THE BEATLES - Tune In Continued

The first ‘new’ post I wrote for this blog on New Year’s Day was about All These Years, Volume 1 – Tune In, Mark Lewisohn’s monumental Beatles biography, the de lux edition of which was underneath our Christmas tree. I have now reached page 1,416 with a couple of hundred or so to go. They have just released ‘Love Me Do’ and it’s time for a catch up.

Imagine, if you will, that when Henry Ford invented the motor car his creation was rejected by the transport industry. “How on earth can a vehicle move without being towed by a horse?” they asked. “Go back to where you came from and take your motor car with you. Motor car! Whoever heard of such a thing?”
            So Henry took his car back to where he came from and continued to develop the idea, perfecting it and exhibiting it only to a small group of converts who watched him driving around and marvelled at his ingenuity. His band of local admirers grew and grew but each time he tried again to interest the transport industry he was rebuffed until, by a strange quirk of fate, someone who’d fallen out of favour in that industry was charged with investigating Henry’s invention. Then, suddenly, everyone wanted one.
            Now substitute John Lennon for Henry Ford, The Beatles for motor car and George Martin for the man who’d fallen out of favour.

That might sound like an absurd analogy but of all the many insights into the pre-fame Beatles that Tune In is revealing to me, the one that strikes me most forcibly is the music industry’s inability to see the future when it was staring them in the face. It’s all very well saying that hindsight leads me to this conclusion but there is still something very disturbing about this aspect of their story. Up to the middle of 1962 no rock’n’roll group in the world – not that there were many of them – was anywhere near as experienced as The Beatles, and by experienced I mean no group anywhere had played together for so long or so often. Although Ringo was absent for much of this time (but still clocking up similar mileage elsewhere), they played the Cavern 292 times in all and were on stage for well over 1,000 hours in Hamburg. Neither had any act unsigned by a record company gathered a fan following such as The Beatles had on Merseyside, a following numbering into the thousands by mid-1962, many them members of a well organised fan club, all accumulated purely on the strength of their live performances in the region.
Recording artists, always hitherto unknown, were ‘launched’ by record companies, always had been. There was no precedent for a pop act that didn’t need ‘launching’, that already had fans galore. Neither was there any precedent for an act that wrote and sang its own songs and provided its own instrumental backing. Record label A&R men supplied artists with songs written by professional songwriters and the artists were told to sing them whether they liked them or not, and the backing was provided by session musicians employed for the purpose. Everyone knew that. And everyone also knew that pop music was rubbish, of no lasting value, delivered by no-talent puppets created within the industry by means of worthless gimmicks before being jettisoned into obscurity, along with the disposable records they’d made, everyone bar the artist making a fast buck along the way. The pop music industry was run by spivs selling tat.
            The Beatles changed all this but it took a colossal effort on their and manager Brian Epstein’s part to do so, like changing the course of an ocean liner really, and the day-to-day reportage of that effort is for me the most remarkable aspect of Tune In – how they got to be a recording act and the hoops they had to pass through to reach that point. Because they were the first, because they led the charge, the going was so much harder for them than anyone else and nowhere is it explained in as much fascinating detail as within these pages. In this respect the first volume of Tune In becomes a history of the recording industry in the UK up to 1962 seen from the point of view of The Beatles and Epstein, and a damning indictment of that industry it is too.
More on Tune In when I’ve reached the final page…


mrgroove said...

I feel the same way as you about the Lewisohn book regarding how the music business in the UK viewed the Beatles in 1962 and later by Capitol Records in the states in 1963. Lewisohn's narrative on this uphill battle for recognition and respectability perfectly illustrates why Tune In is so essential. I have read dozens of bios, books and thousands of articles on the fabs through the years and not one of them have ever adequately layed out in painstaking real time how the meteoric rise of the group can more accurately be described as a baby-step or two forward with steps backward and then more baby-steps until Love Me Do started making small waves in late 1962. If I were to sum up Tune In in one blurb it would be, "1963 didn't happen overnight".

PBF said...

Can you tell me if the additional material found in the expanded edition is woven through both books or contained entirely in the second volume? I'm hoping it will be released here in the U.S.

Chris Charlesworth said...

It's woven in entirely as one long linear narrative through both volumes. This is a limited edition which I believe has sold out in the UK but you can buy it on kindle at a reasonable price.

Ian Gordon Craig said...

Whilst I agree with the basic sentiments of your post, I don’t really see what was so surprising about the “music industry’s inability to see the future when it was staring them in the face”. After all, and as you rightly go on to point out, the music industry wasn’t run by anyone who had any knowledge, understanding, or even passion for the subject. It was run by, to quote you again, “spivs selling tat.” Whether it be John Kennedy for Tommy Steele, or Larry Parnes for his Eager Wilde Fury –ous boys, their formula was simple: A trip to the ladies’ hair salon and a shiny suit, all cultivating the appearance of a boy doll of indistinct gender or sexual orientation. To such entrepreneurs anyone with original talent and attitude would have been an anathema. Readymade audiences in “the North” would have been of little appeal, and too much like hard work, compared to the quick buck of a single manipulated appearance at the London Palladium and the resultant press.

This was the era of “the Bobbies”: Rydell, Vee, Vinton, all those puppets which, in Jerry Lee Lewis’s words, the Beatles cut down like so much wheat before a sickle. The Beatles were good for music, but, for a brief moment in time, they destroyed the plastic side of the industry. It won’t be allowed to happen again. Too many people lost too much money when originality, talent, and “art” broke through the door. Tom Watkins, Louis Walsh, Simon Cowell, (I could go on), are never going to let their empire perish. And maybe they’re right. Looking back I sometimes think the likes of the Beatles, Bowie, Ian Curtis, were maybe an aberration on the clean machine face of teenage music. I’m of an age where youngsters say to me “It must have been great in the sixties”. Well yes, if you liked a steady diet of Herman’s Hermits, Freddie and the Dreamers, Billy J Kramer, Engelbert Humperdink, I suppose it was.

Absolutely loved Mark Lewisohn’s book (extended edition). New revelations abound. The real surprise for me (especially in context with the above), was Dick James. Whilst I’ve always taken everything Lennon ever said with a pinch of salt, I had assumed McCartney’s grievances at getting “50% of 50%” well founded. However, as made clearer in the book, James was giving away an absolute fortune and could have simply taken them for everything (as others surely would).

Enjoying your blog, which I’ve only just discovered. Keep up the fine work.

Chris Charlesworth said...

Thanks Ian. Good points well made.