The Beatles from A to Zed: An Alphabetical Mystery Tour
By Peter Asher
Henry Holt & Co.
Though the Beatles Bookshelf already consists of hundreds (maybe thousands?) of both in and out of print titles, a Fab Four Fan will always want to crack open one more trip down Penny Lane. Especially if it’s written by someone who was – in real life – a close, personal friend of John, Paul, George, and Ringo.
Peter Asher has that distinction. As a member of the ‘60s duo Peter and Gordon, Asher and his partner scored their first hit with the Paul McCartney-penned “A World Without Love.” Asher later served as the first head of A&R for the band’s Apple Records label before becoming a successful producer/manager on his own with acts like James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt. He’s also currently the host of the radio show “From Me to You” on SiriusXM’s Beatles channel.
And of special interest is that McCartney actually lived with the Asher family for two years while dating Peter’s sister Jane for even longer, Peter and Paul existing in side-by-side bedrooms on the top floor of the Asher family house.
John Lennon might drop by for a bit of a writing session, and as Asher recalls here he was the first person outside of the composers to hear the song “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
All of that would seem to make this book of great interest. Unfortunately, it’s a disappointment.
Taking a loose (very loose) idea to traverse across the Beatles universe with an alphabetical structure, each letter “chapter” finds Asher riffing on various Beatles (and solo) songs, movies, events, and influences who share that commonality.
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However, Asher’s entire thoughts about something might consist of a handful of sentences, with far too many observations coming straight out of Wikipedia (or Beatlepedia?), lacking much insight or interpretation.
Thus, the reader is told such basic facts that “Back in the U.S.S.R.” is the band’s nod to Chuck Berry’s “Back in the U.S.A.” Or Lennon’s “Cold Turkey” concerns quitting heroin. Or “This Boy” is a “great example of their beautiful three-part harmony” that owes something to the Beach Boys. And you don’t want to know Asher’s take on the sex life of a certain sea creature in his blurb on “Octopus’s Garden."
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Or this, uh, pithy passage: “The Beatles were not only incredibly successful, they were and remain wildly influential as well. Just as fans tried to emulate the clothes or the hair, musicians listened to every note that each of the Beatles played and studied every musical detail.”
His writing style is also stilted and disjointed, while adding far too many amusement park-guide explanatory flourishes (i.e. “And now that we’ve left this letter, we’ll go to this letter,” or “We can’t finish this letter without talking about Ringo”).
To be fair, the book is not billed as a memoir – though it does include some brief personal stories. Nor is it aimed toward or geared for those with a more than modicum of knowledge about Beatles music and history. And taken in that light, it’s an easy, breezy read.
And there is one interesting linguistic fact gleaned from the title. While in the United States the last letter of the alphabet is pronounced “zee,” in the UK it’s “zed.” So no, the Beatles had no connection with the sexually sadistic security guard from Pulp Fiction. Who definitely would not be happy just to dance with you.