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Beatles - 1963

  by Eoghan Lyng

published: 7 / 1 / 2023

Beatles - 1963


In 'Raging Pages' guest reviewer Eoghan Lyng contends that author Dafydd Rees ‘apes the lexicon of the era’ when focusing on the Beatles history in his new book ' The Beatles 1963: A Year in the Life'.

There are possibly two ways to tackle The Beatles history and it's best to address these methods straight up. There's Mark Lewisohn's approach, which is to write a trilogy of books that will encompass the entirety of The Beatles life, and the rest of his own. The second, which Dafydd Rees has chosen, is to peer closely at one year; diving headfirst into a year which sees The Beatles at their most humble and most exciting. How Lewisohn will depict 1963 remains to be seen, but Rees has provided a strong blueprint from which the ‘Tune In’ writer - not forgetting the myriad readers searching to understand the band at the most wide-eyed juncture in their career. According to Rees' research, The Beatles were regularly turned away from backstage parties, considering how unaccustomed they were to the rigours of British society. Rees' novel - or, historical biography, if that's how you'd prefer to call it - also addresses the change that was sweeping over England, now embracing a sense of change after eighteen years of post war despondency. Brutally candid, the book apes the lexicon of the era, regularly pasting reviews who view The Beatles in a strange, albeit frank, light, positioning the band as a troupe of singular, superlative entertainers, without pandering to the slavish praise that is regularly thrust at the band in the 21st century. They were desperately young - guitarist George Harrison only turned twenty in February - but they were committed to their music, whether it was celebrating the soul ballads from the American South, or championing the anthems that came fresh from the John Lennon and Paul McCartney songbook (Harrison, incidentally, issued his first song in 1963: 'Don't Bother Me'. He probably wished he hadn't.) A brilliant and intense opening exhibits the frenzy that cloaked the band during what was possibly the most critical year of their career: positioning themselves as a viable studio quartet (drummer Ringo Starr was replaced on the original pressings of 'Love Me Do'), performing to members of the Royal Family, cautioning fans to the dangers of instant fame, and putting out two albums that demonstrated their live prowess through a series of blinding hooks and disembodied yelps. Of the two albums, ‘With The Beatles’ was the superior work, demonstrating the band's eagerness to express themselves as composers, rockers and influencers. (The cover of ‘With The Beatles’, steeped in black and white silhouettes, remains one of the most indelible of their career, sitting proudly between the lofty stylings of ‘Abbey Road’ and the kaleidoscopic, elephantine tapestry that makes up ‘Sgt. Pepper’s.) It is often said that The Beatles changed the world in 1964, but that's a deeply revisionistic and American perspective, because the band were making ripples across Britain and Europe one year earlier. But by the time they appeared on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ in February 1964, the quartet had put in enough live hours to ensure that their setlist crackled along with rhythm, rigour and cheeky personality. The book also explores, with some subtlety, the dynamic that existed in their ranks. Starr, who replaced Pete Best in 1962, looks sheepish at points, wondering if he fits in, while McCartney - not even twenty-one for much of the book - looks up to Lennon for guidance and fraternal support. Harrison seems happy to chip in with a cheeky comment, but he leaves the heavy lifting in interviews to Lennon, at this point the most sardonic, yet most thoughtful, member of the group. ‘The Beatles 1963: A Year in the Life’ is beautifully well researched, and zips along with the pace of an exciting Hollywood film. So together, this book and Lewisohn's forthcoming second volume will provide the definitive final note on the band's early years.

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