Friday, September 27, 2013

Review: 'The Complete Beatles Recordings: The Official Story of the Abbey Road Years 1962-1970'


In the early eighties, John Barrett was an Abbey Road engineer suffering from cancer. The studio’s general manager, Ken Townsend, tried to take John’s mind off his illness by having him catalog and notate every Beatles tape in the library. Not an unpleasant chore. John’s work is the core research within The Complete Beatles Recordings: The Official Story of the Abbey Road Years 1962-1970. Writer Mark Lewisohn fleshed out John Barrett’s findings with his own interviews and studies of the tapes to create one of the key documents of Beatles history. Not only is this book a sort of studio-centric forerunner of the Day-to-Day books so popular today, it is also the bouillon from which many, many future Beatles books would be brewed. No Beatles historian worth his or her salt will be without The Complete Beatles Recordings on his or her shelf, at the ready whenever a question about a recording date arises. Before the Anthology CDs appeared nearly a decade later, Lewisohn’s book was the only place law-abiding (i.e.: non-bootleg buying) Beatlemaniacs could get a sense of how those now-familiar outtakes (“How Do You Do It,” “That Means a Lot,” “If You’ve Got Trouble,” “Leave My Kitten Alone,” “Not Guilty,” etc.) sounded. Of course, now that we can all listen to these tracks without the fear of spending the rest of our lives in bootleg prison, Lewisohn’s comments about how such tracks have been heard by few people are dated. The Complete Beatles Recordings is also missing details that had not yet come to light in ’88, such as the probability that George Harrison, not Paul McCartney, played bass on “She Said She Said.”

So a 25 year-old book is dated in a few respects. We still must pay respect to it for compiling so much essential research and information. And there is information in this book that was new to me (or at least, information I don’t remember reading elsewhere): engineer Norman Smith’s revelation that the guys nearly recorded one of his songs while making Help!, Geoff Emerick’s that the seagull sounds on “Tomorrow Never Knows” are guitar (I’d heard it was a sped-up loop of Paul giggling), the fact that “Christmastime (Is Here Again)” was edited down from a 6:37 take, and so on. As “Carnival of Light” remains unreleased, The Complete Beatles Recordings is still the best place to read a detailed description of that intriguing 14-minute avant-garde experiment. Plus George Martin’s hilarious response to John’s request to record his voice by direct injection is worth the price of the book alone.

Out of print for some time, Sterling Publishing is now reprinting The Complete Beatles Recordings unaltered and complete with its lovely selection of color and B&W photos. Get it at Amazon.com here:

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