Beatles nerds - what's the best Fab Four biography/book?

I’d love nothing more than to read an in-depth, complete “Story of the Beatles.” I don’t necessarily want a hagiography, but I don’t want a sensationalistic drama fest either. Give me something straight that tells the band’s story and doesn’t shy away from the gory parts.

Ideally, it would be readable and engaging but also actually deal with their music - talk about the music, talk about the actual making of the records and give insights into the songwriting and so on.

Which one is it?

I’ve read a bunch of Beatles bios and for my money, the best one ever written is Hunter Davies’ The Beatles.

Davies spent a year hanging out with the band during their peak and he gets about as inside as anyone possibly could. The book not only is a fascinating, from-the-ground-up history of the band (A lot of the stuff about John’s childhood is some of the most illuminating and interesting material in the book) but also contains some stunningly intimate, eyewitness accounts of the Beatles in the act of creating. There is an anecdote, for instance, where Davies describes hanging out at Paul’s house during the recording of Sgt. Pepper. John and paul had promised Ringo they would write him a song to sing on the album. Davies describes them going to the piano and casually composing the first couple of verses of With a Little Help From My friends in like 10 minutes then calling Ringo to tell him his song was finished (which it wasn’t). The whole description is fascinating and gives the reader a real feeling of being in the room and watching history happen.

If there’s ever been a better Beatles biographer than Davies, I don’t know who it is.

That sounds absolutely outstanding, and I will buy it today.

The Beatles, by Bob Spitz, came out a couple of years ago and is also very highly regarded, to my knowledge. I found it very readable and thorough. I strongly recommend it.

I have not read the Hunter Davies book, but have heard that there are parts that are considered more controversial vs. the Spitz book, but can’t elaborate - all I have is hearsay.

I just finished Here, There and Everywhere, by Geoff Emerick, who was an engineer on much of the Beatles’ mid-period material - Revolver, Pepper - and while it isn’t what you are looking for, it provides a great, well-written complement to any full Beatle bio, because Emerick was there and seems pretty comfortable telling it straight. He is clearly a big fan of Paul’s, but doesn’t come across as an ass-kisser as much as trying to set the record straight - as Emerick sees it - of Paul’s role vs. Lennon’s…

I just went back and read the link **Dio **provided - I remember: the biggest issues are that it was written in ‘68 and so wasn’t complete or could benefit from a more historical perspective. More importantly, it was an authorized bio, so the thinking was that it held back in key areas. Again, I have not read it so can’t comment on either of these assertions, only that they led me to pick Spitz’ book first - but I intend to read Davies.

I am sure fishbicycle, **Biffy the Elephant Shrew ** or other Beatles’ nuts can offer a more thoughtful run down of what is out there.

It has been updated seveal times since it first came out in '68. I think the last update was only a couple of years ago (after the death of George, IIRC). In any case, the current version does contain a full account of the breakup of the band, John’s murder, etc.

The only real controversy regarding the book is that it is (as you said) an “authorized” version and sometimes gets criticized for being a little sanitized. I didn’t find it to be so in a glossy, fanzine way. I think there is dirt left out but Davies doesn’t completely shy away from unsavory mterial.

anyway, I am more interested in the creative process of great artists than I am in their sex lives, so I think the trade off is more than acceptable. I’d much rather read a chapter about the band improvising “Magical Mystery Tour” in the studio than a chapter about paul getting the clap from Hamburg hookers.

The Bob Spitz book is a stand-out… An order of magnitude better than anything else I’ve read.

When I was a kid (and a huge Beatles buff) I really liked Peter Brown’s The Love You Make. I lost my copy, but I do remember I read it twice and found it very fulfilling and insightful.

I also liked that huge coffee table book that came out a couple years ago (Beatles Anthology?)

The Love You Make is an interesting read, but pretty far down the list of books that provide a thoughtful overview of their world. It was written using Cynthia Lennon as one of the, if not the, primary source for it, so there is a clear skewing of perspective towards her and how events surrounding the band affected her. Mostly related to their lives and social stuff; little or no music.

**VC03 ** - as a music person, I suspect that Spitz or Davies’ books would best meet your needs, but then I would recommend Emerick’s book - he is a recording engineer after all - but even more, I would recommend Lewisohn’s Complete Abbey Road (link to Amazon) for the definitive look at the actual creative process in the studio. Reading something like Spitz and also reading the studio journal would be perfect from a geeks’ / musician’s point of view…

I highly recommend the Hunter Davies book and the Bob Spitz book. My copy of the Davies book is from its original release in paperback and I have not seen the later versions of it noted by DtC. The original is still an excellent book despite having been an authorized bio. I recently read the Geoff Emerick book, specifically on WordMan’s recommendation, and I agree that it is well worth reading. It is especially interesting when followed by All You Need Is Ears, by George Martin. I would have to say that Sir George does not come off very well in his own book. He may have great ears for music, but he has a tin ear for his own writing tone.

Any Beatles fanatic will want to read The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, by Mark Lewisohn. There’s some fascinating stuff in there.

My father-in-law, a certified Beatles nut, strongly recommends Revolution In the Head by Ian MacDonald. He said that it’s not only the best biography of the Beatles and their effect on the Sixties, but also one of the very best books he’s ever read on any subject.

Beatles bibliography:

  1. Lennon Remembers, based on interviews with John Lennon by Jann Wenner for Rolling Stone in the early 1970s. Sometimes bitter, but the real thing.

  2. The Playboy Interviews with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Less bitter.

  3. The Beatles, by Hunter Davies. The authorized biography.

  4. I, Me, Mine, by George Harrison. Short on text, long on photos and lyric sheets. Still, it’s the man himself.

  5. The Beatles: The Biography by Bob Spitz. In many ways better than Davies. If you read only one book, this is it.

  6. All You Need Is Ears by George Martin, the fifth Beatle.

  7. The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions: The Official Story of the Abbey Road Years 1962-1970, by Mark Lewisohn.

  8. Beatle! The Pete Best Story by Pete Best and Patrick Doncaster. The other fifth Beatle. Invaluable inside look at the 1960–1962 period.

And three albums:

  1. The Beatles: Anthology 1, 1958–1964.

  2. The Beatles: Anthology 2, 1965–1968.

  3. The Beatles: Anthology 3, 1968–1970.

It’s Bob Spitz. Really, it is. The Beatles told me things about their early lives I hadn’t known in 40 years of reading about them. He’s an excellent writer and the 900 pages fly by. And he’s a welcome correction to the John Lennon hagiography that’s taken place since his death.

Davies is good, no doubt. And if the question had been asked a few years ago, he would be the answer. But as others have said, Spitz is far better.

Well this thread has convinced me to find the Spitz book. Thanks.

One of my favorite Beatle books is A Hard Day’s Write – not a biography, but the story behind each & every song (in chronological order): what inspired it, what Lennon & McCartney thought of it, notes on the melody, etc. Fascinating reading.

By the time you finish all of those, the first volume of Mark Lewisohn’s 3-book project might be out. Here’s a link to a 2005 interview, right after he got the commission to write the books.

I ended up picking the Spitz book, and it’s amazing so far!

Are you sure you’re not thinking of some other Beatles bio? Peter Brown, the author of TLYM, was a member of the Beatles’ crew. It was definitely an insider’s view. Admittedly, many of the revelations are old news now, and it’s true that it doesn’t cover as much ground as Spitz’s book, but at the time (1984) Brown was the first person to talk openly about certain incidents, like the Manila incident, and the details of the Lennons’ and Harrisons’ first acid trip.

Co-written with Steven Gaines - a journalist who used Cynthia Lennon as a major source for the material.

I completely agree with you - for when it was published, it was much more revealing. But I re-read it a couple of years ago and the insights are now old hat relative to what is shared in newer, closer stuff - which is also more about the music, which really matters to me.

From an “insider’s perspective” Emerick’s book is far more idiosyncratic-yet-revealing - he only shares his perspective, and doesn’t try to do any more than that, which works because his perspective is interesting and sheds light on their creative process.

The Spitz book is far better as a holistic framing of the Beatles’s story, IMHO…

As long as this thread has been bumped, I’ll take the opportunity to say I picked up the Spitz book myself based on the recommendations in this thread and just finished it a couple of days ago. I will concur that it’s very good and very close to definitive. The material concerning the formative days of the Quarrymen is quite exhaustive, almost ridiculously so at times. It feels like Spitz manages to document just about every gig John Lennon ever played, before and after hooking up with Paul and George. There were details about Hamburg I’d never read before either and some good background on the writing and recording of a lot of the songs.

I still think the Davies book is worth reading as well and it contains some material and perspectives that the Spitz book does not but reading both books would give anybody just about all they want to know about the Beatles.

Thanks to those who recommended the Spitz book.