Way before they were fab
The Beatles, All These Years, Vol. 1
By Mark Lewisohn
Reviewed by Dan DeLuca
Does the world really need another Beatles book?
It does. In fact, it needs three more, starting with this first volume of Mark Lewisohn's Tune In, which runs to 803 pages of text, not counting copious notes, and ends in December 1962, well before The Ed Sullivan Show is a glimmer in John, Paul, George, and Ringo's eye.
What makes Tune In a wonderful read is that Lewisohn - who already has seven other Beatles books he's written or cowritten under his belt - is not only a prodigious researcher, proficient at pulling off scoops 50-plus years down the long, winding, and extremely well-traveled road. (Such as: For a short time in 1958, the pre-Ringo trio played gigs as "Japage 3," pronounced "Jaypage," with a J for John, Pa for Paul and Ge for George.)
But along with the admirable digging, Lewisohn is a fine writer. He both expertly places the Beatles in the context of their times, and - this is the hard part - makes them come alive as real people on the page that we feel we're getting to know for the first time.
The book moves quickly, packed with winning detail. Where all the band members were when they first heard Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel," for instance, or George losing his virginity in a Hamburg attic apartment they shared - while the others were in the room. "After I finished, they all applauded and cheered," he remembered later. "At least they kept quiet while I was doing it."
Of course, Tune In is not for casual fans. But casual fans have scores of other accounts to go to. Lewisohn takes the wide view more common with political titans such as Winston Churchill or Lyndon Johnson. His subjects are without a doubt worthy of his close reading, and turn out to have secrets to be revealed at this late date.
It'll be a challenge for Lewisohn to render the story as compellingly in subsequent volumes, when the band led their lives in plain sight. But Vol. 1 of Tune In finds the four Beatles to be so freshly fun and fascinating that this reader is sorely tempted to spring for the "author's cut" of the book, available only as an import from the United Kingdom. At 1,700 pages, that version figures to be more than twice as good.