“Liverpool is the city where the River Mersey meets the Irish Sea. Because it is a seaport and the gateway to the Atlantic Ocean, it was a target and repeatedly pounded with bombs from Nazi war planes during World War II. As a result, more than ten thousand homes were destroyed. It was during an air attack on October 9, 1940, that John Winston Lennon was born. James Paul McCartney was born on June 18, 1942; George Harrison was born on February 25, 1943; Ringo Starr was born on July 7, 1940. All four Beatles were born during World War II, at a time when Liverpool was crumbling. John, Paul, George, and Ringo didn’t know that they would rise from the rubble, form a band, and become world wide superstars”. This is how the Beatles’ story starts, and how Brooke Halpin’s book wonderfully opens.

Brooke Halpin is a classically trained musician, award-winning composer, published author, and painter. He had the great fortune of meeting John Lennon and Yoko Ono at John’s thirty-first birthday party and on separate occasions met Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. He produces and hosts the weekly syndicated radio show Come Together with the Beatles, which airs on www.kbu.fm and www.wrockradio.com. Brooke has written The Everything Piano and Keyboards Book, the quiz book Do You Really Know The Beatles?, and A Magical Mystery Time, a novel based on a true story. As a composer, Brooke wrote the music to the Academy Award–winning film Molly’s Pilgrim, the PBS special More Than Broken Glass: Memories of Kristallnacht, and Rudolf Nureyev’s ballet Cristoforo for the Hungarian National Ballet Company. A recipient of a MacDowell Arts Colony fellowship, Brooke is a graduate of the California Institute of the Arts and the Hartford Conservatory of Music.

Brooke Halpin takes readers on a comprehensive tour behind the masterful instrumentation, timeless (yet sometimes mysterious) lyrics, and experimental recording techniques of the Beatles’ American releases from 1964 through 1970. Halpin explores the rock covers from which the four lads launched their careers; the original rock ‘n’ roll and love songs that fueled Beatlemania; the theatrical, psychedelic, world music, and orchestral elements which continually surprised audiences about the depths of the band’s talents, and the guest musicians whose contributions remain unknown to many listeners. Adding to the song analyses are personal vignettes to transport the reader back in time to experience the excitement of hearing the Beatles for the first time.

It was a real pleasure discovering Brooke Halpin’s “Experiencing The Beatles: A Listener’s Companion”. Released in 2017, it was the book I was searching for, for a long time now – a comprehensive study revealing all the stories behind the façade, the pieces of the puzzle that formed the “Fab” legend.

I was happy to discover this stunning collection of song stories, classified according to periods and albums, often completed by little anecdotes and funny facts.

The Beatles paved their way to stardom with covers – well-known hits like “Baby It’s You” or songs wrongly attributed to the Fab Four like the amazing “Twist and Shout”, empowered by Lennon’s hypnotic voice.

“Many people (including me) thought some of the songs that the Beatles covered were originals. After playing “Twist and Shout” with my band the Pandemoniums for two and a half years, we had the good fortune to back up the Isley Brothers. When we met with them before the concert to go over the play list, Ron Isley said that one of the songs they were going to perform was “Twist and Shout.” “Oh, we certainly know that one, ‘Twist and Shout’ by the Beatles,” I said. “The Beatles?” asked Ron.“Yeah, that’s their song,”I said knowingly. “Really? Actually, we recorded it before the Beatles did and it was our hit single in nineteen sixty-two,” replied Ron. It was an embarrassing moment, but it illustrated how strong the Beatles had made their imprint on“Twist and Shout” and other songs that they covered”, Brooke Halpin remembers.

In the first chapter, I was also thrilled to discover facts about songs I love, not the top-of-mind Beatles songs, but the little gems that I adore (often neglected in Beatles books) such as “‘Till There Was You” or “Mr. Moonlight”.

Moreover, in the following chapters, Brooke Halpin presents thoroughly each original Beatles song, including specifications about recordings, instrumentation, lyrics, and, of course, the savory anecdotes.

I love the way Halpin analyzes each detail and delves into each musical masterpiece. Here are some insights on one of my favourite songs: “When John sings “All I’ve Got to Do”, his crooning, sexy voice underscores the passionate desire to kiss. Written by John, the song begins with a soft, altered chord played by George. “All I’ve Got to Do” has a seductive nature that pulls you into the song. Paul and George sing background ahs and sing harmony on the song’s title and on the lyrics “You just gotta call on me.” During the verse fade-out, John hums the melody instead of singing lyrics. With the lyrics in this song, John makes it sound so easy. To get a kiss, all he has to do is make a phone call and whisper in her ear.”

Or here is an accurate background study on “Revolution 9”“Revolution 9” begins with a repetitive voice that says “number nine,” bouncing from left to right speakers with a faint piano playing in the background. John liked the sound of the “number nine” voice and brought it in and out of the mix at various times throughout the piece.It just so happens that the number 9 has a lot of relevance to John’s life. His birthday is October 9,1940; as a young boy, John lived at 9 Newcastle Road in the Waver tree section of Liverpool; Brian Epstein heard the Beatles for the first time at the Cavern Club in Liverpool on November 9, 1961; the Beatles performed on The Ed Sullivan Show for the first time on February 9, 1964; and John met Yoko at the Indica Gallery in London on November 9, 1966, where he first encountered her conceptual artwork.”

Another proof of Halpin’s exhaustive writing technique is the way he covered the outstanding “Across the Universe”: “Across the Universe,” written and sung by John, is a dreamy song with stream-of-consciousness lyrics. Inspired by John’s wife Cynthia rambling on and on about something, John came up with the lyrics “words are flowing out like endless wind.” Initially recorded and produced by George Martin in February 1968 before the Beatles went to India, the first version of “Across the Universe” appears as the first song on the compilation album Nothing’s Gonna Change Our World, a charity album benefiting the World Wildlife Fund (…). John plays acoustic guitar and electric guitar through a Leslie speaker, Paul and George sing background ahs, and Paul harmonizes with John on the Indian mantra words “jai guru deva om.” George plays a tambura, an Indian stringed droning instrument, and an electric wah-wah-sounding guitar. Paul supposedly plays piano, but it’s buried in the mix, and Ringo plays maracas. Two Beatles fans, Lizzie Bravo and Gayleen Pease, were invited in to the Abbey Road recording studio to sing with John on the words “nothing’s gonna change my world,” singing an octave higher than John. The second released version of the song is on the 1970 Let It Be album, produced by Phil Spector. Phil used the slower-speed recording and added a vocal choir and orchestral strings. He also eliminated all background voices, including Paul’s harmony and his piano track. Thus, Paul was eliminated from this version. In 2003 on the Let It Be . . . Naked album, a third version was released. This stripped-down “Across the Universe” features John singing solo and playing his acoustic guitar with George playing the tambura. Listening to the three different versions of “Across the Universe” reveals the differing arrangements and production techniques that occurred over the course of many years. In a 1970 Rolling Stone interview regarding “Across the Universe,” John said,“It’s one of the best lyrics I have ever written. In fact, it could be the best.” He was never completely satisfied with the 1968 recordings but thought that Phil Spector did a good job on the 1970 version.”

Halpin also includes in his book the Beatles’ TV appearances and iconic concerts, proving a deep understanding of the Beatlemania phenomenon. His meticulous research brings to light little stories which I’ve never heard before, such as the “jelly beans avalanche” – as I like to call it: “While performing their songs, some of the fans threw jelly beans at the Beatles. During a TV interview that George gave in England before the Beatles came to the United States, George said that he loved jelly babies, which are softer than the hard-coated American jelly beans. He would have preferred to have received them as a gift, but instead some fans brought jelly beans to the concert. Throwing them at the Beatles while they performed was distracting and potentially dangerous if a jelly bean had hit their eyes. When the Beatles started playing “Please Please Me,” George got stung by jelly beans by a girl sitting in the front row who flung them at the stage. Fortunately, the Beatles were facing the opposite audience so it was only George’s back that got hit.”

“Experiencing The Beatles: A Listener’s Companion” is a masterpiece itself, offering an accurate in-depth look at the timeless legacy of the eternal Beatles. It is so thoroughly documented, so carefully organised, so passionately written – a delight to read!

The book is available on Amazon.

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Categories: Reviews, The Beatles

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