EAR CANDY MAG Book Reviews - March 2017

Kenneth Womack, The Beatles Encyclopedia: Everything Fab Four
(Santa Barbara: Greenwood/ABC-CLIO, 2017). Condensed Version.
Pages xiii + 621. Illustrated. ISBN: 978-1-4408-4426-3. $ 30.00.

An abridged version of a two-volume work published in 2014, the purpose of this encyclopedia, Dr. Womack asserts, is to provide “an overview of the lives and works of” the Fab Four. The text, he continues, “will appeal to readers at all levels, from the general public and students at the secondary and postsecondary ranks through advanced scholars and dyed-in-the-wool Beatlemaniacs.” Arranged alphabetically (from Abbey Road to Zapple Records), his study boasts approximately 360 concise, clearly written entries. Womack discusses every Beatles song (providing such information as authorship and background, recording history, chart performance, and legacy and influence), album, tour, and film. Moreover, he offers succinct biographies of John, Paul, George, and Ringo; Womack also examines those individuals who played important roles in the personal and business lives of the band. The author includes, as well, a helpful Discography, Recommended Resources section, and Chronology, which begins with the birth of Starr on July 7, 1940, and concludes with the death of George Martin on March 8, 2016.

To obtain an insight into this commendable volume, consider the following six excerpts:
The Cavern Club (Liverpool): “Owned by Alan Sytner…the Cavern opened its doors on Liverpool’s Mathew Street in January 1957. Lennon’s band, the Quarry Men, played their fourth gig at the club, which was located in a basement just below street level. As a skiffle group, the Quarry Men found it to be tough going in a club that catered to a jazz-loving audience…The Beatles performed 292 shows at the Cavern Club, often playing lunchtime concerts, from February 1961 to August 1963. The Cavern Club also marked the location of the Beatles’ fateful performance in November 1961 in which [Brian] Epstein first came into the band’s orbit. The Cavern closed in 1973…and the building’s basement was filled in during construction associated with the city’s underground rail system. In 1984, the club was rebuilt using much of the original space—not to mention the Cavern’s brickwork—and it reopened intermittently until 1991, when Liverpudlians Bill Heckle and Dave Jones began operating the club on a permanent basis. In the ensuing years, it has become a popular tourist attraction. In 1999, it famously served as a venue for McCartney, who performed a set in support of his Run Devil Run album.”

“The Inner Light”: “…the B-side of the Beatles’ ‘Lady Madonna’ single, which was released in the United Kingdom on March 15, 1968, and in the United States on March 18…Written by Harrison, ‘The Inner Light’ was composed at the suggestion of Cambridge Sanskrit scholar Juan Mascaro. Harrison authored [the song] based on the professor’s translation of a poem by Lao Tzu—from Tao Te Ching, the seminal sixth-century work of Chinese scripture…”

Martin, George (1926-2016): “The most widely acclaimed record producer of his generation, Martin enjoyed unparalleled success during a 50-year musical career in which he oversaw the production of some 30 #1 hits and more than 700 recordings. For many rock historians, he truly deserves the title of being the ‘fifth Beatle’…Martin not only transformed the Beatles into popular music’s most influential recording artists, but also handled key duties involving the musical arrangement and orchestration of their mid-to late-period recordings…”

“Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”: “…a song on the Beatles’ Rubber Soul album. It marks Harrison’s first use of the sitar on a Beatles recording…Written by Lennon with assistance from McCartney…For Lennon, the song’s impetus involved an affair with a ‘prominent journalist,’ who has been widely speculated to be Maureen Cleave, a frequent contributor to the London Evening News and the London Evening Standard…In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked ‘Norwegian Wood’ as #83 on the magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time…”

Wings: “Active from 1971 through their disbandment in 1981, Wings was enormously successful, with seven best-selling studio albums and the landmark Wings Over the World Tour in 1975-1976. The band notched six No. 1 U.S. singles releases, as well as one of England’s best-selling recordings of all time in ‘Mull of Kintyre’…Over the course of the band’s life, Wings’ lineup shifted on a number of occasions, although the group’s core trio of the McCartneys and [Denny] Laine stayed intact for the balance of their career…Wings disbanded in the early months of 1981 after abandoning work on the long-conceived Cold Cuts project. In April of that year, Laine announced that he was leaving the band, citing McCartney’s reluctance to tour in the wake of Lennon’s murder.”

Zapple Records: “A subsidiary of Apple Records, Zapple Records was a short-lived enterprise intended to be associated with the release of spoken-word and avant-garde recordings. Led by Barry Miles…Zapple Records was in operation from October 1968 through June 1969, releasing two albums during this period: John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions (1969) and George Harrison’s Electronic Sound (1969). A third album, a spoken-word production by writer Richard Brautigan, was never released, given that Allen Klein closed the Zapple label down when he dramatically reorganized the company in 1969. A fourth album, a spoken-word LP by writer Lawrence Ferlinghetti, was also in the works when Zapple closed for business.”

In short, every Beatles enthusiast, whether novice or expert, should own Dr. Womack’s outstanding reference book; it is thoroughly researched, limpidly written, easy to use, and completely engaging. Yeah, yeah, yeah!

Review by Kirk Bane