A list of essential Beatles Books<br>

A list of essential Beatles Books

Last Updated: 22 August 1995
Copyright 1994, 1995 by saki (saki@evolution.bchs.uh.edu)

  • Essential References
  • Biographies
  • Histories and Period Studies
  • Collected Essays
  • Studio/Radio
  • Songs and Analysis
  • Nice Picture Books
  • Musical Background


    The following books can be used for most research purposes with a minumum of fretting. They are not completely accurate---no book is---but they rely on first-hand documents and/or interviews conducted under exacting standards:

    Mark Lewisohn: The Beatles Recording History (1988) A meticulous, virtually complete and more-than-most-people-could-ask-for reference to the Abbey Road studios recordings, beginning with June 1962 (the infamous "audition") and continuing to the end of their official recording career. Includes a discography of official releases, glossary, index, and an interview with McCartney at the beginning. Loaded with documentation and photos.

    Mark Lewisohn: The Complete Beatles Chronicle (1992) A reworking of information from "Recording History" and "Live!" (the latter now out of print), plus some vital new information and documentation, providing the reader with a virtual complete sourcebook of the Fabs' recording, radio, TV, film, and personal appearance history from 1957-1970. The appendices at the back (radio and TV dates, influential music, etc.) are particularly handy.

    Mark Lewisohn: The Beatles Live! (1987) A thorough source for Beatles' live club and concert dates, with lots of information on repetoire, bookings, contracts, appearances. Excellent scholarship--all Lewisohn's books are extremely detailed and reliable. (Out of print; mostly incorporated into Lewisohn's "The Complete Beatles Chronicle").

    Mark Lewisohn: The Beatles: 25 Years in the Life (1988) A day-by-day compendium (1962-present) of The Beatles' private lives, parties, personal appearances, vacations. No index; helpful for settling arguments (just when *was* Ringo in Sardinia???) [Just re-released in 1990 by Harmony Books as "The Beatles Day By Day"...virtually no changed from the earlier edition, from what I can tell.]


    All of these books can be used with varying degrees of care. Davies' was the first authorized biography but suffers from historical edits; Norman's is derivative and not always balanced; Coleman's pretty thorough.

    Hunter Davies: The Beatles: the Authorized Biography (1967). Out of date but extremely well written, funny, by an experienced journalist who is also a Beatles fan. The first major work on the Beatles' early lives; had to be somewhat bowdlerized because the families had veto power (John's Aunt Mimi would not allow Davies to write that John swore as a child!) Nevertheless, much biographical information from this and subsequent editions (latest 1984) has worked its way into other bios.

    Philip Norman: Shout! (1981). Also a journalist, Norman wrote the first "realistic" (i.e., down-and-dirty) bio, daring to suggest that The Beatles were not the sweet young men the media promoted, but were normal fellas of extraordinary talent caught up in the miracle and morass of Beatlemania. Norman, for all his careful research, relied more than necessary on unsubstantiated opinions, and many inaccuracies remain in his book. Read, as with Hunter Davies, with this in mind.

    Ray Coleman: John Lennon (1992). This is one of the better biographies (though all have their bias, this one pro-Lennon) but if offers quality scholarly research, first-hand interviews and documentation, and thoroughness. Coleman wrote for Melody Maker and knew Lennon from 1967 onward.

    There are biographies of Paul (Salewicz, Flippo); Harrison (Clayson, Giuliano); and Starr (Clayson) but all suffer from various problems or biases. Nevertheless you might want to check them out. None come up to Coleman's standards on Lennon. Albert Goldman and Fred Seaman have written books on Lennon which have very little dependable, verifiable truth and rely mainly on gossip and unsubstantiated stories.


    A.J.S. Rayl and Curt Gunther: Beatles '64: A Hard Day's Night in America (1989). Very much a picture book concept at the outset, it becomes clear, after a little reading, how valuable it really is for Ms. Rayl's carefully researched accompanying text. It's an informative look at the prelude to American Beatlemania, and the effects upon the U.S. during the first wave of 1964 tours.

    Gareth L. Pawlowski: How They Became the Beatles (1989). The author probably didn't intend it this way, but the photographs are much more valuable here than the text, which is an unimaginitive rehash of other sources (still useful if you haven't read those other sources.) You'll see outtakes from the Boys' first photo sessions, rare record labels, documents, and rare sights of all sorts, building an impression of the Beatles' generative years from 1960-1964.


    Charles P. Neises, ed.: The Beatles Reader: A selection of contemporary views, news & reviews of The Beatles in their heyday. Pierian Press (1984). It's not very comprehensive, but it's interesting as a sort of Whitman's Sampler of items. You'll find scholarly articles and musical diatribe intermixed, revolving around the Boys' albums, films and general cultural contributions.

    Elizabeth Thomson and David Gutman: The Lennon Companion: Twenty-Five Years of Comment. Schirmer Books (1987). A very thoughtful collection of essays and commentary not just about John Lennon, but about the contribution the Beatles made to the entirety of twentieth-century art. Highly recommended.


    Kevin Howlett: The Beatles at the BEEB (1982). Deals with their radio career during 1962-1965, when the Beatles were often heard on the BBC ("BEEB", affectionately).

    Brian Southall: Abbey Road (1982). An EMI publicist talks about the history of the EMI studio on Abbey Road, pre-Beatles and during the Beatles' tenure there.

    See also Mark Lewisohn's "Recording Sessions" and "Chronicle" mentioned above.


    Colin Campbell and Allan Murphy: Things We Said Today (1980). A scholarly concordance and interpretation of the Beatles' songs. Unfortunately limited edition so may be difficult to find. Most interesting are the reproductions of the Beatles' worksheets for various songs, as they were being composed. (Reprinted by Pierian Press and sometimes available from the Beatlefest people, 1-800-BEATLES.)

    William J. Dowlding: Beatlesongs (1989). Useful as a compendium of recording information; it pulls together basic facts from various sources, and most interestingly, attempts to assign writing credit based on a decimal system to either McCartney, Lennon, Harrison, or whomever.

    Tim Riley: Tell Me Why (1988). Best when musicologist Riley sticks to submediants and stays away from Beatles Interpretation 101. But a welcome successor to Wilfred Mellors' Twilight of the Gods (1973).

    Mark Hertsgaard: A Day In The Life (1995). Derivative from other sources but a reasonable narrative attempt to talk about the history of the Beatles' music. Use in conjunction with other texts; Hertsgaard has a number or errors.

    Ian MacDonald: Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties (1994). MacDonald fills his tome with about 1/4 to 1/3 musical analysis, of very little interest to the average reader; but for the advanced Beatles scholar this is a worthwhile reference, as long as one balances its conclusions with other resources.


    Mike Evans: The Art of the Beatles: Exhibition Catalogue, Walker Art gallery, Liverpool, 4 May to 30 September 1984 (1984). The Boys' home town presented a comprehensive exhibit of fine art (some of Stuart Sutcliffe's paintings) as well as plastic art (album cover sketches, paper mache sculptures), clippings, and so on---all involving the phenomenon of the Beatles.

    Mike Evans: The Art of the Beatles (1984). An expanded version of the above, with more written text.

    Geoffrey Stokes: The Beatles (1980). Large-format, 320 photos, cover by Warhol. Includes Avedon's famous 1967 photo session for LOOK magazine.

    David Bacon and Norman Maslov: The Beatles' England (1982). A delightful tour (with great BW photos) of spots the Beatles made famous in London and Liverpool. Can be used as a guide book for tourists.

    Mark Lewisohn et al: The Beatles' London (1994). A striking, informative, and fun guidebook which details over 200 sites related to the Fabs during their days in London. Great cultural and historical value too.

    Dezo Hoffman: With the Beatles (1982). Hoffman was their press photog in 1962 and '63, and has lots of interesting, sharp prints. Famous for the "jump" series of photos on the "Twist and Shout" EP.

    Robert Freeman: Yesterday (1983). The photographer of the Beatles for Sale and Rubber Soul albums; very nice stuff.

    Robert Freeman: A Private View (1991). In addition to lots of outtakes from Freeman's studio files, Freeman provides commentary on his work with the Beatles as one of their principal photographers.

    Michael McCartney: Mike Mac's Whites and Blacks (plus one colour) (1984). Paul's brother had a nice flair for photography and preserved some very early shots of The Boys at the Cavern Club, and that fabulous picture c.1958 of the proto-Beatles standing in Auntie Jin's parlour.

    Michael McCartney: Remember - Recollections and Photographs of Michael McCartney (1992). Mike digs deep into his negatives archive for some more of the above, though many here suffer from lack of focus and other vagaries of the beginning photographer. Historical interest, though some of these are really too fuzzy to have seen the light of day.


    Alan Clayson: Call Up The Groups: The Golden Age of British Beat 1962-67 (1985). Catches the development of British pop at the moment the Beatles were up and coming, and follows the careers of the well-known and little-known Beat groups of the First Wave.

    The Guinness Book of Sixties Music (1994): An encyclopedia of sixties pop artists, their major musical focus, and their hits. An excellent reference work.

    Paul Flattery: The Illustrated History of Pop (1973). The big problem is that it's been out of print for fifteen years, but if you can find it (Wise Publishers, England) you'll learn all about Dickie Valentine, Tommy Steele, Adam Faith, Helen Shapiro, Cliff Richards, and all the British stars whose careers were permanently derailed by the onslaught of the Beatles.

    Spencer Leigh: Let's Go Down The Cavern: The Story of Liverpool's Merseybeat (1984) Focuses on the Liverpool scene concurrent with the Beatles' development.

    saki (saki@evolution.bchs.uh.edu)
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