Continuing on the theme of recent Christmas and birthday gifts which have added to our ever-growing Beatles collection….
A very welcome birthday present was a copy of Hunter Davies’ new book The Beatles Lyrics – The Unseen Story Behind Their Music. This came out late last year and we’ve been keen to get our hands on it since. It joins his very good The John Lennon Letters from 2012. Davies is a prolific writer on many topics and is of course the first authorised biographer of the Beatles.
Davies makes the point in his introduction to The Beatles Lyrics that the work of the Beatles has been analysed ad nauseam – that is apart from the lyrics themselves. And so he set himself the task of tracking down as many original, hand-written examples of the songs as he could and then to use those to give new insights and background to each song. It makes for a fascinating read.
This Irish Times review sums it up well (and is worth reading in full): The result of these endeavours is a treasure of a book, a forensic, song-by-song exploration of the band’s creative process. Each set of lyrics is given a context by the author: the story or inspiration behind them, where and when they were written and what the band was doing at the time. Alongside these he produces John, Paul, George and Ringo’s first handwritten expression of the song, usually scribbled but occasionally spelled out in painstaking capitals, on scraps of paper, unpaid bills, hotel notepaper or whatever happened to be at hand when inspiration struck.
There’s another great review here.
As well as lots of insights, facts and information about each song there’s a wealth of visual content to pour over. Davies has painstakingly tracked down 100 original manuscripts from collections around the world. Most private collectors were happy to have their treasures included, but for security reasons (these items are now incredibly valuable) just about all of them wished to remain anonymous. The result is that we get to see gathered together for the first time a huge number of reproduced examples of the Beatles songs in their original form – jotted down on any bits of paper they had to hand. Here are three examples. The first from Lennon/McCartney (which was also artistically illustrated with felt pen by Paul McCartney at the time):
A song from the hand of George Harrison:
And finally – an example from Ringo Starr:
As Davies says: “At last Ringo had done it – composed his first Beatles song…..”
You can hear an interview with Hunter Davies on Australian radio by ABC Radio National’s Fran Kelly from October, 2014:
In the US the book has a different coloured cover:
I got this book for Christmas, and I must say that it has quickly become one of my favourite Beatles books! I’ve always enjoyed Davies’ writing style, and with ‘The John Lennon Letters’ being pretty much the first Beatley book I read, what did I have to lose… My favourite manuscript would be that of ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ (in Mal Evans’ hand). As a musician, I found the time-signature notation particularly interesting.
I made a video about The Beatles Handwritten Lyrics
Great write-up, and also thank you for the kind words and linkback to my review. This is indeed a fantastic book and essential for any serious Beatles fan. Who could have known how valuable and magical these scraps of scribbled down lines and sketches of songs and fragments would be back when they were written? Along with Davies’ Lennon Letters book, these are two of the best new Beatles books in a long time…invaluable!