Revolution in the Head Paperback – Sep 11 1995
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There's certainly no shortage of books on the Beatles. In this latest one, MacDonald--musician, composer, and former New Musical Express editor--purports to do something different by putting the group in the cultural context of its decade. His observations on the 1960s, fortunately confined largely to an introductory section, are, however, too often distressingly obvious. He's far more successful when he focuses on the music with a song-by-song chronicle of the group's career. Other Beatles books have taken the same approach, but MacDonald's incorporates session information from Mark Lewisohn's Complete Beatles Recording Sessions (1988), and it details the group's musical development and growing reliance on the recording studio and then makes some cogent observations on both the culture and the music. He makes the tie-in to 1960s culture most effectively through a month-by-month time line that follows the song-by-song main text and places the Beatles' history next to developments in world affairs and pop culture. Even if your Beatles shelf is groaning, MacDonald's work will be a useful addition. Gordon Flagg --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Kirkus Reviews
An ideal pathfinder on the Beatles' long and winding road from moptops to magi--insightful, informative, contentious, and as ambitious and surprising as its heroes. Popular music criticism is often a thankless task, falling uneasily between mindless hype and lugubrious academicism. MacDonald, former deputy editor of New Musical Express, adroitly bridges that gap, taking the factual chassis--recording session data, itineraries, etc.--laboriously assembled by Beatlemaniacs like Mark Lewisohn and bringing to bear a fan's enthusiasm, a musicologist's trained ear, and a critic's discernment to produce the most rigorous and reliable assessment of the Beatles' artistic achievement to date. Advancing chronologically through the songs, MacDonald provides an encyclopedic wealth of biographical, musical, and historical detail, yet always keeps his eyes on the prize--the uniquely rich elixir the group distilled from these disparate elements. He considers the Beatles on their own musical and cultural terms, taking his cue from contemporary influences (rhythm-and-blues, soul, and the supercharged social crucible of the '60s), rather than straining for highbrow parallels in Schoenberg or Schubert--you'll find no reference to the infamous ``Aeolian cadences'' of ``This Boy'' here. MacDonald makes no bones about his own critical convictions: He prefers the artful structures of pop, its ``energetic topicality'' that ``captures a mood or style in a condensed instant,'' to rock's ``dull grandiosity,'' a shift he attributes to a general retreat since the '60s away from depth and craftsmanship into spectacle and sensation. Accordingly, he champions the pop classicism of the Beatles' early-middle period, culminating in Revolver and Sgt. Pepper, and in his most memorably acerbic passages deplores the rockist leanings of their later work: ``Helter Skelter,'' for instance, is dismissed as ``ridiculous, McCartney shrieking weedily against a backdrop of out-of-tune thrashing.'' The ultimate Beatles Bible? Certainly a labor of love, and all the more valuable for holding the Fabs to the highest critical standards. -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
This book serves as a time line; the Beatles' achievements and the times they were living in are chronicled neatly alongside Macdonald's analyses of the music. It's general tone is light and upbeat, yet a tone of bittersweet nostalgia underscores much of the passages. "There are places I remember..." John Lennon, 1965 could be the sound track of this book. So could John Lennon's 1968 Anthem of the Sixties, "you say you want a revolution, well you know we all want to change the world..."
Beatle fans and those who love and/or lived through the Dodge Dart Era of the 1960s will love this book. It is so worth reading.
This book's publication concludes on a sad footnote. Ian Macdonald ended his life on August 20, 2003. He had been clinically depressed.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The author shows the good and bad, the brilliant mixes, the bad editing and cutting on some songs, especially the earlier ones, and gives credit where credit is due. He can get a bit too overbearing at times, I happen to love the keyboard solo in "In My Life", I hardly notice the little flourish at the end of it which the author dislikes. On certain songs such as "Revolution", the author dispenses with song analysis altogether and starts writing an essay about the politics and culture of the time. This I found a bit annoying. The Beatles were a phenomenon, but as John Lennon once said, "we were just a little band who made it big". The music is meant to be enjoyed, from "Little Child" to "Glass Onion" to "For No One", there's no great social meaning to all this, it's just a rich pop tapestry.
Overall, a fascinating book, well worth it for Beatles fans and for those just discovering them.
Yep--you guessed it: all the tracks from the BBC and the Anthology 1 - 3 CDs are now included in MacDonald's critical analyses, rendering the 1994 edition obsolete.
If you're a Beatles devotee, you must own this book.
Though the book was published before the BBC and Anthology CDs were released, MacDonald examines every Beatles single and album track, not just the popular ones; he does not include photographs, nor does he discuss in great detail the lyrics of the songs, as other Beatles "music critics" have done. His speculation about the songwriting power struggle between Lennon and McCartney is intriguing, particularly when he analyzes the progression of each one's distinct composition process, from "Love Me Do" to the final recordings.
Most critics attempt to analyze the Beatles' music by avoiding it entirely, and instead examine lyrics, biographical information, photos, concerts, history, interview quotes, and so forth, but MacDonald's primary focus is on The Beatles' music, which is and will always be its legacy.
So put away your music theory dictionaries, open "Revolution in the Head," and pop in your favorite Beatles CD. You will never fully appreciate the music until you explore it with this book. Happy reading (and listening)!
Where the book goes a little off the rails for me is that the author has a tendency to state his opinions as fact. As opinions, they're interesting, but to imply that because a song makes a particular impression on him then that's the only way to hear it is taking it a bit too far. Where he sticks to facts, it's a most informative book. Once he starts introducing adjectives, he often loses me as I simply don't hear the song in the same way as he does.
I suppose to some extent we all see what we want to see. I notice some reviewers believe MacDonald was biased towards McCartney, but my impression is that he felt that the more significant work came from Lennon (personally I feel that without the others none of the Beatles work would be as good as it is). Be that as it may, he does have interesting opinions and his technical analysis is first-rate. A book well worth reading.
In place of cold dissection of the score, or tedious misinterpretation of the "meaning" of the songs, MacDonald proposes an explanation of how and why each Beatles song affects us. His critical stance is refreshingly honest: for example, few others have dared to give the White Album the treatment it deserves. Nevertheless, I have yet to discover a book that crystallises the magic of The Beatles with such grace and compassion.
The book is imbued with a sense of loss for the passing of the decade that produced all the music. I suspect that this must put off certain readers; to them I suggest that a careful reading of the Introduction is essential. But it's hard to imagine anyone with respect for the Beatles' legacy failing to enjoy this book.