ONE TWO THREE FOUR: The Beatles in Time
by Craig Brown
I thought I was a knowledgeable Beatles fan until I read this book (leant to me by my lovely, adult student, Martin). The music of John, Paul, George and Ringo were a constant backdrop to my childhood: my dad was particularly fond of the Rubber Soul album, my mum absolutely loves all Lennon’s post-Beatles work such as Imagine and Double Fantasy, and, when I was a teenager, I invested in vinyl and cassette tape copies of lots of the Beatles albums and collections, including the iconic red and blue ‘greatest hits’ style albums. At uni I really got into the more ‘out-there’ Beatles music such as the Magical Mystery Tour and Sergeant Pepper’s stuff.
So, picking up Craig Brown’s biography of the Beatles from their inception to their famous split, I was expecting to read lots of things that I already knew about the group. And, many of the events described in the 150 short chapters of this book cover familiar ground, such as when John and Paul met at a local event, their days in Hamburg and the Cavern Club in Liverpool, Brian Epstein’s untimely passing, and the way the group broke up under the ever watchful eye of Yoko Ono. But, given how easy to read each chunk of the book is, Brown manages to pack in absolutely tons of fascinating information that goes beyond the minutiae of the lives of the fab four: his writing opens up a window on the celebrity lives of the 1960’s. It also challenges the view that we KNOW all about the main events in the Beatles lives by offering lots of different accounts from a variety of perspectives – personal and temporal. For example, the day that John Lennon met Yoko Ono at the Indica Gallery is something of a mystery: by some accounts Yoko had no idea who John was, and was thrilled to meet a likeminded artist. On the other hand, it could well be the case the she contrived the meeting in the first place to draw funding to her projects and ultimately a wider audience. Which is the true version of history Brown leaves us to figure out. Like most stories about the past, there’s probably an element of truth in every account.
In summary, I think any Beatles fan (or anyone generally interested in the zeitgeist of the swinging 60’s) could get a lot of pleasure from this book. It’s written in a way that keeps you turning the page, avoiding the chronologically-ordered-events approach in favour of shining a spotlight over various elements of the lives and music of the Beatles through the decade.