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Book Review: The White Book – The Beatles, the Bands, the Biz: An Insider’s Look at an Era by Ken Mansfield

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Aside from their contributions to music and pop culture, The Beatles turned out to be pretty good for the publishing industry, too. A search for "Beatles" on Amazon.com turns up over 27,000 results in the Books section alone.  Readers just can't seem to get enough material on this legendary band, and The White Book: The Beatles, the Bands, the Biz: An Insider's Look at an Era — written by Ken Mansfield, a music-industry veteran who served as the U.S. Manager for Apple Records — is the among the latest.

Mansfield started out with a moderately successful folk-music band before becoming an executive at Capitol Records (where, among other things, he tried to convince Brian Wilson not to release "Barbara Ann" as a Beach Boys single).  When the Beatles started up their ambitious record label, Apple, Mansfield's association with Capitol (the group's American distributor) got him the job.

The White Book is being marketed as a Beatles book, right down to a cover complete with serial number just like the "White Album" (the quickly adopted name for 1968's double album The Beatles) — and had Mansfield never met the lads, it's doubtful he ever would have gotten his memoirs published.  But his time with Apple and the Beatles only covers about half the book. 

That half is quite interesting, with some amusing anecdotes which illustrate each band member's character and personality, and the sheer enormity of mid-sixties Beatlemania.  Trying to get a new Beatles single to radio, without bootlegged copies showing up at other stations, was a challenge only slightly less difficult than organizing the Normandy invasion.  And I particularly loved this bit about John and Yoko's infamous Two Virgins (possibly NSFW link) album cover:

    … I asked [Paul McCartney], also in private, what he thought of the nudo photos bit.  He responded that he was totally with John in the matter.  He didn't understand John's thinking but figured that John was intellectually ahead of him in this area and that he would just have to catch up.  He said he was sure at some point that he would catch up and then he would be in complete agreement with John.  Why haven't I ever had a friend like that?

After the Beatles split up, and Mansfield left Apple, the author bounced around the music industry as an executive and producer.  Unfortunately, the book loses its way when Mansfield describes his post-Beatles career.  George and Ringo still showed up, but more as drinking buddies than musical collaborators.  Most disappointingly, Mansfield's association with the "outlaw" country musicians of the 1970s — he produced several albums for the great Waylon Jennings, among others — isn't given nearly as much attention as it deserves.

The second half of The White Book is barely more than a collection of anecdotes, with little detail about what happened to Mansfield's once-thriving career.  The author's writing style — basically, using Beatles-related puns and song titles every chance he gets — becomes tiresome really, really quickly.  (Typical passage: "It was a special time in the recording business because everything was changing — music, mores, and mankind.  I wish we could "get back."  For some of us, it's hard to just "let it be" in the past.)

On the other hand, The White Book is a great-looking book, packed with rare photographs of the Beatles and Mansfield's Beatle memorabilia.  Beatles fans (and aren't we all Beatles fans?) will find this one an amusing, moderately interesting addition to the Beatles library, but not much more.

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About Damian P.