January 12, 2006

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The Beatles by Bob Spitz (Little Brown, 2005, 983 pages)

A-

Bob Spitz’s The Beatles triggers two responses: How much does this thing weigh? And, do we really need another biography about The Beatles? While I haven’t weighed the book, I did pore through it and can affirm this is the definitive bio.

Spitz, who has represented the careers of Bruce Springsteen and Elton John, and wrote a brilliant biography on Bob Dylan, has chipped away the decades of layered myths and fallacies and written one of the best chronicles of the Fab Four available. Vividly capturing the emotion and raw energy of the band’s heyday, Spitz packs the pages with details and anecdotes and clears up many a falsehood. For example, he dismisses the notion that Yoko Ono broke up The Beatles. (All fingers point to Paul McCartney; by the end of their association, John Lennon and George Harrison couldn’t stand to be in the same room with him.) He breaks down the relationship between John and Paul, which, on paper, becomes a battle between self-annihilation and ego. There are also revelations about Harrison and Ringo Starr’s early attempts to break free of the band, and the true story of the gig where John and Paul first met.

Some of the details border on inanity (the paint color of the Cavern?), but this version of their story reads more like an opus of history than a biography. Spitz’s revelations are generously supported with footnotes of interviews and documents he’s mined. The book contains a comprehensive account of The Beatles’ studio work, album by album. Ultimately, this is an illumination, a tale of their beginnings, the happiness and excitement of their rise and the jealousy and fight for control that caused their dissolution. The Beatles confirms everything you knew about the world’s greatest band – back when they were fab.

— George Pelletier