song you are referring to is Strawberry Fields Forever, which went through something like 26 or 27 takes. Lennon liked the first 1:00 of Take 7 and had Martin attach it to the balance of the song from Take 26. Only problem was the two takes were in slightly different keys. Martin and Emerick made it work, however, and the author of this book calls it the greatest edit in pop history.
"Everyone wants to change the world, but no one thinks of changing themselves." Leo Tolstoy
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