Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Beatles and the Historians - a Book Review


Paul and Linda with Hunter Davies and family 

The book The Beatles and the Historians by Erin Torkelson Weber is the most thought-provoking Beatles book I have ever read.   This book digs into the way The Beatles has been portrayed through the past 50 years in books and publications. 

There are four areas that she touches on:  the official narrative (the 1960s), the Lennon Remembers narrative (1970s), the Shout narrative (1980s), and the Lewishon narrative (1990s - today).

The official narrative was pushed mostly through the publication of Hunter Davies Official Beatles Biography.   It painted the Beatles as four best friends that all got along.   Lennon and McCartney were the power writing music team and they were all one big happy group.   

The Lennon Remembers narrative ruined that image of the Beatles after his infamous 1970 interview for Rolling Stone.  Of course, the Lennon Remembers interview is not a really valid historical document.   John was very angry and was using drugs at the time of that interview.  John himself recounted much of that interview and he is known to not be a very good source for reliable history of The Beatles --- he mixes things up in all sorts of interviews.   John just didn't have that great of a memory.  Nonetheless, the Lennon Remembers quotes appeared in books in the 1970s and beyond. 

Next comes the Shout narrative, which is what I always called the "St. John" period.   This perspective is that John Lennon did nothing wrong.   He was this peaceful guy all the time.  Paul McCartney was painted as the mean guy -- the one that broke up the band.   John was the talented with the clever lyrics and Paul's writing was "basic."    This era also basically ignored George and Ringo in books.   

That leads us up to the Lewisohn narrative.   Starting with his Beatles Recording Sessions book, Mark Lewishon started to dig deep into the Beatles' history and setting the records straight with The Beatles' history.   

That is just a short overview of the four parts of this book.   Having been a fan since the late 1980s, I remember much of these narratives and books that she discussed.   The progression of the history is really interesting and how things have grown to today is just amazing.   One thing that I found especially interesting is how she stated many Beatles books are written with a positive light on one Beatle over another in accordance to that author's favorite Beatle.   The author found this to be true with not just memoirs of those that knew the Beatles personally but also with others that did not know the four of them.   When I think about this -- it is really true.  Most books either lean heavy Lennon or heavy McCartney.   

The only part that I didn't like was how the author kept comparing the Beatles' history with the history of World War I.   I just wasn't following that comparison.    I also wished that she had mentioned that listening to the tapes of the interviews (such as Lennon Remembers) is very different than reading it.  Hearing the tones of John's voice and the way he says the words makes for a vastly different narrative. 

I really enjoyed this book.  It was a heavy read.   It isn't one of those light Beatle books that I read quickly and just enjoy.  This one took me several weeks to read because it gave me so much to think about.   Check it out!


  1. There's been some terrific books that've come out on the Beatles, and to me it's a little too simplistic (and subjective) to boil it all down to just 4 narratives. That said, I'll still check her book out.

  2. Excellent review. I didn't even know this existed! Thanks for the heads up.