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Category:    Home > Reviews > Music Studies > Culture > Politics > Counterculture > History > Can’t Buy Me Love – The Beatles, Britain, and America (Book Review)

Can’t Buy Me Love – The Beatles, Britain, and America


Jonathan Gould/Harmony Books (Book Review)



Rating: A-



Though it is a half-century since the first meeting between John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the world and the world of music is still trying to catch up with the innovations and importance of The Beatles.  They remain the gold standard for what every band wants to achieve and if they knew the down side, might be better prepared to deal with.  Their re-releases still top the album charts, especially today with the music industry in flux, stuck on genres in decline (Hip Hop) and the reemergence of the worst possible processed, bubble-gum, pop-tart music, with its feigning of Soul an insult to us all.


In the last 40 years, many essays, books, reviews and analysis of The Beatles have been penned, but so many have been trite, lopsided, taken liberties with history as if the actual story was not amazing and some have just been of the chronological list nature that tend to miss plenty of key facts and moments.  Excluding reference books (Billboard chart information is purely factual, for instance) most texts, especially books, have counted on the reader bringing their excitement of Beatlemania with them.  That is why so many are out of print or in the discount bin.


Then, there are those books that are such key works that they not only cannot be ignored, they too can and should gather a reputation for excellence and a profound capturing of their subject.  Pop culture and newer music genres (starting with Rock) never get this respect, but The Beatles were one of the first that spawned attempts to try.  Most have failed, but this writer has been through most such text and I can say that outside of books authored by participants in the story (like George Martin’s amazing book on the making of Sgt. Pepper), Johnathan Gould’s Can’t Buy Me Love – The Beatles, Britain, and America (2007, Harmony Press) is one of the most definitive books on the subject that will ever be published and is as thorough as it is stunning, capturing tons and tons of moments, information, highlights, facts, influences, the people and the music in 600 pages that could have been 6,000 because they are such an outstanding read.


Sure, he could have gone into the 1,000s and wrote an encyclopedia, but this is the richest and closest any book with ever be written on The Beatles without it turning into that kind of volume.  The big difference is that it takes the time to tell us vital information other writers who would only stick with the “first-record-to-the-end” cycle would miss.


Instead, it begins with a prelude that would be where most lesser works would begin, the band’s arrival in the U.S. and something that has turned the band’s story into a shallow cliché.  By starting here, Gould immediately attacks the myth in subtle ways.  Instead of deconstructing the story in idiotic, shallow ways for the sake of doing so, he then goes back in the first chapter to the childhood of Rock N Roll, then moves on to the childhood of all four men.  That is a brilliant move.


Starting with Sam Phillips, Elvis Presley, the rise & importance of Sun Records and how it was the first permanent riff in the apartheid of “black” and “white” records, the book as a solid aside gives us a history of Rock music itself and after covering the birth, growth and lives of the band members who eventually would come together as The Beatles, adds cultural events on both sides of the Atlantic as Gould meticulously searches for the reasons why The Beatles were such a hit and why this was not restricted to one country.


Highly music literate, the account continues to show the rise of Rock, the rise of the next record company that could in Motown and the amusing story of how all the labels turned down The Beatles more than once not knowing what was going on.  Little Richard even turned them down, though that is one of the few items the book misses, neither confirming nor denying the event.


Gould also pulls no punches in dealing with racism, caste systems, snobbery, scandal, the after-effects of WWI or the assassination of JFK as major factors that The Beatles played on and against without trying.  They were just trying to make great music and soon, the innovations and results would take the record business and make it as important as the film industry all the way to its peak in the mid-1980s before the bottom slowly began to fall out as it continues to as you read this.


But the book never goes that far into the future, though its conclusion is as profound as all the other points made.  This is a book about people and character, individuals and their countries, the character of music and innovation, the character of a world that should strive for the best and still finds itself with man-made nightmares that should not be happening except for a certain few who benefit from the worse.


The Beatles story is so amazing because it is about how four men did what was the better and succeeded brilliantly, which more than ever makes certain conceited interests worried.  But mind you, this is not about an overtly political band, yet countries on both sides of the Cold War fence were threatened by their work that said the individual should live their life for the individual and this was form the music ands tone of the songs first as many countries where they were banned has populations who might not speak English!


In this, music fans and Beatles fans will lover the amazing detail about the writing, production, development and performance of every single song they every cut for release on an album in deep detail (extending to all film and TV projects) that is of such reference quality that serious music producers and engineers will consider this a must-own book.  As Gould demystifies the band and its work, a new magic is created showing the greatness of possibility as each gem comes to life and is decades ahead of everyone else.  There are other occasional innovations (Bob Dylan and The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, for example) the book takes on with its own thoroughness, but comes back to what they do next all the way to Abbey Road.


There are also the dealings with Capitol Records, the awkward establishment of Apple Corp. and those who tried to take advantage of them.  The book also shows that the band was in trouble long before Yoko Ono entered the picture.  Gould is highly complementary of the bands work, then when they start to run into artistic trouble, points out what he feels are lesser songs.  To his credit, the over explaining of each song may seem odd and awkward at first, but is really the only way to get to the heart of each song and he does this well to his advantage.


And that is just explaining the book.


Equally impressive is just what a great read the book is, something you don’t run into much in music, film or television books.  Can’t Buy Me Love is so engrossing that it does for The Beatles what Hammer Of The Gods did for Led Zeppelin in bringing the band’s life to life.  It is that great and especially impressive in both cases with one of the members gone before his time.


Like a good film, Can’t Buy Me Love the book is not just a book, it is an experience and if I had to name must-read/must-own books on the subjects covered, it would be in the Top Ten of all my lists.


Don’t miss one of the best music history books ever written!




For more on The Beatles, try these links:


The Beatles in “Help!” (1965/DVD)



All My Loving (Tony Palmer Documentary/DVD)



George Harrison – Living In A Material World (CD/DVD-Video Box Set)



George Harrison – A Beatle In Benton, Illinois



Imagine – John Lennon (Deluxe Edition DVD/1988 Documentary)



Inside John Lennon (2003 Documentary/DVD)



John Lennon – Imagine (Limited Edition Gold CD/Mobile Fidelity)



Paul McCartney In Red Square (Documentary/Concert/DVD)



The McCartney Years/“Space Within Us” Concert DVD/Memory Almost Full DVD/CD



The British Invasion – 1960s & 1970s Rarities




-   Nicholas Sheffo


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