The Beatles, or more specifically John Lennon and Paul McCartney, are arguably the greatest — or at least the most celebrated — songwriting team of our generation. There are others; Holland-Dozier and Leiber-Stoller spring to mind, but they pale compared to the output of the lads from Liverpool.
A Hard Day’s Write: The Stories Behind Every Beatles Song breaks apart every song written by the Beatles and explores the impetus and motivations behind each song. After a brief introduction, the book follows a chronological layout, beginning with an overview of each album, and then each song in the original running order of the LP. Interspersed throughout is fantastic photography from each period. It is a real strength of the book, allowing the reader to follow the growth of the band and its songwriting, or jump from album to album, focusing on favorite songs and back again. It’s a real pleasure to read. Additionally, author Steve Turner provides where the song’s musical inspiration and influences might have come from and incidental information of both the writing and recording of the song, providing crucial context.
The early stuff is dominated by girls and love — “Love Me Do” repeats the word "love" twenty-one times — and influenced by soul, R&B and Motown. As they developed their craft, the Beatles looked inward, writing more about their personal experiences and relationships. Lennon would write, and continue to write, from an insecure perspective: “I’m A Loser, “ “Nowhere Man,” “Help!” “Don’t Let Me Down” all deal with themes of inadequacy, loneliness and abandonment. Paul, ever the optimist, would deal with his romantic squabbles in his own positive way, with “Things We Said Today” and “We Can Work It Out.”
For me, the songwriting took a giant leap forward with Rubber Soul and would continue to grow until the dissolution of the band. Their worldliness, counter-culture involvement and social awareness (and subsequent chemically-fired imagination!) opened new doors to explore. And explore they did.
All of their famous muses are here: Peter Fonda (“She Said, She Said”), Mia Farrow’s sister (“Dear Prudence”), Julian Lennon (“Hey Jude”) and the Maharishi (“Sexy Sadie”) but it’s fun to hear the back-stories told reliably. Other more abstract tunes, such as “Tomorrow Never Knows” or “In My Life” will have you headed to your record collection to pore over anew after gaining new insight from Turner. How “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” came to be is every bit as weird, abstract and trippy as you think it is, with Lennon conjoining three unfinished songs into the psychedelic masterpiece. Likewise “Savoy Truffle”: who knew Eric Clapton was at the gooey center of this song? Only the story behind “Got To Get Your Into My Life” was a letdown to me; I’ll hold onto my interpretation(s) of that Motown raver.
Through it all, A Hard Day's Write gives you a sense of how each of the Beatles was able to take from their own lives, the daily newspapers, a snippet of conversation or overheard remark and fashion them into songs that have become part of our everyday landscape – the soundtrack to a generation. And that’s a pretty neat trick.
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