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Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties [Paperback]

Ian MacDonald
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
RRP: £10.99
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Book Description

4 Dec 2008

As dazzling as the decade they dominated, The Beatles almost single-handedly created pop music as we know it. Today, their songs are cited as seminal influences by stars like Oasis and Blur. Eloquently giving voice to their time, The Beatles quite simply changed the world.

Fully updated to include material from The Beatles Live at the BBC and the Anthology series, this acclaimed book goes back to the heart of The Beatles - their records. Drawing on a unique resource of knowledge and experience to 'read' their 241 tracks - chronologically from their first amateur efforts in 1957 to 'Real Love', their final 'reunion' recording in 1995 - Ian MacDonald has created an engrossing classic of popular criticism in which the extraordinary songs of The Beatles remain a central and continually surprising presence.

Frequently Bought Together

Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties + The Beatles: The Authorised Biography + You Never Give Me Your Money: The Battle For The Soul Of The Beatles
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Product details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 2nd Edition edition (4 Dec 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099526794
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099526797
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 19.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 14,066 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"The finest piece of fabs scholarship ever published" (Mojo)

" The masterpiece The Beatles deserved" (Max Bell Vox)

"The most sustained brilliant piece of pop criticism and scholarship for years. An astonishing achievement" (Stuart Maconie Q)

" No book has ever taken us closer to the actual music of The Beatles...A brilliant piece of work" (Tony Parsons Daily Telegraph)

" Consistently brilliant. The Beatles have never been so discriminately adored" (Robert Sandall Sunday Times)

Book Description

This extraordinary work of popular criticism provides the story behind every single Beatles song ever recorded. Unprecedented and unparalleled.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
53 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Peerless 10 Dec 2008
This book details every known song the Beatles ever recorded from Love Me Do to Real Love, giving details of composition, recording, release and any other relevant info. It also includes a long introductory essay and a few shorter ones interspersed analysing 60's society and culture, and the Beatles place therein. At various points in the individual song entries, MacDonald also gives psychological analyses of the Beatles and their relationships with each other and all the factors that affected them.

MacDonald was a teenager during the sixties and clearly has a lifetime interest in the Beatles, though he is highly critical of their actions and their music, at times. It is this lack of sentimentality and nostalgia, as well as his considerable erudition and musical knowledge, that makes this book such a standout. His opinions, sometimes deviating from the critical consensus, are always objectively reasoned, and his negative judgements of such sacred cows as "All you need is Love" and "Across the Universe", are completely justified, in my opinion, and his contention that the Beatles' quality control and capacity for self-criticism went out the window post-Sgt. Pepper (expanded upon in the entry for "Magical Mystery Tour")is also a key point in considering their later work.

Some have suggested a pro-McCartney bias in this book, but this is a valid recognition of McCartney's greater work ethic and musical technique. He does not fail to recognise McCartneys "patronising" attitude to Harrison and Starr and pours scorn on Macca's "granny songs" like "Maxwell's Silver Hammer".
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39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
Revolution in the Head is one of those books that is impossible to put down once started. Nor can it be read just once. Every piece of information Ian McDonald provides is riveting and describes not just the writing and recording process, but the cultural and personal back stories behind each song and each band member.

The power of this book is the fresh light it throws on the Beatles as a dynamic unit, their thought processes, their relationships with the other Beatles and the outside world and their general approach to life encapsulated whilst writing and recording songs. Although muscicians will appreciate the detailed analysis of the songs' structure, it is not just a musicians' book, neither is it strictly for Beatles fans. But as it says on the cover, you will want to return to your record collection and hear the songs again in a re-evaluated light.

Although the author includes every song recorded by the band, he quite rightly only concentrates his efforts on those songs worth evaluating. So, for example 'A Day in the Life' covers about 5 pages, whereas 'Baby You're a Rich Man' barely receives a paragraph. McDonald is not afraid to criticise band members as well as the song when required, but his criticisms are always supported with strong arguments and are often even-handed. This is summed-up perfectly in his analysis of the the friction between Lennon and McCartney towards the break-up, by way of his evaluation of 'The Long and Winding Road', which is nothing short of exceptional. Neither Lennon or McCartney come out on top, instead you feel that you have been given a priviledged insight into the minds of two great artists, who had their own agendas for their own reasons.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars flawed masterpiece 6 Jan 2014
I'd like to give this book five stars as I'd like as many music enthusiasts as possible to read it. It is so full of fascinating, insightful and entertaining content. Even many of the contentious bits surely have value if they provoke constructive disagreement. But why does it fall short? The main problem lies not in the body of the book - a detailed catalogue of the Beatles' recorded out put, song by song - but the introductory material.

The introduction, "Fabled Foursome, Disappearing Decade", was written during the 1990s. It is very perceptive about many of the cultural and political shifts that took place during the 1960s, and of which the Beatles were a part. One key point it raises is the importance of art schools in providing a broad cultural education for so many young British musicians. However, this introduction is also ridiculously judgement-laden in many respects - most of all when it talks about the inexorable decline (in the author's view ...) of pop music since the late 1960s. In fact, MacDonald's withering criticisms do not confine themselves to pop and rock music (and, for him, "rock" seems often to be a derogatory term). For example, he describes the minimalism of Philip Glass and others as "organised underachievement" and seems dismissive of compositional methods that introduce chance or random elements into the creative process.

Stating your opinions is all very well but in my view MacDonald's pessimistic assessments of the music and culture of recent decades sometimes cross the border into disrespect, and that's not a good thing at all.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great book.
Published 4 days ago by Peter T
4.0 out of 5 stars Controversial assessment of the Fab Four
This book is meticulously well researched and almost unique in offering a separate analysis of every single song written and recorded by the Beatles between 1962 and 1970,... Read more
Published 22 days ago by Dean, London
5.0 out of 5 stars You don't have to be a Beatles fan, but it helps!
Ian Macdonald's style of writing reminds me of Dylan's mid sixties lyrical style - crammed to the brim with phrases that seem to linger in the mind and re-emerge sporadically. Read more
Published 24 days ago by AGC2070
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
Fantastic insight into The Beatles, learnt so much about the band and their recordings from this fabulous book.
Published 2 months ago by SDH
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabled Foursome, Disappearing Decade
This is really the place to start when reading Beatles books. When I first read the book (I read it at Uni - a friend had it, so I flicked through it) you just go through all you... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Mr Tuck
3.0 out of 5 stars If I want overly opinionated thoughts about the Beatles' songs, I'll...
A few things for transparency:

1. I was put off by the now infamous Mccartney quote: "unfortunately [MacDonald] is no longer with us. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Mr. Paul D. Maher
4.0 out of 5 stars Obsessive
This book was recommended to me as a Beatles fan Now I can't listen to any Beatles track without reference to the book ! Read more
Published 7 months ago by Ceedee
5.0 out of 5 stars The Definitive guise
All Beatles fans should own this book. Amazing facts as well as an unbiased view of the songs and their composition
Published 7 months ago by david sevage
1.0 out of 5 stars ian McDonald ain't dead . . .
. . . he just disappeared up his own Arse. A more pretentious load of bollix I have yet to find. Seriously looking forward to reading this after the reviews but if you wanna know... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Must Have
If you are a fan of the Beatles at all, then this is a "MUST HAVE" book.

Every recording session, and reason behind what they wrote and why they wrote it... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Mike
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