320 pages, Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, ISBN-13: 978-1579128425
If you’ve ever wanted to get some background on Beatles songs and sought out Revolution in the Head by Ian MacDonald, Tell Me Why by Tim Riley, you may have come away more irritated than enlightened. While their technical knowledge of pop music illuminates without question, their opinionating and superior airs can often be insufferable (did they start out their careers as professional embalmers?) Let us be glad that neither served as a George Martin’s assistants nor had a chance to influence what the Beatles actually did in the studio because I’m sure we’d all be the worse for it.
In sharp contrast, the authors of 100 Best Beatles Songs: A Passionate Fan’s Guide Michael Lewis and Stephen J. Spignesi illuminate without irritating. Granted, while the co-authors allow themselves to get carried away by enthusiasm worthy of their joint “passionate fan” moniker, they’re obviously musically knowledgeable without going over the top with it, as do MacDonaldand Riley. And there’s even a bit of bantering disagreement between the two friends, which certainly contrasts to the more dogmatic tone of MacDonald and Riley. One only wishes that Spignesi and Lewis had doubled the book’s length and covered the whole Beatles canon (of course, then, by definition, they’d be examining all the Beatles songs that aren’t their favorites and they might be as critical as MacDonaldand Riley). Anyhoo, to fill out one’s deep background knowledge of the rest of the Beatles’ works the MacDonaldand Riley tomes ARE good to have kicking around as supplements.
One more thing on Spignesi and Lewis: Their book is a visual and organizational treat. For each track you get a relevant photo, a fitting quotation, an intro to the song – a “Why it made the top 100”; a “What the song is all about”; a “Did you know?” – to put the song in a wider context, the basics on who did what in the recording studio, and then an exchange of views by the two authors on what each likes most about the track. And it all works beautifully. Kudos to the authors, their editor and their publisher on a job well worth doing done exceedingly well indeed.