Last year saw the release of the lavish Let It Be box set. It celebrated the final Beatle LP, their swansong after a ten-year run as the biggest band in the world. The box set was accompanied by Peter Jackson’s extended 8-hour documentary Get Back, detailing the creation of the album. Despite the fact that Let It Be had been recorded more than a year earlier, its May 1970 release has forever seen it associated with the news that The Beatles were to continue no longer.
However, with an organisation as tight and complicated as The Beatles (along with their company Apple Records), things weren’t destined to just cleanly end for them overnight.
It would take until the close of 1974 before all four members had signed contracts dissolving their immense, famous and complex partnership.
This, argues author Terry Wilson, makes that period from 1970 to 1974 very much a “second phase” for the band. Despite each member pursuing solo careers technically they were still The Beatles. This continued on across a four year span. As individuals they were still very much tied together legally and financially. And they worked together collaboratively on many solo and other projects.
Wilson’s book is called Four Sides of the Circle. In it he details this often overlooked “second half” in the history of the band. It was an era of huge creativity and output. An era that gave us absolute standout releases like Lennon’s John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and Imagine LPs, McCartney’s RAM and Band on the Run, Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, and Starr’s Ringo, along with a myriad of other great and sometimes lesser-known songs and recordings.
These happened because band member collaborations continued in a variety of forms throughout this distinct “Phase II”. Their paths inevitably crossed both in and out of the studio despite the huge dissolution process looming over them.
Four Sides Of The Circle uses a very accessible song-by-song format, stepping through (in chronological order) all the formal recordings the individual Beatles made between1970-1974. It actually begins slightly earlier with John Lennon’s ‘Give Peace A Chance’ from June 1969, and concludes with Wings ‘Love In Song’, recorded in November, 1974. Every song – released and unreleased – has production details, recording location, who played what and (where applicable) the US and UK release dates. The song is then discussed by Wilson and critiqued with an appreciative eye. Each song is given a context with a clear emphasis on the music being made. This detailed and sequenced approach presents a true chronology of the period for the first time.
This is a book with something for even the most well-informed Beatle fan. Wilson is comprehensive and knowledgeable. There’s great detail here. In many ways he takes quite a scholarly approach – but the research never gets in the way of making Four Sides Of The Circle very readable. It finally completes the fascinating, long and winding story that was the Beatles. A story where – right to the last – they remained at the top of their game.
As Wilson writes on the final page of his book: “The legal conclusion of the Beatles technically occurred on 9 January 1975, when McCartney’s four-year-old case was settled, the completed paperwork having been sent back to London for the court to make its formal declaration. A cursory glance at the current edition of Billboard shows that on this day, Lennon was at 47 on the singles chart with ‘#9 Dream’; Harrison was at 16 with ‘Dark Horse’; Starr was at 7 with ‘Only You’ and McCartney was at 4 with ‘Junior’s Farm’. Appropriately, Lennon and McCartney were at number 1, courtesy of Elton John’s version of ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ on which Lennon sang and played.”
“They ended at the very top.”
Four Sides of the Circle is a great read and a fantastic reference book. Not only does it contain extensive background and historic notes on each song, in the appendices there’s a complete song list, record release details (complete with US and UK chart positions), a bibliography, and what we always like to see in books like this: an Index. It is the sort of book you can dip in and out of endlessly. Here’s the blurb on the rear cover:
At over 420 pages Four Sides of the Circle is very reasonably priced. You can find it on Amazon Australia, Amazon US and on the Amazon UK site as well. The US and UK sites also have a “Look Inside” feature so you can check out sections of the book in more detail. It will give you an idea of the format and content. You won’t be disappointed.