- The Beatles: The Biography
Bob Spitz's massive 992-page The Beatles: The Biography is a significant addition to the 500 plus books already written on the Fab Four. At last, a Beatles biography where the information is sourced. There is new accountability which is essential when a reader is weighing accounts and their trustworthiness. Spitz conducted hundreds of new interviews for the book. To readers familiar with the Beatles story, there is an endless repetition among Beatles books. Spitz covers the familiar terrain but sheds new light on the story, dispelling old myths and adding key details that bring the events into greater focus. Much of the new information is tawdry (sex, drugs, and death), but the details bring home the point that apart from their public image and preference for Motown over delta blues, not much separated the Beatles from the Rolling Stones.
Spitz effectively synthesizes what has previously been published on the subject. There have been a lot of excellent books released since the last major Beatles biography including significant research by Keith Badman, Mark Lewisohn, Barry Miles, and of course, The Beatles Anthology.
Spitz's biography is a good read, but frustrating over all. It is much stronger in the first half which leads the reader from the band's humble beginnings to their first American visit. By the end of the book, it almost feels as if the author is rushing to complete a deadline. The final years are almost brushed off entirely. As long as the book is, I wish it were longer and divided into two volumes as Peter Guralnick did with his masterful Elvis biography (Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley [Boston: Little, Brown, 1994] and Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley [Boston: Little, Brown, 1999]). The Beatles story is a fascinating one worthy of an exhaustive examination. Spitz makes his disdain for Yoko Ono clear, laying the group's demise soundly at her feet.
Spitz lacks insight into the Beatles's musical development or creativity. He pulls together others' work without much flair. Despite the high creative crest the Beatles rode through the 1960s, Spitz imparts little sense of magic in the air. There are much better works for delving into the songs, which is unfortunate, because the music is likely the main reason we are interested in the Beatles at all. There are a number of obvious errors in the photo section of the book (e.g., "George, with Pattie Boyd, soon after they met on the set of Help!"), and presumably they will be corrected in a second edition.
Spitz's The Beatles is the most current Beatles biography on the market and if you have a small budget, may be the only one your library needs. It is an important link in the chain. It is my hope that a corrected version will appear soon, and it will ultimately be replaced by a more definitive work.