Of the three Beatles books I've read in the past year, right now I'd have to rate Jonathan Gould's new Can't Buy Me Love as the best. Not that there are any earth-shattering revelations or even any significant, previously unearthed information or facts — because there really aren't.
Of the other two Beatles books I've read this year, one told the story from the perspective of a record company insider, while the other related it from behind the mixing board.
In Ken Mansfield's The Beatles, The Bible, & Bodegga Bay, Mansfield quite lovingly relates his years as the Beatles go-to guy at the record company — first with Capitol, then with Apple. Mansfield recalls the history making events, as well as the parties and the jam sessions with candor, while at the same time going out of his way to avoid dishing any dirt. He then remembers his fall from grace after the Beatles split, and how his subsequent marriage and finding his God ultimately saved him.
In Geoff Emerick's Here, There, And Everywhere, the author recounts many of the same events, but from the unique perspective of being the guy twisting the knobs in the engineer's seat. Emerick likewise shows respect for his former employers by steering clear of the juicier tidbits for the most part — although he doesn't hold back when it comes to revealing the members of that inner circle that he wasn't particularly fond of. Being a recording engineer, Emerick's narrative also tends to get bogged down in the sort of tech-speak that only a fellow recording geek could really appreciate.
What makes Gould's book different is the way the author simply tells the story of the greatest rock band of all time, in a very straightforward way rarely colored by any kind of bias. The other thing that makes this a great read, though, is the way Gould emphasizes the music. Using the sort of descriptive language that only a music critic — or someone who is truly emotionally invested in the music — could love, Gould breaks down various Beatles songs and albums in a way that carries you straight back to that magical time in music history. As opposed to telling the story from an insider's point of view, Gould actually comes off as the ultimate fan.
Because of this, Can't Buy Me Love reads as part straightforward history lesson, and part music critique. Gould goes to great lengths to describe songs like "Eleanor Rigby" in acute detail. At the same time, he reveals the story behind many of them — such as how the song "She Said, She Said" was inspired by John Lennon's run-in at a Hollywood party with Peter Fonda, who in describing an acid trip to the Beatle repeatedly used the words Lennon would later make famous, "I know what it's like to be dead."
In particular, when Gould devotes nearly an entire chapter to a song by song analysis of the album Abbey Road, his narrative literally sings itself off of the pages. Gould clearly loves the music, and it shows through in every single word of his lovingly worded prose here.
Of course, Gould also recounts how the Beatles ultimately disbanded. It is perhaps here that Gould offers the freshest perspective. As a non-insider, Gould holds the story up to a more objective light than the other insider versions do, simply because he refuses to allow his opinions of the usual "villains" of the story — Allen Klein, Yoko Ono, etc. — to be colored by personal experiences or opinion — good, bad, or indifferent.
Still, with the inner fan coming out in the narrative, it is hard to miss the author's own sadness as he tells the story. Gould paints a painful picture of the Beatles dying a slow death that began with the untimely passing of their manager Brian Epstein and the band's own decision to stop touring. From there, the songwriting (and personal) partnership of John Lennon and Paul McCartney begins to dissolve, while George Harrison and Ringo Starr begin to feel more and more creatively outcast from the group. By the time Lennon replaces his "marriage" to McCartney with Yoko Ono, and Allen Klein insinuates his way into the band's business dealings, the writing is clearly on the wall.
Again though, what makes this book an essential read is the way Gould recounts the events with the careful eye to detail of an historian, while remembering the music with the fondness of a devoted fan.
For any Beatles fan, reading Can't Buy Me Love will definitely take you back.