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…