Monday, November 4, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: The Beatles: Solo

While most Beatles-related books tend to (naturally) focus on their time together, there are far fewer that look at their careers after the split in 1970. One book I always go to from my personal collection is "Eight Arms to Hold You," which is a very readable comprehensive discography that unfortunately ends in 2000, when the book was published, thus rendering it dated (at least as far as Paul and Ringo are concerned). However, to the best of my knowledge, there hasn't been a narrative type look at their solo careers until now.

This new book, titled "The Beatles: Solo," is by Mat Snow and published by Race Point Publishing.

***I'd like to thank Steve at Race Point Publishing for sending me a copy of this for review!***

The work itself is split into four equivalent length volumes, one dedicated to each Beatle, and comes in a handsome slipcase to house all of them. Additional nice touches are the drawings of each Beatle's face that adorns the slipcase and their respective volume, and the general look of the set, which screams early-to-mid 1960s. The books themselves are presented more in a tandem narrative/photographic way, including many photographs from throughout the post-Beatles years alongside the narrative. Additionally, since each book focuses solely on the Beatle in question, it is not necessary to read them in any particular order, which is nice especially if one is a fan of certain members over others. This does, however, lead the author to repeat certain details between books (most notably the entire Allen Klein fiasco that led to their break-up and lingered on in lawsuits into the mid-1970s), but seeing as this affected the lives of all four members, it's understandable and the author does a good job in keeping it to a minimum.

As for the contents of the books themselves? Snow's writing is very easy and enjoyable to read and it's clear he has some passion for the subject. His narrative flows nicely and he chronicles the solo careers chronologically, touching not only on the music but their personal lives as well. The pictures range from small thumbnails all the way to full page, with a nice mix of black-and-white and color. Additionally, the photos are not only of the Beatles themselves but record sleeves, letters, and the like.

As for the negatives, my main complaint would be that for the hardcore Beatles fan (such as myself), there isn't really anything new or informative in these books. I didn't find any errors in the text, although one thing that bothered me was how, in the John volume, the author repeatedly alluded to Brian Epstein's death as a suicide. I understand that since the moment it happened in 1967, there's been a lot of speculation that it was indeed suicide, but the general consensus for many years, from the medical examiner, his friends and family, and the Beatles themselves, is that it was accidental. Perhaps a minor annoyance, but one that I wanted to point out.

While it's a nice idea for the set to be split into four equivalent volumes, by the time I finished, it felt slightly forced to me. The reason for this is that, if one is being honest,  Ringo (who I am by no means picking on, as I think he's great) can objectively be said to have had the least interesting and least successful solo career, at least when compared to the the other three. In order to stretch his volume out to the same length as the other three, it felt forced, as if the author had to dwell on some very minor points in order to do so. Conversely, the books on Paul and George, who had/have much more successful and interesting careers, felt rushed toward the end. For instance, after spending the first half to two-thirds of Paul's books on the 1970s and Wings, his career from 1980 to the present seemed to lack as much detail due to the author needing to cram all of it into the remaining allotted space. Likewise with George's career toward the end of his life. These are certainly not major criticisms of mine, and they don't take away from the overall enjoyment of the books, but I think it's worth noting nonetheless.

So, is this book worth getting if you're a Beatles fan? To that, I answer that it depends on the individual. On one hand, while this is an attractive set, there is really no new material in here than a dedicated fan won't already know, and while many pictures were new (to me, at least), most of them are fairly well-known and have been seen elsewhere numerous times over the years. On the other hand, it's really nice to have neat, well written, and enjoyable summaries of the solo careers of all four solo Beatles in one set, and it's certainly a set of books I see myself returning to every now and then to read simply for enjoyment. While the aforementioned "Eight Arms to Hold You" is more comprehensive in its discussion of the music contained in their solo careers (at least up to 2000), it's also less repeatedly readable and I think that's where The Beatles: Solo's true value comes in. While it's a matter a personal preference, for me, this is a book I'm happy to have on my shelf and in my collection.

MY RATING: 7.5/10

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