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The Story Behind Every Beatles Release 
Jean-Michel Guesdon & Philippe Margutin

Black Dog & Levinthal


672pp/$50.00/October 2013

All the Songs
Cover by John Harris

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

In 1987, Mark Lewisohn published The Beatles Day by Day, a chronology of what the Beatles were doing each day the band had official business while they were together.  The following year, he published The Beatles: Recording Sessions: The Official Abbey Road Studio Session Notes, 1962-1970.  In 1994, Steve Turner published A Hard Day's Write: The Stories Behind Every Beatles' Song.  In 2013, Jean-Michel Guesdon and Philippe Margutin have published All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Beatles Release, which essentially combines the types of information collected in the two Lewisohn and the Turner volumes.

All the Songs is arranged in chronological order, interspersing the songs released on albums with the singles released between the albums.  Each album also includes an introduction that discusses the role the album played in the evolution of the Beatles as both a musical group and a cultural institution. For each song, Guesdon and Margutin include sections on the songs' genesis, akin to Turner's book and a section on the songs' production, similar to what the Lewisohn books offer.  In addition to combining this information, Guesdon and Margotin include information on who played which instruments, the number of takes, and who the production team was.  This information is then supplemented with trivia and photos.

Guesdon and Margutin draw upon many of the same sources for the descriptions of the songs origins, which include firsthand accounts such as John Lennon's Playboy interviews, statements made by George Harrison in his autobiography I, Me, Mine, or in various interviews with the Beatles, Pete Shotten, and others who were associated with the Beatles.  Unfortunately, that means that All the Songs suffers from the same issue when tracking a song's origin as Turner's book and other works.  It relies on essentially unreliable narrators.  The Beatles' descriptions of their relationship varied depending on how they were feeling about their former bandmates at any given moment.  Nevertheless, this information is all that exists and many of the stories are interesting and often shed light on the lyrics, even when Lennon admits, as he does for "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," that "We've learned over the years that...we could write anything...reviewers would take it upon themselves to interject their own meaning on our lyrics. So why strain me brain?"

The production notes give a clear indication of the process the Beatles used in recording their songs and also allow the reader to chart the band's breakups.  For "I Should Have Known Better," recorded on February 25 & 26, 1964, all four Beatles were in the studio for a mammoth session that took 22 takes and resulted in the song.  By the time they recorded "When I'm Sixty-Four" on December 8, 1966, Paul was recording the lead vocals while the other three Beatles were absent and the Beatles made much more use of multi track recording to create a unified sound even when they weren't all there. Two years later, when they were recording The Beatles (a.k.a. The White Album), there are several songs which do not feature all four Beatles, but do feature a variety of other musicians, such as "Good Night" (Ringo, George Martin, The Mike Sammes Singers, and an Orchestra) or "Savoy Truffle."

Overall, and especially in light of the fact that <i>All the Songs</i> serves the function taken up by three other books about the Beatles, it is a welcome addition to a Beatles collection.  The format adopted by Guesdon and Margutin easily lends itself to quick browsing or looking up the details on a specific song.  The dual index, one focusing only on Beatles songs and albums, the other looking at people, non-Beatles songs, and places, works surprisingly effectively.

Purchase this book from Amazon Books.

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