Beatles '66: The Biggest Year for the Biggest Band

The Beatles record their seminal album "Revolver" at London's EMI Studios on Abbey Road.EXPAND
The Beatles record their seminal album "Revolver" at London's EMI Studios on Abbey Road.
Photo from Beatles Book photo library/Courtesy of Ecco

Beatles ’66: The Revolutionary Year
By Steve Turner
Ecco, 464 pp., $27.99

In most Beatles history books, the section chronicling their activities in 1966 might take up a few dozen pages. But given how important and unique that year was compared to any other annum of their existence, it should get its own book. And here, music journo Turner does just that with incredibly satisfying results.

Just look at it this way: In 1966, the Beatles…

• Released Revolver, a departure from anything they had previously done sonically, and usually considered the group's “best” album.

• Stopped touring when the hassles of traveling, security issues and the inability even to hear themselves over screaming fans made concerts impossible to bear.

• Explored individual interests outside of the confines of the group that would in turn influence their work together and alone.

• Fully embraced the societal, sexual, cultural and pharmaceutical changes in society.

• Saw big changes in their relations with manager Brian Epstein and their respective romantic partners (and John met a certain diminutive Japanese artist).

• Oh, and that offhand thing Lennon said about the Beatles' being more popular than Jesus Christ…

With solid interpretive skills and access to both 1966-era materials and later interviews, Turner’s trip through the year is something fresh: a Beatles book that actually offers details and anecdotes not seen or explored in any other tome.

This is done as Turner digs deep, offering stories and reflections from those who encountered the group's members during the year, and not always in a musical relationship.

So we find out more about George’s interest in Indian culture and music, John’s cinematic ambitions, Paul’s adventures in the London avant-garde scene, family vacations, and the fullest accounting of the horrid scene in the Philippines where the band and their roadies (who numbered only two!) rightfully feared for their very lives after they unintentionally “snubbed” First Lady Imelda Marcos.

But of course, it comes back to the music. After all, what an incredible leap in sound and subject matter the Beatles made in just a few years.

From the simplistic boy-girl themes of “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “Yesterday” to songs that incorporated novelistic approaches (“Eleanor Rigby”), social commentary (“Taxman”), world music (“Love You To,”), drugs (“Doctor Robert,” “She Said She Said”) and even a song based on the teachings of the Tibetan Book of the Dead (“Tomorrow Never Knows”). In fact, the inability to reproduce these newer, much more complex songs live was another reason the band stopped touring.

The year also saw the band begin recording Revolver followup Sgt. Pepper and two songs of nostalgia, though the members were only in their mid-twenties (“Penny Lane,” “Strawberry Fields Forever”). Rubber Soul may have opened the door to this new approach, but Revolver stormed right through it, as the band more than ever before absorbed the influence of their contemporaries like the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan and the Kinks.

All in all, Beatles ’66 is a solid addition to the Beatles Bookshelf, giving the time and space to the group’s most important year that it richly deserves.


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