This is the story of the Beatles’ decade of fame, 1960 to 1970, but it is much more than that. It’s also the story of an era, and Brita Granström’s illustrations complement Mick Manning’s text perfectly. The picture of Paul’s 1950s bedroom, for example, looks austere and chilly, with its old-fashioned electric barred fire; you can tell that there’s no central heating. And I loved the drawing of the seedy Hamburg nightclub the boys played in, which reminded me of the German Expressionist painter, Georg Grosz.
As well as telling the story of the Fab Four’s rise to fame and fortune, there are also vignettes illuminating the period: Mary Quant fashions, for example; or explaining what an LP record was and how you played it. But we see more important things, too, from Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, to anti-Vietnam War demonstrations.
The Beatles looks at the very different talents of John, Paul, George and Ringo. George’s interest in Ravi Shankar’s sitar playing introduced Indian music to the group, for example. The group was not afraid to tackle the concerns of the time: Paul’s song “Eleanor Rigby” explores human loneliness, and “Back in the USSR” takes a satirical view of Soviet Russia.
At the end, there is a double timeline of the decade. The top line charts what was happening in the world: Kennedy’s assassination, the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S.A., the rise of the Swinging Sixties in Britain, Neil Armstrong walking on the moon and so on. Underneath is a timeline of the Beatles’ career showing how their various songs were influenced by what was going on at the time.
This book is a triumph; the melding of text and illustrations cannot be faulted. It makes a superb introduction to a study of the 1960s.