Boyfriend’s on a roll. Fresh from his success of his last post being amongst the most read on this blog and the original Other Stories, John has been sounding off about one of his least favourite music publications: The Beatles Complete Scores. Over to John…
There have been many books written about The Beatles, some very good, some indifferent and some, like the tome in question here, very bad. That there are so many is understandable; love them or loathe them, their influence on popular music and late 20th Century culture was considerable. These books have been written from several different perspectives; some are biographies of the band and of individual members, some are detailed studio diaries, some are musical critiques and some were simply written to cash in a particular author’s sometimes tenuous association with the Beatles phenomenon.
The most recent of these books is Philip Norman’s biography of John Lennon, by all accounts an exhaustive and impressive work. Mark Lewisohn is currently working on a huge, multi-volume biography of the band, which should be interesting as Lewisohn is somewhat of an expert on all things Beatle related, having already put together a book on their complete recording sessions some years ago.
One thing which has not yet been done satisfactorily, and which the subject of this piece purports to be, is a collection of accurate transcriptions of what The Beatles played on their recordings. I find this strange when, even 39 years after they broke up, their music is still being studied by amateur enthusiasts and professional musicologists alike as well as music students. There are Beatles music books, of course, but many of them are simplified for only piano or guitar or are just chord books, and none of them are particularly accurate.
And so to The Beatles Complete Scores. I first saw this book in shops in the mid ‘90s and even a cursory look threw its cover claim of ‘full transcriptions from the original recordings’ into question. I figured that if I was going to criticise something it should at least be with some authority, so I bought a second hand copy on eBay for £10, and I grudged paying that much! Obviously not everything in it is wrong, but there are so many mistakes, big and small, that it’s difficult to know where to begin.
Some of the more obvious examples are the acoustic guitar parts for ‘Michelle’ and ‘Nowhere Man’, both of which are played using capos, but the transcriptions here are written without capos and, as a result, the chord voicings shown are awkward and much more difficult than the actual parts on the recordings. Piano parts for some of The Beatles’ more iconic songs like ‘Let it Be’, ‘The Long and Winding Road’ ‘Lady Madonna’ are fairly wide of the mark, but the parts for ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Lady Madonna’ are both transcribed an octave higher than played. Another major gripe is the fact that Sir George Martin’s groundbreaking orchestrations for songs like ‘A Day in the Life’ and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ are reduced to a single cursory stave marked ‘strings’ or ‘brass section’.
The Beatles have always been underestimated as musicians. While none of them were virtuosos by any manner of means, they were all inventive, thoughtful players who, for the most part, played exactly what was appropriate for whatever song they were working on. They were also great ensemble players, able to work out an arrangement quickly in the studio before committing it to tape. As individual musicians they were all influential to their peers and to subsequent generations of players.
I think it’s long past due that there were definitive transcriptions of these recordings and of George Martin’s arrangements, which are virtual blueprints for how to arrange orchestral instruments for a rock band. Doing this would almost certainly mean having access to the original multitrack tapes and to Sir George’s manuscript scores and, as he’s had access to the recordings previously, perhaps this could be another project for the estimable Mark Lewisohn.