A Hard Day's Write: The Stories Behind Every Beatles' Song Paperback – Nov 23 1995
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"One of the most readable and illuminating books ever written about The Beatles" Steve Matteo The Music Paper" --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Steve Turner has written for a wide range of publications, including leading US music magazine Rolling Stone and the New Musical Express in the UK. His books include Van Morrison: Too Late to Stop Now and Trouble Man! The Life and Death of Marvin Gaye. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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First of all, if you've read at least a few other Beatles books before, a lot of the information in this book purported to be "revelatory" is actually old news, and well-known even by casual fans. Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds was a drawing by Julian Lennon? Well, I'll be. Strawberry Fields Forever was a reference to John Lennon's special, childhood hideaway? No way! Penny Lane is a district in Liverpool? These are the kinds of shockers that just keep coming and coming.
Of course, as someone who truly does obsess over the Beatles, I was expecting to reread lots of things I already knew. The problem is the things I didn't know. There was, in fact, all kinds of information that I had never before come across. To the point that I would almost be impressed.
If I could believe a word of it. And sadly, I can't.
The book is riddled, just riddled, with ridiculous typos and factual errors. There seems to have been no copy editing done in this book outside of computerized spell checking. And so all kinds of typos remain, because the words they spell are in the dictionary. One of my favorites is when the author seriously refers to previous Beatles films as "Help! and Hard Day's Write." Yes, the author got the Beatles film confused with his own book, and no one managed to catch it. A mere few paragraphs later, he claims that the song added to Let It Be... Naked is I've Got a Feeling. Which it is not. He also claims that George Martin came up with the idea for the Sgt. Pepper Reprise, even though it's well-documented that Neil Aspinall was the true inspiration behind the idea. On and on it goes.
So, is the reason that "Badfinger Boogie" was the original title for A Little Help From My Friends because John had an injured finger at the time of writing? Perhaps. Sounds believable. But who knows. The inexcusable errors, coupled with the painful lack of any citations, leaves me unable to trust a word, no matter how much I'd like to.
As a final note, while other reviewers refer to John Lennon constantly being psychoanalyzed by the author, even to the point of ridiculousness, and the glossing over all of Paul's compositions as written about Jane Asher, George Harrison is the one who gets the true short end of this stick. All of his song entries are excruciatingly short, up to and including a mere 97 words -- I counted -- written about While My Guitar Gently Weeps, one of the greatest Beatles songs ever written. Though Turner could find a whole page of information about It Won't Be Long and how he believes that John's mother inspired the song's sentiments (WHAT?), he couldn't find nary a word to say about what George's profound lyrics in this song said about his philosophical thoughts or world views.
It's a shame, because this really could have been an excellent and truly invaluable book, as the cover quotes all claim. Indeed, it should have been. But it's not. It instead goes down as one of the worst Beatles books I've ever read. And that means a lot.
The only thing I found mildly annoying, is the author's slight over analysis of Lennon's songs. Maybe he is right about most of them, he certainly doesn't seem off the mark when he talks about Lennon's abandonment issues. However his editorialising about John's, And Your Bird Can Sing really got under my skin. He seems to have the idea that John is singing about Paul in this song, and trying to say that Paul isn't as cool as he is, when he sings, "Tell me that you've heard every sound there is" etc. According to Turner, when he sings, "You say you've seen seven wonders," he's referring to Paul's "seven levels" remark when they first got high together. (huh?) What does one have to do with the other? John uses the 'seven wonders' reference as a metephor for someone who's 'seen it all'. I picked up on that when I was eleven for heaven sake. It's so obvious. And it's anyone's guess who he's singing about. Maybe he's singing about himself! Or the press, or maybe the fans, or the establishment...whatever. It was beyond stupid for Turner to stick this song with his clumsy oppinions. No one knows what the song is about. It makes me think that maybe Turner is the one who thinks this about Paul and he was looking for something in John's lyrics to validate HIS feeling. He even talks about the Anthology 2 version of the song, where John and Paul break into uncontrolled giggling at the mic, saying that Paul seemed unaware that the song is about him, judging from his giggling. Yeah Mr. Turner, only you and your idol John Lennon are in on what the song really means. I guess he whispered it in your ear and told you not to tell Paul. And what a fool Paul is! Here he is thinking that John Lennon is his friend, when he really isn't! Thankfully there is you, Steve Turner to set things straight. Hopefully Paul read your drops of wisdom and realized once and for all that he just wasn't cool enough to be friends with that wonderful Lennon.
Every once in a while, Turner's feelings seem to peak through like this, and it diminishes what is otherwise, a great read. There are a couple caption mistakes, especially a big one which features more editorialising. On one page there is a large picture of a Beatle reclining in his seat on a PanAm jet. It looks like the flight to New York on Feb. 7, 1964. He has a clothe over his face, so you really can't tell who it is, except...if you look at the watch worn on the right wrist instead of the left,the checked shirt, and the cuff links,you'll know that it is definitly Paul. ( he was dressed this way on that flight, while John had a white shirt and was sitting with his wife.) But Turner writes in the caption that JOHN always needed time to be alone and get away from it all and the picture shows this. No it shows that PAUL needed time to be alone and get away from it all. Or maybe he was just TIRED and needed a nap! This editorialising is dumb. Like he's trying to show that John was the only one who needed to be alone. Because he was cooler?,more brilliant?,the 'artistic Beatle'?,the 'smart Beatle?' Paul was maybe too busy being 'cute'.
In his quest to analyze John's songs (to death) he under analyzes Paul's, even Yesterday, which most Beatle scholars think is subconsciously about his mother. But Turner seems to think that if Paul is not writing about Jane Asher, he is writing about.... nothing. Only John has deep feelings that are revealed in his songs. Only John was hurt by the loss of his mother. Not that 'cute Beatle.' He has no feelings and was hurt by nothing.
Except for these flaws, A Hard Day's Write is an interesting book, and highly recommended. I just hate when Beatle writers try to perpetuate the myth that John was the only smart one. The only artistic one. etc. It reduces their credibility. The best Beatle books never stoop to subjective editorialising.
Turner also dispells some myths about the band's popular songs for example "Yellow Submarine" although clearly written as a children's song had a rumors floating around for years that it was about drugs (heck, just about every Beatls song had that rumor but this was one unusual one that I hadn't heard before). Turner also digs up the news item that inspired Paul McCartney and John Lennon to write "She's Leaving Home" and even discovered that the girl that McCartney wrote about in his song had met her idol three years before the song was written (although McCartney never knew it). He also finds out that McCartney's song got a lot of the incidental facts right even though he didn't know the facts of the missing person's report. Likewise, he tackles McCartney's popular "Michelle" and points out that jazz singer Nina Simone was the inspiration for the song and the playing style of Chet Atkins.
"Baby You're a Rich Man" a Beatles b-side that used the same question/answer approach of "With a Little Help from My Friends" was a Lennon-McCartney collaboration with John bringing the unfinished "One of the Beautiful People" and Paul's chorus of "Baby You're a Rich Man". There are also the familiar stories about songs such as "Hey Jude", "Let It Be", "I Am the Walrus" and "Something" (although here it states that George denied that he wrote the song about his wife Patti wherease the popular assumption was that he DID write it about her)in addition to little known stories about some of the "Anthology" tracks. He often comments on the various songwriter's approach and style and how their personality informed their music.
The book has an extensive discography for the band and bibliography with books and interviews that Turner used as the source to verify some of the tales told here. Turner's goal was to write a book that would occasionally surprise the surviving Beatles as well with info about the people that might have inspired a story and their fate. Turner has a terrific job here. The only thing that might have improved his book would have been more first person interviews about the songs included here from some of those who knew the band well. Also, Turner should focus on the songs that have appeared on various bootlegs that they wrote and recorded over the years that appeared on various solo albums (John's "Child of Nature" which morphed into "Jealous Guy"--why THAT song hasn't appeared on an offical release is beyond me).
Some neat discoveries, too: In 2009, it was still news to a lot of people that there was a real Lucy behind the song "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds," a classmate of John Lennon's son Julian who passed away that year from lupus. It was a picture Julian drew of his nursery-school classmate Lucy (and as she recalls, fellow mischief-maker), floating in the sky surrounded by stars, that had triggered John's famous psychedelic number. Turner interviewed Lucy O'Donnell way back in 1994 for the book's first edition, getting her thoughts as well as Julian's about her small but indelible mark on music history.
For someone who still thinks that "Lucy" is a song about dropping acid, Turner's book provides the necessary corrective. There's even an image of Julian's drawing included in this well-illustrated book.
The Beatles in their later days were often being cited for drug references in their songs, not always accurately. One of Paul McCartney's songs, "Fixing A Hole," was said to reference heroin use. Actually, Turner explains, it was literally about fixing a hole in a leaky roof. "People just couldn't believe Paul was talking about fixing holes in the DIY sense," Turner writes. Another Paul song, "Got To Get You Into Your Life," seems to be about a romantic or spiritual connection but is actually about - drugs.
Actually, "Got To Get You Into My Life" is specifically about LSD use, though Turner doesn't make this clear in his write-up, just referencing "the drug" as if a sentence got lopped off somewhere. [NOTE - I was wrong about this; see comments below for correction.] That seems possible here. In the quest to get the individual song write-ups to flow layout-wise with the generous selection of images, some sacrifices in cohesion and proofing seem to have been made. My 1999 edition drops a very interesting tale Turner was relating about "I Am The Walrus" in mid-line. He also muffs the odd song title and name spelling.
None of this detracts from my general enjoyment. I do wonder about some of Turner's theories, though. Was John's "Polythene Pam" really about a girl back at the Cavern Club in Liverpool who ate polythene? I don't know, and Turner doesn't explain why he thinks so beyond quoting the woman herself. He seems on stronger ground relating the take of a 17-year-old runaway named Melanie Coe as inspiration for Paul's "She's Leaving Home," including an article about her disappearance that connects up to lyrics in the song and some quotes from the older-and-wiser Coe. But what about a photo Turner claims shows Coe standing behind her idol Paul at a 1963 "Ready Steady Go" taping? I can't see the resemblance myself to the other photo of Coe from the newspaper clipping, though maybe because it was four years later.
Turner gets some quotes specifically for the book, in addition to Coe, O'Donnell, and Julian Lennon: Director Dick Lester talks about songs the Beatles wrote for the films "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help!" while James Taylor discusses being flattered by George Harrison's use of his song title "Something In The Way She Moves" for Harrison's "Something."
One wishes Turner could have spent more time on these stories, and perhaps built up his sketchier accounts of the stories behind other songs, but as he notes in the introduction, the definitive take on any of these songs really awaits a review of diaries and surviving Beatles' accounts that hasn't quite reached us. What you get instead here is rather diverting, sometimes illuminating, but frustratingly incomplete.
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