Review: The Beatles Anthology [Book Review]

For more than thirty-five years, the Beatles have credited their musical success to the long hours they spent playing in Hamburg, before they were discovered by Brian Epstein and then the rest of the world. Now it’s the official story: The Beatles Anthology (367 pp. Chronicle Books $60), the group’s collective ‘autobiography’ published October 5th, describes how their musical apprenticeship served on the Reeperbahn produced the sound that defined the 1960s and, arguably, popular music ever since. Told through the words of surviving band members Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, supplemented by extensive culling of old interviews with John Lennon, the history of the band is recounted from its beginnings as the Quarrymen in 1957 to the final acrimonious breakup in 1970. Like the television series and CD-sets to which it is a companion, Anthology is meant to be a picture of their life as a band from the inside—what it was like “in the eye of the hurricane,” as McCartney puts it. To hear the Beatles tell it, the seven-hour sets in Hamburg under pressure to “make a show” and bring in customers transformed their music, so much so that when they returned to England after their first stint in Hamburg, the world had its first taste of Beatlemania. Billed as “The Beatles—Direct from Hamburg!”, when they began playing in the Litherland Town Hall in Liverpool (27 December 1960), for the first time the crowd spontaneously rushed the stage in the frenzy that would become familiar in the succeeding years.
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