So it’s with a natural skepticism that one might approach this fourth “major” comprehensive Beatles bio, after previously mined efforts by Hunter Davies, Philip Norman and, most recently, Bob Spitz. But Gould takes a different angle: while he tells the Beatles’s story and analyzes their music, he frames it within the context of the social and political climate of their homeland and its rebellious colony, the U.S.A.
Thus, in addition to the band’s story, readers get literary side trips covering the Profumo Affair, Britain’s “Angry Young Man” theatrical/literary movement, the origins of psychedelia and Eastern mysticism, the post-WWII sexual blossoming of the teenage female, and the dawn of the modern media age.
Gould manages to tie all these seemingly extraneous threads together, putting them in the context of the Beatles’s music and cultural impact. Names like Daniel Boorstin and Max Weber are just as likely to appear in print as Elvis Presley and Mick Jagger.
Still, it’s fascinating that Gould uncovers bits of detailed information and trivia that are raw meat for even the biggest Beatle Brains, like the name of the statue milling fans stood against outside the band’s New York hotel. Gould also notes that while John Lennon’s “the Beatles are more popular than Jesus” comments touched off a well-known furor when a previously unremarked interview was reprinted in an American teen magazine – no attention at all was paid to Paul McCartney’s observation in the same issue that America treated its black people “like dirty niggers.” Amazing.
Gould is not the liveliest of writers; sometimes Can’t Buy Me Love veers dangerously into collegiate textbook territory. But it comes perhaps closest of any Beatles book to explaining and illuminating the symbiotic relationships between the band, their homeland and their country of conquest.
Can’t Buy Me Lovepresents John, Paul, George and Ringo as historical figures whose entrée into public consciousness just happened to be through music instead of art, politics or crime. It makes a hefty and worthy addition to the already-groaning Beatles bookshelf. – Bob Ruggiero
Can’t Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain and America, by Jonathan Gould, Harmony Books, 661 pp., $27.50.