Monday, 12 July 2010

Book Review: Shout! The True Story of The Beatles – Phillip Norman

This is a fairly interesting and comprehensive book on the Beatles. Other than a single chapter on childhood and a chapter on each ‘ex-Beatles’ the focus is firmly on the rise and fall of the fab four. It’s a passable overview for the general fan, but if you’re looking for insight into the music you need to look elsewhere.

Norman rarely touches on the music, and when he does he often gets it wrong. In fact he not only reveals little insight into the Beatles songs, but little grasp of music generally.

So we have Stu Sutcliffe struggling to play chords shapes on his bass (57) and a Les Paul guitar is apparently a “state of the art” guitar (458).

Mistakes about the Beatles songs are even worse, leaving you wondering how closely he’s listened to the songs. The 8 second guitar coda on A Hard Day’s Night is described as being “gloriously long and irrelevant” (239) (it was added to underscore the fade into the opening scene). The lyrics to Polythene Pam are wrong (397). And this is in a ‘Completely revised and updated edition’.

Musical history doesn’t fare much better. Norman claims Only a Northern Song was written for Yellow Submarine (334) – it was a Sgt Pepper outtake, and that the Ballad of John & Yoko was recorded single-handedly by John with later drum overdubs by Paul (389) – they recorded it together, famously calling each other ‘Ringo and George’ on the master tape.

Paul comes in for a good kicking whenever the chance arises for secretly coveting the position of bass player in Hamburg days! for having a ghosted autobiography (even though this ‘autobiography’ was written solely by Barry Miles) or merely for being ‘desperately anxious to be liked”.

The book has some good insights into how the publishing deals were struck and how the Beatles finally broke though in the states. But in a world swamped with books on the Beatles I can’t help feeling that there are better ones out there.

I’d suggest the Rough Guide to the Beatles as one possible (and more accurate) alternative.


  1. The Hunter Davies book is the only biography I've read about The Beatles. I recall it being an enjoyable read, but I cannot vouch for its accuracy. Suppposedly, he was the only writer that was authorized by The Beatles themselves to accompany them in the studio and in their homes.

  2. I've heard good things about the Hunter Davies one and it's on my list. Have at least 3 others to read first though!

  3. A couple others to add to your pile. The Pete Best book is interesting in a pathetic kind of way. And Mark Lewisohn wrote an excellent book that chronicles all the Beatles live performances, but I believe it's out of print.

  4. I've got the Lewisohn chronicles, which is a combined live/studio/tv & radio book and also his orignal recording sessions one. Both are brilliant and as an author he is da bomb!

    I've got Cynthia Lennon's book on the shelf which I think is going to be enough in the pathetic/depressing stakes for now...

  5. Yes, with Lewisohn you can tell that it's a labor of love, which makes it so enjoyable to read.