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The Beatles As Musicians: The Quarry Men through Rubber Soul Paperback – 1 Nov 2001
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Walter Everett's recent contribution to the extensive literature on the Beatles is a welcome addition to the serious musicological study of the most influential rock musicians in history. (Journal of Musicological Research)
... features a huge variety of musical examples ... particularly beneficial when used in conjunction with the actual recordings. (Journal of Musicological Research)
The author's writing style throughout is so lucid that anyone with a desire to understand his discussions will be able to follow them ... Everett's work is not only important in elucidating the music of the Beatles, it also serves as a model for further scholarship in rock music and the variety of analytical approaches that can be used for the understanding of this repertoire. (Journal of Musicological Research)
About the Author
Walter Everett is Associate Professor of Music in Music Theory at the University of Michigan. He is the author of The Beatles as Musicians: Revolver through the Anthology (OUP, 1999).
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Top customer reviews
What we have here is an Associate Professor of Music analysing the Beatles' music and providing a detailed commentary on how the Beatles' music does what it does. This is therefore a tricky read if you don't know the meaning of terms such as "voice leading", "Dorian mode" and "parallel fifths", and it also helps considerably if you can read music because there are a lot of (well-chosen) examples. If, however, your knowledge of theory is up to snuff, it's possible to appreciate something like Prof. Everett's seven-page analysis of "She Loves You" as truly enlightening.
His research is exceptionally wide-ranging. He seems to have listened to nearly every bootleg ever released, and although there are many transcriptions of the Beatles' music he has a properly sceptical attitude to the value of transcribing rock. He quotes a Paul story about George Martin having to write down "A Hard Day's Night", and asking Lennon what exactly was the note for "-innnng" as in "working like a dog" - was it a flat VII? A VI? Lennon thought about but didn't think that it was either, and Harrison suggested that it was "something in between". "Yeah," decided Lennon, "write *that* down."
He is an acute analyst of the Beatles as players, too, and offers one of the best arguments as to why Ringo was a better drummer than Pete Best (basically, Ringo was more imaginative). These books are far better than I thought they were on first reading, and must count as some of the best writing about the Beatles, but it has to be said that his caveat in the introduction is well taken: anyone without a reasonably advanced knowledge of music theory will not be able to see why the books are so good.
Although this book covers the earlier part of the Beatles' career, it was actually written after the volume that covers their later stuff (from "Revolver" to the later "Anthology" stuff), which I am now looking forward with intense excitement to re-reading.
Ian Macdonald's book cited above is a better book for the general reader, but as time goes by I get increasingly tired of Macdonald's apocalyptic and downbeat tone. His long and fascinating introduction climaxes in a despairing outburst about the total collapse of meaning and truth in contemporary Western society, which reads to me more like a symptom of the depression that would eventually cause Macdonald to take his own life. Everett, by comparison, is less pretentious and more convincing. Books like his are examples of the kind of fidelity to truth and scholarship which Macdonald seemed to fear had passed from the world.
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This book may be way over the heads of the average casual Beatles fan, but for those really serious about their music, this is the most detailed and exceptionally well written book about their writing and recording that has been released so far (in my opinion).
The partner book "The Beatles As Musicians: Revolver Through The Anthology" is just as good, if not better due to the fact that their music became much more complex beginning with "Revolver".
Such a book should be required reading for those studying pop music and theory at the same time. Of all the books on their music that I have read, this one is really the very best.
I have heard this music since a was a child and still reading Everett's book made me perceive so many unheard before aspects I never knew existed. So I want to thank him for this not small feat.
In the title of my review though there's a hint of an objection. Which is this: I think Everett is absolute master of his method, he has musical knowledge as few other writers have and dedication and passion for the music he analyzes. And still...I don't think he has that quid (lat.) which differentiate the great critic from the academic. His work is a great study, but it is not a great book. He should have been able to differentiate the essential points from the dross. I don't think that much of his analysis is necessary for the appreciation of the songs and he doesn't make aesthetical choices, the songs being relevant only for their technical, musical aspects. Everett is not able to analyze lyrics convincingly in conjunction with the music and he rarely, if ever, does it, limiting himself most of the time to quote the authors themselves as to how they came on to a particular catch-phrase. Still words are inherent in songs, inextricably married to the music: I'd expect more from such a book in that respect.
A minor grievance is how some musical analysis terms and techniques are not explained or sufficiently well explained. F.e., his schemes with the skeleton of the songs are not explained as to how they're constructed, so it remains hard to follow explanations based on them. Also, in spite of the glossary at the end of the volume, some symbols and abbreviations used in the book are absent or not sufficiently explained. It also leaves me perplexed at how he renounces analyzing a song like Holly's Words of Love because aesthetically irrelevant: I think this is (debatably, of course) the Beatles greatest cover version and a great improvement on Holly's version.
Still, I repeat, this is the best book written on the Beatles yet, (though I should probably re-read Mellers before declaring it such) but not the definitive one it aims to be. Thank God, we won't ever have such a one!
One thing I really admired about the book is that Everett stresses the importance of George Harrison and Ringo Starr to the Beatles' sound. Harrison, he says, brought the Beatles more of a bluesy edge, and with Ringo, they finally had a professional drummer.
I loved this book, and if you understand music theory, you should like it even more.
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