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Can't Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, and Americaby Jonathan Gould
Synopses & Reviews
Nearly twenty years in the making, Can't Buy Me Love is a masterful work of group biography, cultural history, and musical criticism. That the Beatles were an unprecedented phenomenon is a given. In Can't Buy Me Love, Jonathan Gould seeks to explain why, placing the Fab Four in the broad and tumultuous panorama of their time and place, rooting their story in the social context that girded both their rise and their demise.
Beginning with their adolescence in Liverpool, Gould describes the seminal influences — from Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry to The Goon Show and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland — that shaped the Beatles both as individuals and as a group. In addition to chronicling their growth as singers, songwriters, and instrumentalists, he highlights the advances in recording technology that made their sound both possible and unique, as well as the developments in television and radio that lent an explosive force to their popular success. With a musician's ear, Gould sensitively evokes the timeless appeal of the Lennon-McCartney collaboration and their emergence as one of the most creative and significant songwriting teams in history. And he sheds new light on the significance of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band as rock's first concept album, down to its memorable cover art.
Behind the scenes Gould explores the pivotal roles played by manager Brian Epstein and producer George Martin, credits the influence on the Beatles' music of contemporaries like Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, and Ravi Shankar, and traces the gradual escalation of the fractious internal rivalries that led to the group's breakup after their final masterpiece, Abbey Road. Most significantly, by chronicling their revolutionary impact on popular culture during the 1960s, Can't Buy Me Love illuminates the Beatles as a charismatic phenomenon of international proportions, whose anarchic energy and unexpected import was derived from the historic shifts in fortune that transformed the relationship between Britain and America in the decades after World War II.
From the Beats in America and the Angry Young Men in England to the shadow of the Profumo Affair and JFK's assassination, Gould captures the pulse of a time that made the Beatles possible — and even necessary. As seen through the prism of the Beatles and their music, an entire generation's experience comes astonishingly to life. Beautifully written, consistently insightful, and utterly original, Can't Buy Me Love is a landmark work about the Beatles, Britain, and America.
"Signature Reviewed by Mark RotellaAs a teenager, I collected every album the Beatles put out, starting with their first U.S. release, 1964's Meet the Beatles, to their last, Let It Be, in 1970. As Paul sang 'Mother Mary comes to me/ speaking words of wisdom,' I heard the wisdom of an aged sage.But as Jonathan Gould states in his brilliant biography of the Beatles, the band had 'effectively ended before any of them had reached the age of thirty.' There have been several biographies of the band (including two outstanding ones, Bob Spitz's The Beatles and Devin McKinney's Magic Circles: The Beatles In Dream and History), but Gould leaves the gossip to others and instead relies on their music to tell the story, starting with the early days as a band in Liverpool (with Paul McCartney on guitar and Stuart Sutcliffe on bass) to the recordings at the Abbey Road studios in London (where Yoko became everpresent and George stormed out threatening to quit). They got their start in Hamburg, Germany, and were soon managed by a young, eager former furniture salesman named Brian Epstein, and produced by George Martin, a recording executive known for novelty records.Gould, a former musician, has written an engrossing book, both fluid and economical (aside from one overlong section on the concept of 'charisma'). Page after page, you can hear the music; Gould's deft hand makes the book sing. This is music writing at its best.'It begins with a musical wake-up call,' Gould writes of 'A Hard Day's Night' — 'the harsh clash of a solitary chord that hangs in the air for an elongated moment, its densely packed notes swimming into focus like eyes adjusting to the light.' On 'Here Comes the Sun,' Gould describes George's music, written as he became more steeped in Indian philosophy amidst turmoil within the band, as 'rays of sun cutting across the melting ice of winter... of coming through a long and arduous experience and emerging whole at the end.'Focusing on the Beatles' influences, musical (Elvis, Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys) and otherwise (marijuana, LSD, the Maharishi Mahesh yogi), Gould elucidates the mystery of the band that changed the course of Western popular music. Mark Rotella, senior reviews editor at Publishers Weekly, is the author of The Saloon Singers, about the great Italian-American crooners, to be published by FSG in 2008." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Forty years ago, when the Beatles were at the vertiginous pinnacle of their fame and glory, selling millions of records and inciting legions of followers who pored over their every cryptic song lyric as if it were a message from the Almighty, John Lennon acknowledged that even they were bewildered by their own mystique. 'People think the Beatles know what's going on,' he told their first biographer,... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) Hunter Davies. 'We don't. We're just doing it.' It's more than 500 books later, and writers are still struggling to explain the magic and the magicians. The market is glutted with memoirs, anthologies, photo albums, academic treatises and deep-mine analyses of individual albums and songs. These books often bear dubious song titles (my personal favorite: iconic producer George Martin's 'All You Need Is Ears'). Just two years ago, Bob Spitz published 'The Beatles,' a majestic, 984-page narrative — including 86 pages of footnotes — that energetically revisited the familiar ground and was rewarded with several weeks on the best-seller list. Now comes Jonathan Gould, with a 661-page doorstop that weaves together biography, music criticism and cultural analysis. It's a lot to ask of a reader. Fortunately, Gould succeeds in convincing us with fresh insights and vivid prose that the Beatles are worth yet another big book. He starts off with that golden moment when the Fab Four descended at Kennedy Airport in February 1964 and first captured America's attention with their infectious pop melodies and good-natured insouciance. Then he drops back eight years to Elvis Presley's insolent, doom-struck rendering of 'Heartbreak Hotel' ('so lonely I could die') and the London opening of the John Osborne play 'Look Back in Anger' to ground us in some of the cultural events that shaped the sensibilities and ambitions of the young John Lennon and Paul McCartney as they grew up in the fading British seaport of Liverpool. He captures Liverpool's fierce working-class pugnacity, mocking humor and eclectic musical heritage, then dwells lovingly on the remarkable musical collaboration of Lennon and McCartney. Gould doesn't fall for the notion that Lennon was the hard rocker and McCartney the shmaltzmeister; instead he describes in intricate detail how they challenged, goaded and inspired each other — and how the professionalism and commitment to craft of George Harrison and, eventually, Ringo Starr completed the ensemble. Gould never forgets that the Beatles were a collective: four young men who shared their experience and produced their art together, 'a vision of self-sufficiency, interdependence, and shared ambition.' Along the way, we meet a vast array of musical and cultural influences. This is a book that deftly leaps from Max Weber and Daniel J. Boorstin to Little Richard and Chuck Berry. Gould places the Beatles within the context of the technological and cultural revolutions that both benefited and were stimulated by them. The advent of long-playing record albums, prime-time television entertainment shows and trans-Atlantic passenger jets — 'freshly minted products of the postwar world' — all made the Beatles not just a successful pop act but an international phenomenon. As Gould notes, the Beatles helped create a revolution in the way popular records were made and listened to, in the nature of songwriting and in the role that popular music played in people's lives. But their fundamental achievement was to pierce our hearts. They took the new sociological phenomenon called the teenager — a postwar population group with its own identity, sensibility and disposable income — and spoke to its angst and alienation. 'It was into this cloistered community of prematurely lost souls and lonely hearts,' Gould writes, 'that the Beatles burst, dispensing a fantasy that was made to be shared, turning the languid, self-pitying world of teenage romance inside out.' More than entertainers, the Beatles became icons, spokesmen and avatars, and at their best they did so with self-mocking wit, authority and grace. Gould delights in describing the brimming tension and squealy falsetto of 'Please Please Me,' the band's first No. 1 record. The explosive choral beginning of 'She Loves You,' he writes, 'created the feeling of plunging into the middle of a boisterous musical party that seemed to have been going on for some time.' And he revels in the band's growing creativity, likening the apocalyptic conclusion of 'A Day in the Life' to 'the sound in the ears of the high-wire artist as the ground rushes up from below.' Sometimes Gould gets carried away. Does the song 'A Hard Day's Night' really unfold, as Gould claims, 'like a pop-Freudian discourse on the themes of Work and Love""? A little of this goes a long way. For those who prefer to revisit the Beatles' story in all its guts and glory, Spitz is your man. For a highly entertaining review of each and every album, nothing surpasses Ian MacDonald's 'Revolution in the Head' (1994). But if you want to relive the upheaval that the group wrought, 'Can't Buy Me Love' offers a fresh vision that, like the Beatles, brims with energy, wit and charm. Glenn Frankel, who teaches in Stanford University's graduate journalism program, is The Washington Post's former London bureau chief." Reviewed by Glenn Frankel, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"[A] chronicle of four ambitious, charming, Elvis-worshipping friends whose bond was slowly torn apart by a variety of forces....Highly recommended." Library Journal
"Gould's combination group biography, cultural history, and musical criticism artfully places the Beatles in their time and social context while examining with great skill how they became an international phenomenon comparable only to themselves." Booklist
"Excels by providing what's been missing from many biographies: context." USA Today
"Excellent and engrossing....Gould has the two gifts essential to a critic-passionate expertise plus a bulletproof sense of humor — and his descriptions of the music are hilariously on target....Yet Gould also possesses that third essential gift: the capacity for awe." The Los Angeles Times
"Gould has written a scrupulous, witty and, at times, appropriately skeptical study, which drew me back into a subject I thought I was sick of." New York Times
In this dazzling work of biography, cultural history, and musical insight, Gould explores the 1960s in England and America through the prism of the Beatles.
About the Author
Jonathan Gould is a writer and a former professional musician who studied with the eminent jazz drummer Alan Dawson and spent many years working in bands and recording studios.
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