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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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.
Steve Turner provides the stories behind every one of the Beatles songs, including "Free As a Bird" and all the songs from "Anthology" and "Live at the BBC" that would not be covered by the other albums. The book is divided into 14 chapters representing 17 albums ("Magical Mystery Tour" and "Yellow Submarine" are combined, as are the three "Anthology" albums). Turner is following the British albums and including those songs that ended up on the two "Masterworks" collections with the albums that were being recorded (e.g., "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "With the Beatles," "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Field Forever" with "Sgt. Pepper"). It does not include the songs by other writers that the Beatles covered during their early years.
Turner makes the point that this is not a book that is attempting to explain what the Beatles "were really trying to say," but tells us about the ideas and inspirations behind these songs, as well as dispelling some of the popular myths connected to some of these songs. You have probably heard about some of these, such as Peter Fonda telling John Lennon "I know what its like to be dead" leading to "She Said She Said," the Victorian poster about "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" and Julian Lennon's drawing of his friend "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." But know you can also learn about the real location of not only "Penny Lane" but also "Blue Jay Way," who was the real "Polythene Pam," and what happened when the Beatles mentioned Denis O'Dell in "You Know My Name."
Nor does Turner present this book as the definitive one on the subject, since that cannot be written until everything the Beatles have to say about their songs is made public. However, he did track down and interview the real-life subjects of these songs as well as going through public records and newspaper archives, and speaking in depth to some of the people who were closest to the Beatles back in the sixties. Turner also provides a brief introduction to each album that talks about where the Beatles were in their careers at that point, such as how "Revolver" represented a significant development in the Beatles' sound since their music was now being created in the studio with no thought for how it could be played in concert (the album came out during their final tour but none of its 14 songs were ever played on stage by the band). So Turner does pay some attention to things other than the individual songs.
The back of the book contains a chronology for the beats from the births of Ringo Starr and John Lennon in 1940 to Paul McCartney filing a suit against the Beatles and Co. to dissolve the partnership, a discography from 1962-1996, a bibliography, and index. There are also over 200 photographs, some in color, many of which are on point with regards to specific songs (e.g., you get to see the gravestone of Eleanor Rigby, the real Bungalow Bill, and the Apple Scruffs who came in through the bathroom window. No matter what level of fan you are of the Beatles you should find plenty of interest and stories you have never heard before. At the very least, you can learn something new about your favorite Beatles songs.
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.
The story behind 'A Day In the Life' is riveting and is partly based on a personal tragedy for Paul.
Find out what John's inspiration was for 'Tomorrow Never Knows.' Does Dr. Robert really exist? 'She's Leaving Home' is based on a true story Paul had read about in a newspaper. Which was the first Beatles song not to be about love? Learn how much of an influence Dr. Timothy O'Leary was. Who's Ocean Child ('Julia')? Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is behind a few songs, but not always the way you might think! A song based on a conversation with Peter Fonda? You bet! What's the story of the sitar in 'Norwegian Wood,' and just who is the mysterious woman in whose bathtub John slept? I could go on and on!
The text is very well researched, and includes quotes from people who were involved with the Beatles.
The photos are excellent and add to the realness of the songs. See Eleanor Rigby's gravestone, Matt Busby (from 'Dig It')and the man who 'blew his mind out in a car.'
AHDW is thorough, accurate and FUN to read. If I could, I'd give it 10 stars!
Light is thrown on the old chestnuts; Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields, Helter Skelter, Lucy etc. Charles Manson's ravings are included. Boy, he could see apocalypse on a blank page.
The book mirrors the way the guys honed their songwriting skills and matured from the lightweight fun of the early songs into depth and genuine insight from Rubber Soul on.
In conclusion, Mr Taylor has joined the pantheon of great Beatles chroniclers, Hunter Davies, Philip Norman and Ian MacDonald and produced an utterly glorious 'let me take you back...'
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