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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Belt

BOOKS: One Two Three Four - The Beatles in Time by Craig Brown (2020)

Certain people and phenomena can reach such a level of ubiquity that the nature of their achievements (if applicable) and impact can be diminished.


Coldplay and U2 are just two examples in the music world, both popularly well outside of what's considered 'cool'. Yet, listen to Viva La Vida or Sunday Bloody Sunday and you are reminded just why they became just as well-known and revered (and equally reviled) as they are.


In the same way, and being at least a generation removed from experiencing it first hand, growing up, I was told just how big The Beatles were. At primary school, we dissected Imagine by John Lennon in one class, whilst also learning of his horrific demise that fateful day in 1980.


With just the overplayed numbers, such as Yellow Submarine, Let It Be and All You Need is Love, to go on, the Liverpudlians' music just didn't compel me by the time I was at secondary school and getting hugely into bands and artists.


It all just seemed a bit corny and too far removed for me.


All that changed at university when I explored some of their lesser-known (yet still wildly popular) songs and twigged just how good they actually were.


Take it up to the present day and I've now seen The Bootleg Beatles live and last year, the band were my most played artist on Spotify. The older I get, the more I want to listen to and learn about The Beatles (so much so, that I'd be keen to listen through their discography and document that journey for a podcast series - any takers? Email 5-9editor@gmail.com if so).


I'd heard good things about Craig Brown's tome, One Two Three Four - The Beatles in Time, so decided to treat myself to it at the end of last year. And the hype is fully justified.


Going back to the beginning of this piece, the relevant analogy is that I'd heard and was fully aware of just how big The Beatles were but, until I read this book, I didn't fully appreciate just how big they were and what a world-changing cultural phenomenon they were.


Brown's account entertainingly jumps around, chronologically, thematically and even factually, with one chapter devoted to framing the contrasting fortunes between The Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers by replacing a precis of the former's journey with the names of the latter; a wondering chapter which ponders just how easily things could have been different, the Pacemakers also on Beatles manager, Brian Epstein's roster at the same time.


Cultural touchpoints through the decade are framed against The Beatles's milestones, the two becoming enmeshed as the band's fame supercedes wider culture.


The Beatles phenomenon is exemplified by the accounts of children from the era sharing their love letters and recollections of just how important Messrs Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr were to them. The pace of The Beatles phenomenon was staggering, with multiple lives lived by the members of the band in a blistering seven years.


The origin story is told well, with plenty of words devoted to those influential in bringing the four together, as well as those briefly illuminated in the bright glow of The Beatles' orbit and how they fared once the they were outside of it again. The story of the drummer brought into the fold for a tour of Australia with Ringo not fit enough to travel is particularly fascinating.


Mixed in with the retelling of The Beatles's story are personal anecdotes detailing the impact the band had on the author, with fact-finding visits to various Beatles shrines in researching the book also demonstrating the enduring legacy of the Fab Four.


Not one page is dull and it makes for a thrilling step back into 1960s England, with the band frequently rubbing shoulders with high society.


The book gave me a new appreciation about The Beatles: what a fantastic person Paul McCartney was and is, how damaged John Lennon was and how reassuringly ordinary Ringo Starr was and remained despite the madness of it all. George Harrison is portrayed as a fierce and surly member of the band who then throws himself wholeheartedly into the mystical teachings of the Maharishi.


Brown's contempt for Yoko Ono drips off the page. The books put her in a very bad light. Others to fare badly are John's estranged father, Fred, and the many hangers-on who took the boys for a ride. Brian Epstein is given a positive write-up, shown to be the glue which kept The Beatles together, the band turning into lost children when news of Epstein's death reaches them.


The frequent mentions of The Rolling Stones and their imposter syndrome next to their contemporaries is humorous as is The Beatles's complete awe in the presence of Bob Dylan. Peace and love, man, but even in such circles, there remains hierarchy.


The book is a joyful glimpse into another time, far away, and the hysteria which carried The Beatles into unimaginable fame and fortune, with both still fuelling their legacy. Whether you're interested in modern history or The Beatles or both, I fully recommend you find the time to add this to your reading list.




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