The Beatles : The Biography by Bob Spitz

So yahoo has posted an article here:

on this new Beatles biography. It really makes the book sound like a thoroughly researched book. It says that the author interviewed 650 people and spent 8 years writing it. It says that he had written 2,792 pages before editors lowered that amount down to under 1,000.

I wanted to order this book as a gift, but looked up some customer reviews on first. On Amazon, the user reviews are terrible with most complaining about bad information, research, incorrect facts, and incorrect captions on pictures.

This leads me to one of two assumptions:

  1. The book is so well researched that it is actually reporting some facts correctly for possibly the first time, and in so doing so, these reviewers are seeing some ‘urban legends’ about the Beatles actually corrected.
  2. The author wasted 8 years of his life and was so inept at research that a typical Beatles fan can spot an inaccuracy in his book just by looking at it. (What’s up with the editors also?)

So my question is: Does anyone know of anything this book has right/wrong that would stand out like this? Note that I am not looking to debate whether the author writes well or not, this question is in GQ. I’m simply looking for:

“This book was the first to correctly portray event A, and it conflicts with other books because of that” OR “This book is wrong on event A, and here’s proof”.

I don’t know about the book in question, but I spent 25 years doing research on an encyclopedia of The Beatles (then the internet happened). I have read hundreds of books on them. The vast majority are almost complete rubbish. In the 35 years I’ve been doing research, I’ve never heard of Bob Spitz. There’s your first clue; if an author’s name is unfamiliar to people who specialize in a field, he doesn’t have any credibility yet. If the first customer reviews you read cite his incompetence, there’s your second clue.

I would expect that there would be plenty of folk who have a received notion of who and what the Beatles were like as people, and given the way that publicity was carefully presented, their view is almost certainly likely to be false.

I you were growing up during those years, and if you were a fan, it would blind you to certain details, and you’d probably not even want to know the reality.

One reality that invented is that John Lennon was somehow an unselfish and unworldly type, not driven by materialism but more by idealism, except that he wasn’t like that at all, he could be very, nay, extremely selfish behaving like a spoilt child, and something of an intolerant person.
Being intolerant might not always be seen as a bad thing if its intolerance of say toadyism, or of ‘the man’, but John was like that at times with those to whom he owed a great deal.

One example of his unproffesionalism and childishness was when he heavily criticised the overbearing use of strings in ‘The long and winding road’.

This was done when the relationship between Paul and John had pretty much broken down, and they were largely fulfilling the contract.

John didn’t want the song to appear on that last album, merely because Paul wrote it, so John-most unusually, played bass, and deliberately played extremely badly, just to ruin the recording and then refused to do a retake.

It wasn’t possible to get them all back into the studio in time to rerecord it and release the album in time, so all the producer could do was to disguise this with the the intrusive orchestration, and then John had the gall to criticise the production when it was done.

Johns criticism probably lay more in the fact that this track was on the album at all, but it was needed to complete the album, and John was instrumental in making sure that no alternative could be found.

If you have the remastered CD version of ‘Long and winding road’, take a listen to the bass line, most folk would think it was Pauls incompetant playing, maybe that’s what John intended.

There are plenty of others who paint an unflattering portrait of Lennon but who will believe them when he is effectively a matyr, and in the eyes of the blind, a saint.


Moved to Cafe Society.


This is more complete and total rubbish. They recorded 19 takes of “TLAWR” on January 31st 1969, the last day of filming of what would later be retitled “Let It Be”. John played bass on all of them because Paul played piano. (Same arrangement on the recordings of the song “LIB”.) John was not an instinctive bass player, he just did it. He did not deliberately play badly. He just wasn’t very good at it.

Your second paragraph has no basis in reality. After filming, they were all so dispirited about the whole project that they gave the tapes to Glyn Johns. He mixed down the best takes of what they had. Acetates were made for the group. They rejected it. He went back and made another attempt. They rejected that one, too.

Meanwhile, The Beatles made and released Abbey Road.

The unremixed session tapes sat until January, 1970, when John brought in Phil Spector to see what he coud do with them. Phil did the remixes and added the strings and choir to “TLAWR” and “LIB” on April 1st 1970. This version was approved by veto. Paul hated what had been done to his songs. The other three vetoed his veto. The record went out with strings. When Paul sued to dissolve the partnership, one of the reasons he cited was the tampering-with of his work on the “LIB” album. John never objected at the time. He didn’t give a crap, he was on heroin that year.

If you’re going to disseminate information here, where we are trying to fight ignorance, it is an excellent idea to have some idea what you’re talking about.

I’ve been wanting to start a thread about what Beatles books are worthwhile, but I guess I could ask here: Which Beatles books are worthwhile?

The only one I’ve read is The Beatles by Hunter Davies, and I was disappointed. I guess there was some good stuff in it, but the author left out a lot.

So yeah, to the OP, there are a ton of Beatles books and you should probably investigate them before buying them, because quality varies.

From what I’ve heard, Paul wasn’t exactly happy about the orchestration of “The Long and Winding Road” for a number of reasons, not the least of which was because Phil Spector, in Spectorizing the album, lowered the volume of Beatles instrumentation and wiped one of Paul’s vocal tracks without his permission–on his very own song. Paul also felt that the orchestration was schmaltzy and overdone.
If Paul wanted, he could’ve recorded “The Long and Winding Road” by himself. He was decently proficient at nearly every instrument in the band: that’s his guitar solo on “Taxman,” his drumming on “Back in the USSR,” his finger-picking on “Blackbird,” his everything (except for the orchestra, of course) on “Martha My Dear,” his ivory-tickling, too, on a number of the songs he wrote. (Yes, a number of times in the early years, it was George Martin, but sometimes it was Paul.)

There were 8 tracks. My guess (I’m going on an excerpt from the recording logs.)

  1. Piano
  2. Bass
  3. Guitar
  4. Organ
  5. Vocals
  6. Second track of vocals, wiped by Phil Spector, without Paul’s permission, to put on orchestra.
  7. Brass, drums.
  8. Choir
    As far as reliable books, I’ve heard of one: “The Beatles Recording Sessions” by Mark Lewisohn. Which contains the excerpt I was basing my assumptions on. I one day hope to buy or own this book.
    It documents the recording sessions, which takes were used, thrown away, etc. Not much in the way of biography, but there’s very little conjecture and assumption there.

For what it’s worth, here’s Spitz’s take on “Long and Winding Road” (from page 851):

I’m in the middle of reading the book, and while I’m knowledgable about the Beatles, I’m not fanatic enough to fact-check it. There’s a lot of details, and in the back, Spitz mentions that the Hunter Davies book is about 65 percent accurate.

As part of his research, Spitz delved into Albert Goldman’s research (he wrote “The Lives of John Lennon” which trashed Lennon). Spitz mentions that, although he was a friend of Goldman, “I found his biography of John unreadable, as well as irresponsible, and told him so.” Nevertheless, he bought copies of Goldman’s taped interviews from the estate and found that he had never transcribed them, only pulled the good bits for his book.

Considering that this book is being sold as the One True Story, I shouldn’t be surprised that there would be reviewers trashing it on Amazon.

As for good Beatle books, there’s one chronicling their recording at Abbey Road day by day (the title escapes me) that seems thorough, and I liked George Martin’s memoir (“All You Need is Ears”). Cynthia Lennon just published another memoir (“John”) that details her battles over their son, Julian. It’s a pretty bitter book.

I can’t recommend any specific biographies on The Beatles to you. Dozens of my books were stolen, along with hundreds of dollars’ worth of their records that I owned, back in the '80s. Almost all the books I own now are reference works covering the details of what they did and when, and their massive worldwide discography, and bootlegs.

I have all the Mark Lewisohn books, which cannot be recommended highly enough to emphasize their importance and worth. The problem is, they’re out of print. “Recording Sessions” is the holy grail, even with its few errors and omissions. It was this data I quoted in my previous reply. This was combined with an earlier Lewisohn book, condensed for text, but which had some new data, into a volume called “The Complete Beatles Chronicle.” It’ll tell you about everything they recorded and every radio and TV appearance they made, what they played and when, right down to the time of day. As Paul said many years later, “Bless those boys, they worked their little cotton socks off!”

There are many types of Beatles books. Some try to tell the story, but the story is being told by people who weren’t there. Some tell the story of what happened, by people who were there, but not in the inner circle. Two of my favorites in this category are “The Love You Make” by Peter Brown & Stephen Gaines, and “The Longest Cocktail Party” by Richard DiLello. Brian Epstein’s book, “A Cellarful Of Noise” was written by Derek Taylor, he of the flowery language. As for the Hunter Davies book, it’s not what the group left out of the telling, it’s the pages of manuscript they wholesale ripped out of the preview copies. All that stuff was in there, but even people like John’s aunt Mimi took out pages herself.

Two good places to start are their own book, "The Beatles Anthology’, which is the only story told in their own words (also watch the DVDs if you can rent them); and Barry Miles & Paul McCartney’s “Many Years From Now.”

How strange that you would bring this up. I just tonight read an article in the November issue of Delta Airline’s Sky magazine about this book of his.

The article was interesting, and further on in the magazine had an excerpt from it on how ----uh, what’s his name—dang! got replaced by Ringo Starr as their drummer.

Two points:

  1. I can’t make any assurances as to how accurate this book is; it seemed to be genuine, but who really knows?
  2. How did I get a November issue of Sky in an ASA jungle jet on October 31? Don’t know, usually it takes a day for all planes to have the new month’s issue.

I’d post a link, but the online issue is still October. You might try in a day or so, replacing the “Oct2005” in the last part of the URL with “Nov2005”


What was that book written by the guy who grew up with… oh, great, now my brains fried. Paul, I think.

I’m amazed. In what way did Goldman’s biography “trash” Lennon. Trashed the myth, yes, but I thought it was a great boiok that portrayed Lennon as very human, very flawed and a very understandable human being.

Now Yoko, she gets trashed! :slight_smile:


One of my favourite Beatles books is Revolution in the Head by Ian MacDonald. It’s a chronological song by song analysis of all Beatles tunes which puts them in conext within the music and social scene of the times, and goes in for some detailed analysis of the music itself.

It does get a bit heavy on the technical aspects of the music but non-musicians can skip over the praise for the descending mylodixidian minor fifth progressions (or whatever) and there’s still plenty to enjoy.

As for Goldman’s biography, I found it to be incredibly mean-spirited and gossipy. I’m no apologist for Lennon but I recall an early passage which states that in the final days in the Dakota their son Sean would meow and purr like a kitten to wrest John’s attention from his beloved cats. Completely unsubstatiated and pretty much set the tone for the rest of the book.

Seconded. Definitely the best analytical Beatles book I’ve come across.

Though dismissed as a “hagiography” now and then, Ray Coleman’s biography Lennon provides a pretty balanced (IIRC) overview of John and a good window into life in the Beatles. Supplement it with Paul’s and Miles’ Many Years From Now and you’ve got the start of a pretty detailed picture.

Peter Brown’s The Love You Make has some solid info but got trashed – somewhat deservedly – for wallowing in the more sordid aspects of the Fabs’ history (and was the first to formally claim a homosexual liaison between Lennon and Brian Epstein).

George Martin’s book is not good enough to recommend: the writing is bad, some of the info is actually wrong (and this was a guy who was actually there!), and much of the technical information is completely over a layman’s head.

And as someone else said, Lewisohn’s books are essentials. Borders recently stocked a reprint of The Recording Sessions for cheap; check it out if you can.