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April 26, 2017

Book Notes - Rob Sheffield "Dreaming the Beatles"

Dreaming the Beatles

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Rob Sheffield's Dreaming the Beatles is an insightful and often personal look at why the band's music has endured over the past 50 years.


In his own words, here is Rob Sheffield's Book Notes music playlist for his book Dreaming the Beatles:



The world's romance with the Beatles has been raging for over fifty years now—yet it's stronger than ever. John, Paul, George and Ringo have never been more famous or popular or influential than they are right now, a half-century after they broke up. That's the story I wanted to follow in Dreaming the Beatles: The Love Story of One Band and the Whole World—I wanted to write a book that's not about the Sixties, but about the Beatles now and why they matter in our moment. How did four nowhere boys from Liverpool come up with the greatest songs ever heard? And after they split, how did they just keep getting bigger? These are a few of my favorite songs from the Beatles' long weird saga—the music that makes us all come together.


The Beatles, "You're Gonna Lose That Girl" (1965)
Never a hit, but one of my first favorites—I was a little kid watching the movie Help! on Channel 56, five years old, transfixed by all these insane sounds the boys were making. Those bongos. That guitar twang. Those vocal harmonies. That moment opened up holes in my heart that are still there.


The Beatles, "I Want To Hold Your Hand" (1963)
The song that conquered America—yet there's nothing the least bit dated or nostalgic about it. It sounds like urgent, primal, girl-crazy rock & roll, a room full of lads holding nothing back, because they're on fire with the need to get their feelings across to this dream girl. I have hundreds of favorite moments in this song, but my favoritest is how John's voice cracks in half when he's howling that second-to-last "haaaaaaaand."


The Beatles, "I Saw Her Standing There" (1963)
They had to cut their whole debut album in one day, in February 1963, and this was the first tune they banged out that morning—you can hear that John and Paul woke up with winter colds. (John's stuffy nose honks even louder in the second song they cut, "There's a Place.") Imagine being Paul McCartney and starting your morning with that "1-2-3-4!" shout, knowing you have one make-or-break chance to conquer the world in one day. Thirteen hours later, John rips out whatever's left of his vocal cords for "Twist a Shout," and their album is officially finished. What the Beatles achieved that day changed everything since.


The Beatles, "Girl" (1965)
Rubber Soul will always be my favorite Beatle album—the most soulful vocals, the realest emotions, the bitchiest sneers, the heartiest laughs. The fact that they had to bash it out at warp speed—they wrote half the songs in a week—just loosened them up. Catch me in the right mood and I'll even defend "Michelle"—I love the bass solo, and how you hear in John's guitar that he's just a couple of days away from writing "Girl," a love song where he admits he can't figure this woman out at all because she's miles ahead of him. I still can't imagine a 24-year-old guy wrote "Girl."


The Left Banke, "Walk Away Renee" (1966)
One of the best Beatles songs that the Beatles never wrote. So many brainy young aesthetes in the 1960s got smitten with the quest to reinvent themselves as Paul McCartney—the Left Banke's Michael Brown got closer than most. "Walk Away Renee" would have been one of the highlights on Revolver—except it isn't on Revolver, because Paul didn't write it. I love so many Left Banke songs ("I've Got Something On My Mind," "Pretty Ballerina") but this is rightly their most famous.


The Beatles, "Dear Prudence" (1968)
Paul is on the drums—because Ringo just quit the band, storming out on the fractious White Album sessions. (He rejoined the band two weeks later.) It's one of their loveliest, most placid and playful songs, an invitation to come out and play in the sunshine—but they recorded it in the middle of a crisis. Listening to how these troubled boys pour their hearts into "Dear Prudence"—not knowing if Ringo will ever come back, not knowing if the band will survive or collapse, not knowing if life as they know it is over forever—that's so inspiring to me. But also a little scary.


Aretha Franklin, "The Long And Winding Road" (1970)
This has to be the most any Beatle cover version has improved on the original. I never got this song until I heard Aretha sing it, on her album Young, Gifted and Black. I always dismissed "The Long and Winding Road" as Paul at his slushiest—but it was Aretha's version that made me hear all the weary pain and stoic rage in the song.


George Harrison, "Give Me Love" (1973)
My wife is madly in love with George—she only has eyes for him. (She calls him "the Goth Beatle.") It's amazing how such a shy boy was able to surf the mad chaos of the Beatle years and make such beautiful music out of it, like this one—a Number One hit and a mystical prayer to Krishna.


Paul McCartney, "With A Little Luck" (1978)
Another Number One hit from the weird Seventies solo wilderness years. Paul didn't just make a yacht-rock hit—he actually recorded this song *on a yacht*. Respect! I've always loved how smooooothed out this is—it makes "We Can Work It Out" sound like "Gimme Shelter."


The Beatles, "Rain" (1966)
Some people think Ringo was just a clod who could barely play the drums. These people are not necessary evil…but they are so, so wrong. I am ardently pro-Ringo and for me this song is proof of how brilliance as a drummer. It's psychedelic, cynical, hilarious, serene, sarcastic—and that's all just in the drums. Hail Ringo!


John Lennon, "I'm Stepping Out" (1984)
One of my favorite John songs is one that came out four years after he was killed—"I'm Stepping Out," where he sings about being a househusband who's been cooped up in the house too long, changing the diapers and watching Sesame Street. He's getting dressed up to go hit the town and blow off some steam for a night. He sounds giddy with delight.


The Beatles, "Getting Better" (1967)
Last week I went to Abbey Road in London to listen to the outtakes from the Sgt Pepper sessions, which will finally get released this summer in the fiftieth-anniversary box. It was so astounding to hear all the alternate takes—they were just buzzing with ideas and energy. I love the first take of "Getting Better"—Paul on Wurlitzer, sounding mean and aggressive. The album version goes for a completely different sound, with jangling power-pop guitar. It's a tribute to how much imagination these guys had—dropping these ideas behind them like crumbs, but always surging ahead to the next one.


Rob Sheffield and Dreaming the Beatles links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Austin American-Statesman review
USA Today review

KTRS interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

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