OF ALL THE MANY, many books on the Beatles, I was given to thinking there were only two indispensable ones... well, let's say two and a half.
First, there's the original Hunter Davies band bio, first published while the Beatles were still active, which definitively told the story of the pre-Beatlemania Beatles: Aunt Mimi, Woolton Fete, George auditions with "Raunchy" on the bus, Hamburg, Klaus and Astrid, Stu leaves, Pete out and Ringo in.... What the band was doing before almost anyone was paying attention is the secret heart of their story, and Davies told it first and told it best; Norman, Spitz, et al. have merely added superfluous detail.
Second, there's Mark Lewisohn's Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, a daily chronicle of how the band revolutionized the recording of pop music.
If you leave out the parts where he natters on about the 1960s, and despite the fact that you want to argue with him half the time, there is Ian MacDonald's Revolution in the Head.
Well, now there are three and a half indispensable books about the Beatles.
Granted, the title does not sound promising--hasn't the story of the decades since the breakup been one repeating loop of lawsuits, feuds, grudges, mostly mediocre albums, and boatloads and boatloads of money, punctuated by tragedy and death? Well...sure. But Doggett is so skilled a researcher, so deft a writer, so assured a narrator that the book never bogs down. He opens with the aftermath of the shooting of John Lennon, as the remaining ex-Beatles get the news--an audacious but effective move. Then we zip back to the death of Brian Epstein and the founding of Apple, the Beatles at the height of their cultural power, and the beginning of the end--and this reader was well and truly hooked.
The strength of the book is that it is clear-eyed about the foibles of its main actors--charming but manipulative Paul, otherworldly but crabby George, good-hearted but substance-dependent-for-decades Ringo, mysterious John (apostle of peace and devoted papa, or drug-addled loon with anger management issues?)--but without any tabloid lip-smacking or gleeful defacing of the idols. Yes, there was plenty of bad behavior all around, but Doggett always stays in touch with the idea that somehow it was all about one of the most unpredictably powerful legacies in the history of mass culture. His book ends:
The soul of the Beatles turned out to reside not in the boardroom of Apple Corps or the bank accounts of four multimillionaires, but in the instinctive, natural grace of their songs. Their collective genius created something that not even money could destroy.