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Book Review: The Beatles Discography Volume One: The ’60s by Stephen E. Donnelly

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In the introduction to The Beatles Discography Volume One: The ’60s, author Stephen E. Donnelly notes that his intention is to compile a reference “that as a Beatles fan I have always wanted, but could never find.” Such a guide would list all U.S. and U.K. releases, in chronological order, and in a concise manner. Indeed, few such reference tools currently exist for the Beatles collector. Donnelly plans future volumes encompassing the 1970s and 1980s; however, he will need to address several issues that mar the first book.

Donnelly splits the book into three parts (although it mysteriously lists four parts in the introduction): a release discography, a chronological song directory, and Beatlesan index. Part one displays thumbnails of album covers, singles sleeves, and labels, along with information such as the recording date, producer, release date, mono, stereo, or “mock” stereo (a method that replicated stereo sound by altering sound channels; it was eventually replaced by true stereo), and other information.

Donnelly attempts to explain his categorization system in the first page of chapter one, but I found the system confusing and difficult to follow. Using easy-to-identify symbols, preferably in color, could clarify the data labels. In addition, the typeface is so small that reading each entry presents a challenge. Clearly the author tries to squeeze in as much text as possible on each page, which results in further eye strain. The goal is to present a concise reference guide for quick consultation — why crunch the material so tightly that easy reading is virtually impossible?

Part two, the chronological song directory, lists every album each song appeared on (including compilations and reissues), original release dates, producers, recording dates, and other information also included in part one. Since no images accompany each entry in this section, the small font and crammed-in look of the pages again present difficulties for readers.

Another issue that mars the book is the author’s research methods. Evidently he spent over 20 years compiling the data for the Beatles Discography, which rings true. After all, the U.S. and U.K. release variations can baffle even the most devoted collector. But Donnelly does not fully explain his classification system and reasons for including — and omitting — certain information. For example, he states that he made “editorial decisions” as to what is or is not a true Beatles recording. He does not offer the criteria he used.

In addition, he mentions that he made “approximate guess[es]” as to release dates, if the original information was not available or in dispute. How did he arrive at these guesses? What sources did he consult to validate his theories?

Finally, he mentioned that he occasionally used his own timing if the exact song length was unknown. Since he includes only official releases in the volume, presumably lengths are displayed on the LP or single labels. Otherwise there are other sources he could consult that would give more official data.

While these seem like minor issues, they are of vital importance to a discography, especially one geared toward hard-core Beatles collectors.

Researching and writing a Beatles discography are enormous tasks, and Donnelly is to be commended for attempting such a Herculean endeavor. But the aforementioned issues must be addressed in future volumes in order to increase the books’ authority. At $69.95 for a paperback copy, one would expect a book free of typographical errors or dubious information. If the author can correct these problems in future volumes, then The Beatles Discography can truly be the kind of reference tool that Beatles fans have desired for some time.

For more information, view the trailer for The Beatles Discography Volume One: The ’60s on YouTube.

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