Book Review: Tune In - The Beatles: All These Years - Volume One by Mark Lewisohn

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With landmark reference books such as The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions (1988) and The Complete Beatles Chronicle (1992) to his credit, few would question Mark Lewisohn’s status as one of the foremost authorities on The Beatles. So well-versed in Beatles lore is Lewisohn that he has been welcomed into their inner circle at various times, penning liner notes for Beatles retrospective releases including 1 and The Capitol Albums Vol. 1. Paul McCartney has employed the author in a similar capacity for the album notes of Flaming Pie, the 25th anniversary reissue of Band on the Run, as well as additional projects. In other words, if anyone is up to the task of creating an exhaustive trilogy of biographies about the band, it is he.

And so we have Tune In, available now from Crown Archetype, the first of three volumes in a series called The Beatles: All These Years. The 932-page (to be fair, the extensive footnotes begin on page 804) hardcover volume’s chapters are organized by date. The first covers 1845-1945 (don’t worry, the 19th century coverage is brief, touching upon each of the Beatles’ ancestry) and the last wraps up on December 31, 1962. “Who really were these people,” Lewisohn asks, “And how did it all happen?” That is certainly a bold, broad, question and with Tune In he goes a long ways toward answering it. As finely detailed as any Beatlemaniac could hope for, his first book focuses on the formative years of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, their initial forays into music, how they met, and how they gelled into the group that became revered around the world.

Beatles Tune In 1 (380x228).jpgThe Beatles’ story has been told over and over again to the point where even people with the most casual, passing interest in the band know names like Brian Epstein, Pete Best, and Stuart Sutcliffe. But what makes Tune In essential reading, not just for Beatles fans specifically but for anyone with a serious interest in the history of popular music, is the way Lewisohn tells the story. He takes nothing for granted here, pacing the story deliberately, laying out the elements piece-by-piece. Details, whether well-known (the untimely passing of both McCartney and Lennon’s mothers, for one vital example) or obscure (a poem written by Lennon for his Aunt Mimi, presented at her husband George’s funeral), are weighted appropriately, building like a snowball until The Beatles record their initial singles, “Love Me Do” and “Please Please Me,” for EMI. It’s a well-earned climax, a satisfyingly triumphant finish—even though we know the highest peaks are yet to be scaled.

It’s difficult to imagine even the most ardent Beatles enthusiast not finding new nuggets of information here. Lewisohn is utterly meticulous in his footnotes, making the source of every bit of info clear. He aimed to avoid hearsay and conjecture as much as possible. His prose throughout Tune In is economical—straightforwardly clear-minded—but perhaps most importantly, it is free of sentiment and nostalgia. Too many Beatles biographers wallow in rose-tinted, misty-eyed, “those were the days”-style indulgence. Lewisohn’s passion for his subject is never in doubt, yet he best honors it by sticking to the facts and avoiding editorializing. He is out to debunk myths rather than enhance them, presenting The Beatles as a tight, business-minded organization that earned their place in history through tireless hard work and clarity of artistic vision.

Beatles Tune In 2 (380x251).jpgAs with the first leg of any trilogy, a lot of groundwork is laid and some of the minutiae may be a little much for the average reader. Every early relationship in which one of the future Beatles engaged is discussed. The early years of manager Brian Epstein and producer George Martin will also possibly lead to some paragraph-skimming for the less committed. But all of it is admirable, as Lewisohn seeks for his books to be the best that any objective observer could hope to assemble. By the time he gets to the band’s early BBC performances, their brutally abrupt firing of drummer Pete Best, their final run of performances in Hamburg, and the crystalizing of their early sound in “Please Please Me,” the only disappointment is that we don’t yet have the second volume to dig into.

A “special edition” of Tune In has been issued in the U.K.-only, expanding the standard edition’s 932 pages to no less than 1,728. The supersized version also carries a supersized list price (£120.00, or roughly $194 U.S.), but for those who want to know it all, it just might be worth the investment.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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