The Beatles Lyrics Edited by Hunter Davies Little, Brown, 384 pp., $35
As Beatles author, scholar and personal friend Hunter Davies recently told CBS Sunday Morning in a segment about this book, for being multimillionaires who made their fortunes from writing songs, the band members never seemed to actually have any paper around.
So whenever and wherever inspiration struck, John, Paul, George and Ringo would scribble words on whatever surfaces were available: hotel stationary, napkins, the backs of envelopes and business correspondence, and in one case, a child's birthday card.
Davies -- who wrote the band's only authorized biography and became a friend -- has collected more than 100 of these precious remaining handwritten working and final drafts from museums, collectors, band associates and sources all over the world. They are reproduced here, along with printed lyrics and his analysis of the 182 total original songs the band released in its original lifespan.
Some of these parchments came from Davies' own collection, now on permanent loan to the British Museum. As he also told CBS, during a visit from Queen Elizabeth, she spent more time studying Paul McCartney's working draft of "Yesterday" than the Magna Carta!
That some of the written lyrics, many of which show the damage of time with ink and water stains -- and whose words are often not the same that made it on record -- exist at all is something of a miracle. Today, every successful band's bit of memorabilia and working ephemera is often saved, cataloged and stored in air-tight special acid-free sleeves, during the Beatles heyday even the idea that anybody would be interested in this stuff, much less decades later, would be absurd.
In fact, the Beatles themselves thought nothing of saving the material, believing that once the song was committed to tape, that was its legacy.
With a rare foresight, Davies would find himself asking the group to keep their discarded written lyrics; otherwise cleaning crews would usually burn them after the band had left the studio. Some of those tossed off scraps of papers could now fetch up to a million dollars at auction.
And though Davies notes that there have been more than 2,000 Beatle books published since the early '60s, this tome still finds some fresh ground to break and observations to make for diehard and casual fans alike, often derived from their handwritten words.
To wit, Paul wrote "Helter Skelter" as an attempt to out-loud the Who. The "elementary penguin" in "I Am the Walrus" was beat poet Allen Ginsberg. "In My Life" originally included an excised passage mentioning local Liverpool landmarks Church Road and Penny Lane. The latter of which would get a song of its own later, though from Paul's pen. And the line, "Would you stand up and walk out on me" in "With a Little Help from My Friends" was originally conceived of as "Would you throw a tomato at me?"
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Davies also interweaves stories of his personal interactions with the group in the narrative, and reveals that he himself was the subject of a never-finished song by Paul called "There You Go Eddie." However, even the great Beatles scholar can make a mistake or two -- audio engineer Geoff Emerick's name is misspelled.
And Davies says the line "Mother Superior jumped the gun" has no discernible meaning, while others have claimed it's sexual reference to Yoko Ono, whom Lennon would sometimes call by that habit-forming name.
But that is wholly Beatles Nerd talk. Davies has written a valuable and unique entry into the Beatles canon, more than 35 years after his first.
And while the Beatles memorable melodies are known, cherished, and hummed the world over decades after they broke up, this book is fully focused on the words and the use of language in the group's legacy. Including plasticine porters and looking-glass ties.
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