Is This The Best Beatles Book Ever?

Did John Lennon really urinate on nuns? Consult Mark Lewisohn’s All These Years: Volume One: Tune In – the last word on the birth of the group.

Is This The Best Beatles Book Ever?

Book Review: The Beatles – All These Years: Volume One: Tune In


Mark Lewisohn


--------------------------------------------- THOUGH THEY’LL PROBABLY never rival Jesus in terms of shelf space, for as long as there’s a publishing industry, there will always be books on The Beatles. And the one they’ll always come back to, the Bible of the beat to which all others defer, will be this one.

That might seem a bold claim, especially given that Tune In is only the first in a three-volume series, and ends in December 1962 with the band staring up at the big time. But at 840 pages (an ‘author’s cut’ due in November is more than twice the length), it’s an epic that is unprecedented in rock’n’roll biography, one that sits more happily in the forensic tradition of Boswell than of truth-trashing Hollywood. Seemingly no witness, yellowing document or foul smell – “Little Richard didn’t care for the way John farted" – has been overlooked, and a further 60 pages of footnotes attest to Lewisohn’s diligence. And it’s a great read.

“Little Richard didn’t care for the way John farted.”

For a story that’s been recounted so many times, Tune In does far more than enrich with mind-boggling detail. There’s a surprise on every page, a revelation in every second chapter. The lie is put to several supposedly key events in Beatles history. The infamous tug-of-love scene in Blackpool, where five-year-old John Lennon is forced to choose between his mother and father, didn’t happen. Neither Decca’s rejection of The Beatles, nor EMI’s signing, were as straightforward as we’ve been led to believe. The suggestion that Brian Epstein bought 10,000 copies of Love Me Do to hype it into the chart wasn’t true. And whoever heard of John, Paul and George’s short-lived trio Japage 3?

Dispelling myths and inaccuracies will raise eyebrows. But it’s the week-by-week and, after 1957 when the pace picks up, virtually hour-by-hour unfolding of a phenomenon, where the subtleties and contradictions of character compete with Liverpool, Hamburg and the ever-changing fads of fashion and pop, that’s the book's real achievement. The detail is sharp and incisive. There’s pet-loving Lennon gazing up at Brigitte Bardot on his bedroom ceiling; frog-impaling Paul with Little Richard trapped inside his puppy fat; George with his “razor-sharp slowness”; and Ringo (or ‘Richy’), his head full of comics and cowboys when it wasn't lying on a hospital pillow.

Volume 1 of Mark Lewisohn’s super-scholarly trilogy. Don’t worry – it’s much better than it looks.

For all the new light that’s cast here, nothing alters the view that Lennon was the driving force. If anything, this “lone ranger… always flat broke and on the scrounge” emerges even more dominant than previously assumed. By contrast, Paul’s doe-eyed reputation takes a knock. Arch rival Stu Sutcliffe writes home that “everyone hates him”, and there’s a pile-up of “I liked Paul but I wasn't big on him” asides. That all four Beatles displayed a ruthless streak is evidenced in the ousting of Pete Best, a drawn-out process that makes for painful reading.

The book itself, though, is every Beatle fan’s dream. And for once, we can be sure that virtually everything in here probably happened – even Ringo losing his virginity at the funfair at the same moment that future friend Paul was going home alone. It’s that kind of book, where want-to-know and need-to-know is wrapped into a narrative that unfolds brilliantly and for once, justifies that “real story of The Beatles” billing.


Gallery: Rare & Unseen Beatles photographs from Mark Lewisohn’s book, 1960-1962

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What We’ve Learnt…

• Prior to their meeting at the Woolton church fete in July 1957, John and Paul may have first met outside a newsagents called Abba.

• John, Paul and George were better known as Lennie, Macca and Hazza in their Quarry Men days.

• John didn’t piss on nuns from a balcony in Hamburg. But stories that he hit the Star Club stage with a toilet-seat round his neck are true.


The Beatles – All These Years: Volume One: Tune In is out on Thursday, October 10.