I’ve just finished Mark Lewisohn’s The Beatles Tune In, over nine hundred pages of Beatles goodness, the latest version of the greatest story ever told. Hard to put down, but pleasant to take time over. The first of three instalments of a series of Beatles books called All These Years, Tune In takes us up to the end of 1962, so at a rough guess, the trilogy will weigh in at about three thousand pages.
Do we really need all this information? Are there not enough Beatles books out there already? Obviously yes, obviously no, respectively.
Lewisohn has used his position as the Beatles historian to undertake painstaking research about the story we all know; in Tune In, the overfamiliar characters are presented with new and fresh depth, the result of Lewisohn’s extensive interviews with as many of the supporting cast, bit players and supernumeraries as he could speak with; document research also fills in the prehistory of each of the key players and we get a strong feeling of how their family backgrounds informed attitudes and creativity.
He is also a fine writer; an undertaking of this nature could have been dry and dusty, but Lewisohn’s narrative skill makes for a frequently touching, often humourous read, for example, the paragraphs describing McCartney having, then being taken over by, the idea for “I Saw Her Standing There;” one bravura chapter shows us the parallel and separate developments of the young Brian Epstein and the young George Martin outside of how they would come to be defined by their parts in The Beatles success, an invigorating approach.
There are loads of previously unknown (or under-known) facts in the book, which I won’t spoil by relating; more excitingly, Lewisohn puts all the “well known” parts of The Beatles’ story into perspective so that frequently the received version is not as simple as was always thought; for example, he points out how outlandish it was that The Beatles would be courted to make an LP after one successful single – in 1961, only the most well established pop acts would maybe be considered worthy of the chance to make more than singles, yet here was George Martin offering to make an LP of mostly Lennon/McCartney originals…
I can’t not share one nugget though… Jurgen Vollmer’s picture of John Lennon in Hamburg’s Jager-Passage in 1961 was of course used by John for the cover of Rock’n’Roll in 1975 – what I hadn’t come across before is the fact that the blurred figures in the foreground are Paul, Stuart and George. Without anyone realising, Lennon picked a Beatles group shot for a solo album…
So, thank you Mr Lewisohn for the time and the trouble. I eagerly await the next volumes and hope I live long enough that he’ll tell me who the woman in the picture below is!