It’s been a good year for Beatles fans. Beatlemania of a sort struck again on September 9, when the band’s entire catalogue was digitally remastered, making it arguably the most important date for rock music in 2009. The icing on the cake came in the form of the very groovy The Beatles: Rock Band, released on the same day. Interest in the group has never gone away, but with the new onslaught of CDs and plastic instruments, books and TV specials about the Fab Four have been all over the place.
And it’s not like there’s a lot of new ground to cover. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that there have literally been thousands of books on every single aspect of their careers. The mountain of Beatle books on my shelves alone will attest to that. I think there’s even one on George’s nose hairs.
Thus, it would be a fallacy to approach Terry Burrows’ Treasures of the Beatles expecting something new. But the reason that there have been so many books on the Beatles, and the reason that so many are enjoyable, isn't just that they’re about the most popular and acclaimed rockers in history. It's that the Beatles’ story has an undeniable narrative pull. Four poor-as-dirt kids from the gloomy seaside town of Liverpool scrabble together, tour Hamburg, conquer Merseyside, then climb to the toppermost of the poppermost where they win the hearts of the entire world with their humor, wit, intelligence, beauty, and explosive chemistry. That brings us to 1964. By 1970, they’ve dissolved amidst hatred and bitterness.
I mean, no wonder they’ve amassed their own mythology. It’s an epic tale, filled with triumph, tragedy, and everything in between. The fact that they did it all publicly, with millions of eyes on their every move, makes it all the more fascinating. And that fascination remains intact in Treasures of the Beatles, which handily compresses the whole she-bang in a way that incorporates interesting history (such as a brief overview of the Liverpool Institute, which Paul attended) with the usual trivia.
There’s a track-by-track overview of every Beatles album, a nice feature that invites one to look at the band’s musical progression. Burrows doesn’t regard the lads as gods, either; if he feels a certain track was “lazy,” he’ll say so, and he describes Ringo’s vocals on early cover “Boys” as a “drone.” Even if you agree that “Ringo Starr will never be remembered as one of pop’s greatest singers,” which is perfectly true, I don’t see how you could take the high energy of “Boys” and call it a drone. Nonetheless, it’s refreshing to see some frank opinion in a Beatles book.
There are some minor quibbles to be had, though. There are a few too many spelling errors, and an odd song title here or there is off (“Love You To” is credited as “Love to You”). The Magical Mystery Tour should just be Magical Mystery Tour, and if Burrows deservedly pans the movie, he seems too dismissive of an album that contains such classics as “I Am the Walrus,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “The Fool on the Hill,” etc. It doesn’t even get its own overview! Granted, in its original form it was an EP, but the long-player has been considered a true part of the Beatles canon ever since it came to CD 21 years ago, and excluding it feels wrong. After all, there’s a full section on Yellow Submarine, which is barely an album.
Treasures of the Beatles has something, though, that puts it above your standard Beatles tome. Quite a few somethings, actually: The “treasures” of the title. Several chapters have sleeves containing a number of collectible replicas. To call them nifty would be an understatement. Holding the boys’ tattered, burned contract with Hamburg club owner Bruno Koschmider is like holding a piece of history; never mind that it’s not the real deal. Ditto vintage concert tickets, promotional flyers, signed postcards, hastily scrawled set lists, and more. It elevates the book from being just another look at the well-documented lives of John, Paul, George, and Ringo, to being an interactive experience. You feel like you’re discovering it all as it happens.
If you know someone who’s recently hopped onto the Beatles bandwagon, this book is a recommended stepping stone to more comprehensive histories like The Beatles Anthology and biographies by Hunter Davies and Bob Spitz. And if you’re a true Beatlemaniac with the sneaking suspicion that you’ve read more books on one rock band than any sane person should, well, this one’s worth it too.