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Review: “The Beatles A to Zed” – a disappointing offering from Beatles ‘insider’ Peter Asher

bk-BeatlesAtoZedWhen I first heard about the book, The Beatles A to Zed: An Alphabetical Mystery Tour, I thought it would be a great idea for Peter Asher to tell some of his personal stories about The Beatles in a well-organized encyclopedia-type format. Sadly, when I started reading the book, I discovered there were few personal stories about The Beatles and the book was presented in an unhelpful design.

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John Lennon may have never started his first band, The Quarrymen, without best friend Pete Shotton

John Lennon Quarrymen

Sad news in the Beatles community to hear that Pete Shotton, John Lennon’s best friend growing up, died on March 24, 2017. He was 75 years old, born in 1941 – surprising that he was one year younger than John Lennon, since they were best friends in school.

Pete and John met in Sunday school when they were respectively, 6 and 7 years old. They also lived close to each other in Liverpool. They formed a small rowdy group of boys from the neighborhood which also included Nigel Whalley and Ivan Vaughn, who would play a pivotal role in Beatles history when he introduced Paul McCartney to John Lennon in 1957.

John and Pete’s childhood and teenage friendship, which lasted through high school and adulthood, was depicted in the film, Nowhere Boy, which showed how John was the instigator of the two:

John Lennon insisted on Shotton’s participation as a member of his first band, The Quarrymen skiffle group. Pete was assigned the washboard. It wasn’t so much Shotton’s musical ability (which was lacking) but more having the support of his friend in the band. In fact, without Pete, John may have never pursued starting the group.

According to Pete: “Had I categorically said no, John would almost certainly have shelved the whole idea of forming a group… I don’t mean to imply that there was anything special about me… It’s just that John and I were so inseparable at the time, it would have been inconceivable for either of us to get involved in something the other wasn’t keen on doing.”

John Lennon and Pete Shotton

Although Pete’s time with Quarrymen only lasted a year, he became an invaluable eyewitness to history. He observed John’s relationship with his birth mother, Julia, for several years before she died when John was 17. Pete was also the one who officially asked a 15-year-old Paul McCartney to join the Quarrymen.

In his insightful book about his friendship with John Lennon, Shotton recounts all the early rock and roll influences that John Lennon experienced. His book is regarded as one of the 10 best Beatles books of all time according to Rolling Stone.

Pete Shotton bookThe original title of Shotton’s book was John Lennon In My Life. It first came out in 1983 and was then re-issued a year later as The Beatles, Lennon and Me. It was co-written with Nicholas Schaffner, who was also the author of the great book, The Beatles Forever.

In his book, for example, Shotton offers behind-the-scenes truths of how The Quarrymen members evolved into The Beatles. Since Pete was one of the few people that was extremely close to John, he was able to offer insights into Lennon’s psyche.

“Neither Paul nor George would have lasted very long in John’s band… had John not come to like them so much as people,” Shotton explained. “Most of the other original members were gradually frozen out of the picture, not so much for lack of musical promise, but simply because John found them a bore.”

After Lennon became a superstar, he still maintained his friendship with Shotton, who was also there when John began his relationship with Yoko. Pete describes when the couple spent their first night together in this interview he did in the 1980s:

The last time Pete saw John was in the summer of 1976 when he visited with John and Yoko in New York City.

Reacting to John’s shocking murder in 1980, Shotton wrote in his book, “What a life.” Then on the next page which is the end of the book, he wrote: “What a fucking ending.”

Sean Lennon posted a photo on Instagram about Shotton’s passing:
https://www.instagram.com/p/BSCD_fkja2e/
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‘Elvis: Behind the Legend’ reveals behind-the-scenes Beatles stories

Editor’s note: In honor of the anniversary this month of “When Elvis met The Beatles” we are posting this review of the book (written by the editor of Daytrippin’) that was released last year which contains many Elvis/Beatles stories.

Book review
by Shelley Germeaux,
The John Lennon Examiner

The new book, Elvis, Behind the Legend: Startling Truths About the King of Rock and Roll’s Life, Loves, Films and Music by Trina Young, reveals many surprising new stories and viewpoints about Elvis Presley’s life, including several about his association with the Beatles. Young does not attempt to re-write Elvis’ biography, but instead focuses on several behind-the-scenes revelations that few know about, even seasoned experts. The stories are sure to alter the reader’s perception of the man behind the title, “The King of Rock and Roll.”

Elvis: Behind The LegendThe John Lennon Examiner has received a digital copy of the book from the author, and found it to be incredibly enlightening, enjoyable, and as the subtitle suggests, “startling.” The author wrote, “Often taking a back seat with historians to The Beatles in terms of rock and roll influence, Presley’s legacy has been marred by misconceptions of the man as an entertainer and human being.” As most Beatles fans are aware, Elvis was John Lennon’s biggest hero, the one he emulated, the one he idolized—until Lennon was bemused with Elvis’ career after spending two years in the Army.

At 145 pages, each of the thirty-two chapters brings to life a different story, written chronologically throughout his life. To name just a few, the book begins with a revelation concerning his speech impediment, a fact that is not well-known. The identity of the mystery woman behind the famous 1956 photo called “The Kiss” is revealed, and how Elvis is responsible for making the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor a reality. Readers will learn about the secret girlfriend he was going to see in Washington, when he inevitably met with President Nixon.

Young points out that Elvis developed a private spiritual life, and connected with gurus long before the Beatles made their association with the Maharishi so public. His association with the Beatles is addressed in several chapters, shedding light on various aspects, such as: the difference in earnings from their appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, the day The Beatles met Elvis in 1965 at his home in L.A., and the truth behind his “grudge” against the band. The disparaging statements he made to President Nixon about the Beatles—something fans have been angered by for years– are explained from a different vantage point.

In addition, included in the appendix is a comparison of record sales between Elvis and the Beatles, which may surprise fans of both. The book is well-researched, with a sizable bibliography, and a great read. The John Lennon Examiner recommends this book for Beatles and Elvis fans alike. It is an enjoyable and fun read that will shift readers’ perceptions about “The King of Rock and Roll” for the better.

See the official website for Elvis: Behind the Legend. The paperback and kindle editions can be purchased on Amazon.

Follow Shelley Germeaux on Twitter and Facebook


Review: The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story – What’s all the fuss about?

fifthbeatle-coverWhat is all the fuss about the graphic novel by Vivek J. Tiwary, Andrew C. Robinson and Kyle Baker about Brian Epstein, The Beatles’ manager? This book has been getting a great deal of attention due to the fact that it not only will be made into a feature film by Simon Cowell’s Syco Entertainment, but also a multi-part television series with Sonar Entertainment.

The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story is a visually elaborate re-telling of  Beatles’ history as seen through the perspective of their manager, who many including Paul McCartney have called “The Fifth Beatle.” However, that title is not an exclusive one. Recently, after Beatles’ producer George Martin died, Paul McCartney also deemed him “The Fifth Beatle.”

However, Epstein may deserve the title more since without him, The Beatles may have never made it out of Liverpool. It was Brian who persevered in acquiring The Beatles a record contract in England after repeated rejection. It was Brian who negotiated their debut in America with Capitol Records and Ed Sullivan. It was Brian who encouraged them to clean up their act to be presentable to the public. Brian may have believed in The Beatles more than they themselves did.

To tell the complete history of The Beatles, a graphic novel can be a challenging format. Due to the comic book layout, The Fifth Beatle tells its story through more of a screenplay or storyboard format rather than a traditional book, which explains why it can easily be envisioned for the screen. Unlike other graphic novels, The Fifth Beatle leaves out a narrator. As a result, the characters are required to explain much more through their words than they probably did in actuality.

A key drawback of a biographical film adapted from a book is that it leaves out many important facts and details. In some instances, the film creates new truths to satisfy dramatic effect in order to make the movie more entertaining – what is commonly known as “dramatic license.”

Unfortunately, right off the bat, author Tiwary admits that the truth wasn’t a priority to him in his book in telling Brian Epstein’s story: “Almost everything in the pages you’ve just read actually did happen” Tiwary writes. “But conveying the truth – while important – has never been my primary goal.”

Tiwary’s goal was “to reveal not just the facts but the poetry behind the Brian Epstein story.” He certainly finds inspiration and admiration for Epstein in all the obstacles he faced, not only in promoting The Beatles, but dealing with his closeted homosexuality. But that doesn’t excuse perpetuating detrimental myths back into Beatles’ lore. These “truths” used for drama are harmful to the legacy of The Beatles.

For example, The Fifth Beatle depicts Brian Epstein as purposely buying 10,000 copies of The Beatles first single “Love Me Do” in order to get it higher on the UK charts. Great for dramatic effect, but not so great if you’re into the truth.

Beatles historian and author, Mark Lewisohn, definitively states in his recent book, Tune In: The Beatles: All These Years, Volume 1, that Epstein did not do this and that this nasty rumor “unfairly casts a blight on his integrity.”

As John Lennon stated: “It [Love Me Do] sold so many in Liverpool the first two days — because they were all waiting for us to make it — that the dealers down in London thought there was a fiddle on. ‘That Mr. Epstein feller up there is cheating.’ But he wasn’t.”

Tiwary further implies that Epstein also overbought quantities of “Please Please Me” for his NEMS record shops to help it reach number one. Mark Lewisohn’s research refutes that explaining that “in 1962, it made no difference how many copies a shop sold of any record because the charts weren’t computed that way.”
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Another depiction that is greatly exaggerated is Brian Epstein’s dealings with Elvis Presley’s manager, Colonel Parker. In The Fifth Beatle, the Colonel is depicted as devilish and horribly unfair to Elvis for taking 50 percent of his earnings.
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However, the 50/50 contract, which only applied to side deals, was not signed until 1967, three years after the meeting between Parker and Epstein took place in 1964. The 50/50 split did not apply to all of Presley’s earnings until 1976, a year before Presley died. Another case of dramatic license, and yet the movie hasn’t even been made yet.
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Unlike what is presented in The Fifth Beatle, Colonel Parker was reportedly a big help to Brian Epstein and they got along well. Author Ray Coleman describes Colonel Parker as being generous in his advice to Brian about The Beatles touring in the States.

“Elvis has required every moment of my time, and I think he would have suffered had I signed anyone else,” Parker told Epstein, as recounted in Coleman’s biography of Brian Epstein. “But I admire you, Brian, for doing it… But remember, too, that when Presley soared to fame I was 44. When the Beatles happened, you were 28. That helps.”

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While Tiwary succeeds in passionately giving credit to Epstein for his role in promoting the biggest band of all time, he also raises concern by presenting inaccurate facts in his graphic novel, which may then be carried over into the forthcoming movie and TV series.
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It’s true that many films adapted from nonfiction books sometimes rearrange or embellish the truth in order to get the main message or theme across. However, something so detrimental to Epstein’s reputation as “buying” The Beatles’ popularity should have been researched more thoroughly. Hopefully, the film version will redeem itself by still exuding Epstein’s passion without sacrificing his integrity. — Trina Yannicos
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Note: A special Collector’s Edition of The Fifth Beatle was recently released which includes a unique textured cover and a section of bonus materials with rare Beatles and Brian Epstein memorabilia, artist sketches and alternate covers.
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Review: Special Collector’s Edition of Beatles first official book

Ever wonder what The Beatles did on the day this picture was taken?
The Beatles "On Air: Live At The BBC Vol 2" Cover
This now famous photograph from the On Air – Live at the BBC, Volume 2 CD release is among the photos taken during The Beatles “Day in the Life” 1963 photo shoot featured in the new reissue of The Beatles’ first official book, Meet The Beatles: An Informal Date in Words and Personal Album Pictures.
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During this “day off” for The Beatles, they walked around London as virtually ordinary people – strolling around Soho, shopping at a local market, eating ice cream and sharing fruit with a few female fans. These photos can be distinguished from other Beatles photos since Paul is conspicuously wearing a sweater over his shirt and tie.
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It’s so “fab” and “gear” that a special 50th anniversary collector’s edition of Meet The Beatles has been reissued. Here we get a behind the scenes look at what life was like for The Beatles before they hit it big in America and became a global sensation.
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Meet The Beatles includes a personal introduction by The Beatles, while the rest of the 40-page photo-filled book was written by Beatles’ publicist Tony Barrow, the man who coined the phrase “The Fab Four.”
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The hardcover book is an exact reproduction of the original which was published as a magazine in 1963 by Souvenir Press. The book features black and white photos of The Beatles, many taken by Dezo Hoffmann. What has changed in the last 50 years is the price: originally costing two shillings and six pence in the UK, the price is now £10.
meetbeatlesbk-UK

Original 1963 edition

meetbeatlesbk-2015

50th anniversary reissue

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An interesting tidbit of Beatle history is how The Beatles were listed in the text as “George, John, Paul and Ringo” most likely due to alphabetical order, which surprisingly works for both their first and last names. However, when closing out their introduction (“Thanks a million all you Beatle People — you’re the gear”) their signatures are listed in the customary order of “John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr.”
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Amidst the entertaining “Beatletistics” of each individual member (George “favors smallish blondes”, John “dislikes traditional jazz and thick heads”,  Paul has “a strong liking for Kraft cheese slices”, and Ringo “dislikes onions, motor bikes and Chinese food”) and the many photos of The Beatles in their “Beatropolis,” (a.k.a. Merseyside) is a fascinating look at “A Day in the Life” of The Beatles in London in 1963.
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What Meet The Beatles reminds us is how down to earth The Beatles were. In their introduction, The Beatles respond to a frequently asked question: How has stardom changed you? The Beatles respond: “It HASN’T!” They continue to explain: “Luckily there are three other Beatles ready to sit on any one of us who may show signs of swelling of the bonce…”
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The original UK publication sold 1 million copies and was translated into several different languages. Here is the US version published in 1964.
meetbeatlesbk-USedition2
To get your copy of the Meet The Beatles 50th anniversary reissue, click here.
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