‘One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time’ by Craig Brown

2020, 628 p.

I am a sucker for anything about the Beatles, even though I’m sure that every interview has been reported and combed over and every possible angle explored. Books, documentaries, podcasts – I’ll consume them all. But, enjoyable enough though it was, I really don’t know if the week that it took me to read this huge tome was really well spent.

The book takes a chronological approach, from the earliest days of playing together and goes through to their last performance on the roof of the building in London. It is written as a series of short chapters – 150 of them – some a few pages in length, some only taking up a page.

There are little vignettes that he repeats throughout the text. For example, he writes present-tense descriptions of various parties held over the years that the Beatles were together, where he names who was there, the drugs consumed, the ‘vibe’. As they accumulate, you sense the increasing lack of control as the Beatles and their hangers-on descend into a vortex of jealousy, unhappiness and irresponsibility.

The references are all at the back, and there are many of them, but what is more interesting is the footnotes which become increasingly florid as the book continues. Many of his anecdotes involve unknown people, whose ‘celebrity’ is only revealed in the footnote, and you do get a sense that this is a little microcosm of people who know people.

Some of the chapters are quite quirky- e.g. the list in Chapter 97 of the figures on the cover of Sgt. Peppers (e.g. Dr David Livingston, Oscar Wilde, Aldous Huxley, Lenny Bruce, Stephen Crane the author) and those who were dropped (Mahatma Ghandhi because of pressure from the head of EMI; Leo Gorcey the actor who wanted $400 for his images; and Hitler and Jesus Christ, both requested by John but dropped because too controversial). There are interviews with people who saw his concerts (the Ruby Wax one is really funny), rehashed interviews with the Beatles themselves, and quirky stories. Black and white photographs appear in the chapter to which they apply, which I much prefer to an insert where all the photographs are grouped together. The ending of the book is interesting. He finishes with Brian Epstein, and tells the story backwards, highlighting the many ‘what-if’ paths that could have been taken along the way.

Some of the chapters are autobiographical, where the author talks about his own experience of the Beatles, and his rather dyspeptic current-day excursions to tourist ‘attractions’ in Liverpool. Some chapters are counterfactuals e.g. a chapter where he posits Gerry and the Pacemakers becoming the big thing of the 1960s, with the Beatles just lowly support acts. Other chapters are about things only tangentially related, that occurred at the same time. I must confess that I was hoping for something a little more analytic and dare I say ‘historical’, but this was not the book to bring me either of those things.

My rating: 7/10

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library

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