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A New Beatles Book Every True Fan Should Read

The Beatles at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport in February 1964. The next day the band changed history on The Ed Sullivan Show.
The Beatles at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport in February 1964. The next day the band changed history on The Ed Sullivan Show.
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Dreaming the Beatles: The Love Story of One Band and the Whole World
By Rob Sheffield
Dey St. Books, 365 pp., $24.99

Taking a gander at my all-Beatles bookcase (125-plus titles and counting!), I realize the categories sure cover a lot of ground.

There are autobiographies and biographies. Memoirs from ex-wives, ex-lovers, ex-employees. General histories and musical commentaries. And books with single-topics like the Quarrymen, the year 1966, the trip to India, Revolver, and John Lennon assassination conspiracies. One covers just the day that John Met Paul.

Even their old chauffeur, Alf Bicknell (kudos if you knew his name, Beatlemaniac), put out a book and VHS-tape remembrance of the boys who must have spent countless hours staring at the back of his head.

But there’s nothing I’ve read quite like this wonderfully entertaining, surprisingly detailed, and revelatory look at why the Beatles have mattered to so many people (and over several generations).

Rob Sheffield is particularly a keen scribe to handle this topic, one of the best writers working today who successfully combines music journalism, autobiographical memoir, a cultural chronicle together (as in his books Talking to Girls About Duran Duran and Turn Around Bright Eyes). That he’s also a Beatles obsessive who studies and loves the band helps comes through on every page.

The book’s chapters are generally chronological, but within them can cover space and time from 1940s Liverpool to 2016 within the same few paragraphs. Sheffield will take a specific Beatles song, album, historical incident as a jumping-off point, and then it’s off to the races.

“The world keeps dreaming the Beatles, long after the Beatles themselves figured out the dream was over. Our Beatles have outlasted theirs,” Sheffield writes. “Even the band’s most single-minded partisans never pictured a future like this. Definitely not the Fabs themselves. They never envisioned become the world’s favorite thing – you can’t limit it to ‘the world’s favorite music,’ because there’s no equivalent.”

Sheffield also posits that the Beatles “invented what rock stars do.” Breaking up, drugs, long hair, going to India, press conferences, writing your own songs, and beards. One thing they did that did not take off, though, was when after the band broke up, the two main creative forces decided to start new groups with…their non-musical wives. And likely that’s for the best.

There’s a lot of biography and history here, but the book never feels like it’s treading too-familiar ground. And Sheffield’s chapters about the symbiotic relationship between John and Paul (even after the former’s death) and how the members have grappled with their own legacy are particularly well done.

In a sense, the Beatles after-life is more influential than their life. Who could have possibly imagined that yet another repacking of old Beatles hits that everyone already has – Beatles 1 – would be the best-selling album of 2000 and 2001?

Does any kid growing up not encounter “Yellow Submarine” in grade school? Are there really any arguments about who is the “greatest” rock band of all time? When groups are superlative in their field, aren’t they commonly referred to as “The Beatles of…?”

The Beatles, see, we now take for granted. They’ve always been there. Another key thing that Sheffield does in this book that is fresh look at how and when fans first encountered the Beatles greatly influences their perception.

Were you an original fan of the ‘60s? A niece of nephew who discovered a record collection in the ‘70s? Kids who were there for the first CDs in the ‘80s and ‘90s? Or did you see a Beatles cover band or tribute act at a festival your parents (or grandparents) took you to?

The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin certainly don’t inspire that kind of all-encompassing love. And while we now know today that perhaps love is not all you need, when you first dream the Beatles, it seems entirely feasible Even without the Maharishi.

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