Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Review: 'Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records'

Have there ever been four people more thoroughly scrutinized, analyzed, biographized, and chroniclized than The Beatles? Their tours and recording sessions, lives and wives, their music and lyrics, their merchandise and solo records, their political implications and shoe sizes have all formed the bases of Beatle books for Beatle people. Bruce Spizer has devoted the last decade to covering what may be the most vital byproduct of Beatlemania: the little 7” and 12” discs that housed all their spectacular music. His two volumes of The Beatles’ Story on Capitol Records, The Beatles on Apple Records, and The Beatles Solo on Apple Records are now joined by Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, co-authored with Frank Daniels.

Spizer and Daniels’s book gets in the grooves of every 45, L.P., and E.P. released on Parlophone Records in the U.K. (and that includes their records with Apple labels, which actually weren’t Apple records at all). Each chapter on each record follows a consistent formula. Brief background comments on the relevant record are followed by its chart history, including the records they displaced from the top of the charts (because pretty much everything The Beatles released went to the toppermost of the poppermost). Then the writers delve deeper with details on the writing and recording of each song, how the records were promoted, and significant live performances of them. Then they cross assuredly into the geek zone, breaking down the different pressings of the records, the variations and errors on their labels, etc. Even Spizer recognizes that these last details will only appeal to hardcore collectors, warning more casual readers that they may want to skip over the bits about matrix numbers and fonts in his forward.

Indeed, Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records is largely aimed at serious collectors who want to know the precise origins of their vintage Beatles records. The luxuriousness of this over-sized, glossy-paged, full-color book makes it a collector’s item in itself (as does the steep price tag). But all fab fans will find something to enjoy in Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, whether it’s the plethora of wonderful photos or the abundance of trivial tidbits. I’m sure there are die-hard Beatlemaniacs who are already familiar with every scrap of historical info in this book. I’ve read a good twenty volumes on the band, and a lot of this stuff was new to me. I did not know that the “A Hard Day’s Night”/“Things We Said Today” was originally intended to be promoted as a double-A side. I now fully understand the economic reasons for placing a mere 11 or 12 tracks on the Capitol albums in the U.S. I was surprised to read how far the German translations of “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” diverged from the original English lyrics. I was even more taken aback to learn that McCartney’s fuzz bass on “Think for Yourself” was not really a fuzz bass at all and that there is an odd connection between the “Flying” sequence in Magical Mystery Tour and Stanley Kubrick’s comedic masterwork Dr. Strangelove.

Spizer and Daniels also rise above the usual clinical collector’s guide writers by striking an informal, sometimes cheeky tone. The opening paragraphs of the Let It Be chapter are righteously funny. I also appreciate the attention they paid to aborted projects, such as both versions of the Get Back album and the Yellow Submarine E.P. that was scrapped in favor of an L.P. filled out with George Martin’s score. But someone needs to explain the difference between a tabla and a tamboura to the writers.

Get Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records at Amazon.com here.
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