Beatlemania | Books To Rock Out On

Two books that explore the talent, creativity, and deep appeal of the Fab Four.

Cott, Jonathan. Let Me Take You Down: “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Univ. of Minnesota. Apr. 2024. 152p. ISBN 9781517914486. $22.95. MUSIC

Cott (There’s a Mystery There: The Primal Vision of Maurice Sendak) is known for conducting a nine-hour interview with John Lennon three days before his death in 1980. In this book, Cott writes about the creation and significance of two Beatles songs: “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane.” After a chaotic 1966 summer concert schedule that began in West Germany, Japan, and the Philippines and ended in San Francisco, the Beatles decided to stop touring, and they temporarily parted ways. Lennon wrote “Strawberry Fields Forever” in Almería, Spain, while Paul McCartney wrote “Penny Lane” in London. Cott excellently documents the Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership, as well as the details of the Abbey Road recording sessions that led to the February 1967 double A-side 45 single. The second half of the monograph is more scholarly in tone, drawing on mythology, music, literature, psychology, art, and religion in extended conversations with jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, actor/Buddhist Richard Gere, Jungian analyst Margaret Klenck, and others, to explore how both songs reflect Lennon’s and McCartney’s childhood memories and ways of looking at the world. VERDICT A distinctive academic perspective on two classic Beatles tunes.—Denise Miller

McNab, Ken. Shake It Up, Baby!: The Rise of Beatlemania and the Mayhem of 1963. Pegasus. May 2024. 400p. ISBN 9781639366583. $32. MUSIC

Scottish Daily Mail journalist McNab (You Started It: Rock ’n’ Roll’s Most Notorious and Bitter Feuds) takes readers on an exuberant roller-coaster ride through 1963, during the Beatles’ journey into stratospheric musical success. Starting in January, when the band was still playing to small audiences in obscure venues, the book shows how Beatlemania momentum built steadily each week. The release of two albums and classic singles, such as “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” set fire to the UK charts and invigorated a youth culture eager for change. McNab gives the band’s astute manager, Brian Epstein, plenty of credit for spreading the gospel of John, Paul, George, and Ringo through relentless touring and a publicity strategy that kept the band accessible to international music journalists and local press. By following the Beatles on their grueling monthly schedule of live shows, studio sessions, and radio and television appearances, McNab leaves readers in no doubt that it was the raw talent, creativity, and stamina of the Fab Four that assured their transformation from Liverpool club rockers to arguably the greatest band in music history. VERDICT An absolute must-read for music and Beatles fans.—Sara Shreve

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