Book Review – The Beatles From A to Zed
Ever since I began reading books about my all-time favorite group, have searched out for those that didn’t exactly regurgitate the same stories. Or, if they did, added something new or took a different approach with dissecting The Lads and their impact. Harder than it looks as so many have taken on this subject with varying degrees of success and scope. This troublesome year made it doubly so as it’s more draining to the soul, especially for those who’ve lost loved ones since last January
At least when I gave in and selected one, it was to be a book with a perceived lighthearted title:
Needed something not voluminously downbeat like Peter Dogget’s blisteringly detailed, You Never Give Me Your Money. Hell, even Beatles ’66 by Stever Turner or Kenneth Womack’s Solid State had an edge to them, and I didn’t wish to snag on anything too salient or stony. Not this year. Besides the uncomplicated title, guess I gravitated to it because of the author. Peter Asher being one half of the Peter and Gordon duo that came to our shores, with you-know-who, in the first British Invasion.
Turned out it was just the right tonic to buoy my resolve.
Asher’s book grew out of and was a natural extension of his SiriusXM radio program, “From Me to You”, on their The Beatles Channel, which I had heard of but was not a subscriber to1.
“I grew up in musical household, so in some ways it is not surprising that I gravitatted to the world of music and recordings.”
“There are people who are serious Beatles experts and scholars and write giant books with giant indexes, and I am not one of those people. I just offer my personal insights into the music and recollections of the time when I was lucky to be around and to be part of so many interesting events and to spend time with such remarkable people.”
Taking a page out of Sesame Street, Asher’s book gives each letter a go with a decidedly personal take at The Beatles. Not necessarily covering their songs in alphabetical order — A to Zed famously leaves “A Day in the Life”, “A Hard Day’s Night”, or “All You Need is Love” out of Chapter A — it’s more an idiosyncratic look at what he says was, “…their music, their history, their influences, their legacy.” Must confess, at first this was off-putting as a reader as I found myself pre-anticipating much.
And being way, way off.
John Lennon would also come by to collaborate on songs.
Yet, the author’s unusual ordering of songs, plus their connections to other totally unforeseen subjects, and always in a personal way, is precisely why it grew on me. That inherent “insider” aspect, learning early on that Paul McCartney lived for a short time at his parent’s home with him and got advance inkling to what was coming, is at the heart of it. You can’t help but want to take more spoonful’s of it. Plus, the delivery’s charm lay as his later music client states on the book’s back cover:
“I love Peter’s music comments and the way he winds the stories into the songs. His voice is so authentically present that it’s like having a conversation with him. I want to listen to all these songs again with this book on my lap. ~ Linda Ronstadt
And that’s exactly what I found myself doing. Would head to my LP collection and play a specific Beatles track over a couple of times as I re-read the section that intrigued this listener. Now, have I done that before with a book about these artists? Admittedly, yes. Save, this time Peter Asher made it a little more fresh. Hard to do given that I’ve listened to the material so many times since 1964 when I was age 10. Hell, re-played Help! (Capitol’s version of the soundtrack) when I began writing this.
Asher imbues his recollections with his musical upbringing, which is why I gravitated to that particular album. That, and he gave, “You’re Going to Lose That Girl”, a nice callout:
“One of the most brilliant things about this song is the way the Beatles put the chords together to get in and out of the bridge.”
“Yet then the bridge leaps from the F-sharp minor of the chorus into a world of major chords, travelling via a D major in the key of G major for a solid eight bars as the singers declares with absolute certainty, “I’ll make point of taking her away from you.””
A to Zed‘s has many of those moments, which is the book’s strength. The criticism of the tome seems to center on the author interjecting too many other artists — many of his music clients he later managed like James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, and others — into what’s supposed to be a Beatles reminiscence. It can be a tad too meandering. Found it odd, I admit, but got use to it since the tangents lay directly from either Peter’s memory or the influence of the Fab Four with those cited.
Am I too forgiving? Perhaps, however that would be because the author is clearly a fan of The Beatles with his sentiments like those reading his book. That connection absolves much of the nitpicking.
The other backbone of the book lay with its treatment of the four individuals that made up the group. Asher goes out of his way to give each equal treatment and praise. The Lennon-McCartney catalog of songs can be overwhelming, causing us to linger with the pair if you just stick to that litany. George and Ringo2 songs are scattered sparsely on their albums so Asher expanded his review of the foursome’s list of song with their post-Beatles work.
Again, not everyone sought that out, still it was a nice touch. Especially since it reflected Asher’s continuing experience with each member through the decades. Would I recommend the book? The answer is yes, if you know what you’re getting into. That broadness even comprised a bit on Phil Spector (YMMV). The book also includes some new and vintage photos (with illustration credits), a good Index, and thankfully, a Chapter Playlist. Ultimately, it did achieve what I’d hoped for.
To get my mind off what’s troubled it.
The Beatles From A to Zed also released by Audible in audiobook format the same day of publication. Clocking in at a fast-paced 9 hours 2 minutes in length, it brought another aspect to Peter Asher’s proceedings. Now, it must be said I’m normally not a fan of the authors reading their own work. While they can bring a unique emphasis to the words they themselves crafted, non-voice professionals can lead to less than stirring results for audiobook listeners.
Thankfully, Peter being behind the mike for his SiriusXM program, and a singer by profession, that vocal naturalness lent his narration a certain radio-esque intonation. Not one that would work for this format normally, on the contrary here it brought about a familiar quality that heightened the listener’s participation. However, if you’re already a “From Me to You”-regular, this might not mean much. Still, it made a fun ride for this audiobook audit.
Finally, his enthusiasm for the material offered it a good rhythm, and hook, for this former Pop AM radio-obsessed teenager long removed from the medium. It did not come off as a rote reading, even if it covered material Peter Asher has long made a partial living at. Gleaming portions of his memorial palace and piecing them out to those who come to worship frequently at The Beatles altar, if I’m being honest. And as long as we have breath, know we will keep coming back for more.
- Paying for radio one of those things this senior citizen finds hard to do given being raised during the Sixties when analog AM was king. ↩
- Sir Richard Starkey getting more here than in other books I’ve read, which brought a smile since many of his contributions, as a drummer and as simply a good person, brought the group stability. ↩
3 Responses to “Book Review – The Beatles From A to Zed”
This is a book I know I will love – terrific writeup!
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Thank you, John. I think you will enjoy it. 🙂
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[…] read other such compilations before, the most recent being Peter Asher’s The Beatles From A to Zed, which also went beyond The Lads split up. No surprise, whether you’re a fan, a music critic, […]