Monday, May 21, 2012

You Never Give Me Your Money

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of You Never Give Me Your Money (Harper, 2010).

I've always been more interested in what the Beatles did after they split up, because the story is just so much more engaging, and so much more of a story. The tales of the 1960s are well-trod and everybody knows them. Trying to figure out how drunk Ringo was when he recorded the Bad Boy LP for Portrait, now that's obscure.

For people like me, Beatles books are frequently very annoying, as they dismiss the Beatles' comparatively more interesting careers into practical appendices, when they're not passing ugly judgments and criticisms about the supposed quality of the material. I'd really love to have a biography of Paul McCartney as detailed and comprehensive as Howard Soanes' Fab written by somebody who actually likes Paul's music a lot. I'm all for objectivity, but opinions really can color a work too much, you know?

Peter Doggett's You Never Give Me Your Money: The Beatles After the Breakup is the closest thing yet released to what I would most like to read on the subject. Against it, the book is simply nowhere close to being as comprehensive as I'd like. Vast swaths of Ringo's career go without mention, and his falling-out and legal troubles with Mark Hudson are passed over, despite a good deal of ink devoted to George Harrison's apparently similar business failings with Denis O'Brien, which brought down Handmade Films. By comparison, other segments of the story are burdened by an incredible amount of detail. An editor tasked to prune all the stories of Allan Klein and Lee Eastman's legal war would have been welcome.

The spectacularly well-chosen title reflects the book's overall focus. This is a book more about lawsuits than about musical success. As a result, the period of 1970-75 gets the most attention, as it was during this period that the Beatles were still, legally, a unit, and still suing each other. Once each man was no longer signed to EMI through their company, Apple, the detail begins slipping away.

I'm really most impressed by the objectivity that Doggett shows toward his subject. Each Beatle is shown to be a very flawed human being capable of making good music and horrible personal choices. Lennon's career, sadly, was one of incredibly mediocre records. Walls and Bridges was his highlight, the only genuinely terrific album that he ever made, and it is given praise appropriate to its quality. Happily, McCartney's albums don't suffer the general dismissal that Soanes routinely gave them in Fab. The fumbles, like Press to Play, are acknowledged, but so are the triumphs, of which there have been many.

I greatly enjoyed reading this book. I learned a lot, and appreciated the tone and position taken by the author. It's easily among the very top tier of books about the Beatles and highly recommended.

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