The Beatles Lyrics – Hunter Davies

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.Beatles Lyrics coverBeatles Lyrics rear

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):Beatles Lyrics page2

A song from the hand of George Harrison:Beatles Lyrics page1

And finally – an example from Ringo Starr:Beatles Lyrics page3

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:

Beatles Lyrics US cover

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Beatles and Advertising

I wrote recently about Paul McCartney advertising for JBL and Tiffany. It’s not the first time he’s allowed his name and music to be associated with commercial products:

Its actually a tradition that goes way back – to the very start of Beatlemania:

George and John were clearly just fooling around back then – but you get the point. For a very long time, having your product associated with the Beatles in any way has been considered advantageous….

Next we move from the very old to a very modern, and much more tastefully designed, directed and edited commercial – with a soundtrack provided by you know who:

You gotta admit at least that was clever and stylish. Not so much this unfortunate one Ringo Starr got himself  (and some former Monkees) involved in a while back – for Pizza Hut:

I guess there’s a big difference between Beatles songs being used in a commercial and an actual personal endorsement – although the Ringo example had both…..

Turns out Beatle songs being used in advertising is much more frequent than you might first imagine. In 2007 for example “Hello Goodbye” was licensed for use by Target to promote its stores:

Back in 2002 Julian Lennon recorded “When I’m Sixty Four” specifically for a retirement investment ad for the US company Allstate:

That then raises the question of actual, original Beatle recordings being used, as opposed to re-recordings by anonymous studio musicians. Which is more offensive to you, if at all?

One famous example of a real, iconic Beatles song being used was provided by Nike in 1987, and it caused an absolute uproar:

“If it’s allowed to happen, every Beatles song ever recorded is going to be advertising women’s underwear and sausages. We’ve got to put a stop to it in order to set a precedent. Otherwise it’s going to be a free-for-all. It’s one thing when you’re dead, but we’re still around! They don’t have any respect for the fact that we wrote and recorded those songs, and it was our lives.” — George Harrison (November 1987)

It didn’t stop of course, and for many fans the ultimate insult came with “All You Need is…Luvs” – a commercial for disposable nappies…

And that’s not the only time that same, famous Beatles song has been used. Blackberry got in on the act with this one:

Of course, control over their song catalogue has long been out of the Beatles hands. They no longer own the rights and therefore have very little say in how songs they wrote might be used (although Paul McCartney does control all his subsequent solo work). That begs the question: are the surviving Beatles themselves ever consulted about which of their songs are used and how? The Independent newspaper says it is unclear if McCartney or Yoko Ono, John Lennon’s widow, approved use of “All You Need is Love” for the Blackberry commercial. It does however say that in 2008 Sony/ATV (owners of the catalogue) said it had a “moral obligation” to contact them before giving approving to such projects.

Ono herself has not been free of criticism. She apparently gave permission for an actor to overdub John Lennon’s voice on some archival footage which was turned into an advertisement for a Citroen car:

In May last year I posted on Beatlesblogger about the Australian city of Brisbane using “Come Together” to advertise what a great place Brisbane was after their big flood event. It looks like the organisers have since taken down their YouTube video of that commercial, probably because they only paid for the use of the song for a limited time.

The more you delve into this question of the Beatles and advertising the more examples you find. Maybe its best to just stop here before it gets too depressing….