Alert
Close

Watch the NASCAR race on Sunday at the Pocono Raceway. Join the Drive to End Hunger!

Highlights

Open

FREE FUN!

AARP Games Tournament
AARP-iPad-ePub-app

FALL 2014 NATIONAL EVENT

Come to San Diego!

Sept. 4 - 6

Technology and Innovation

AARP TV

Watch episodes of AARP Live and other AARP broadcasts.

Most Popular

Viewed

Web-Exclusive Book Review

Can't Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, and America by Jonathan Gould

You thought you’d finished the Beatles reading on our syllabus, but here’s one more before the exam: Can’t Buy Me Love by author and musician Jonathan Gould. It took him years to write, will you take a look?

Though the Fab Four’s saga is nearly as familiar as the Nativity, Gould takes advantage of time elapsed since the major Beatle histories by Hunter Davies, Philip Norman, and Bob Spitz to paint a vivid portrait in three clear strands: the biographies, the music, and what he calls “the real outside story”—the social, cultural, and political context surrounding history’s most successful entertainment phenom.

Like the D minor 11th strum that ignites “A Hard Day’s Night,” Gould should strike a chord with the generation whose identification with Beatledom is second nature. He points perceptively to how Beatle haircuts reminded us of “storybook illustrations about the Middle Ages,” how the foursome’s “sense of unity and camaraderie” became a model for male bonding, and how “I Want to Hold Your Hand” entered the lives of us Johnny-come-lately Yanks between Christmas 1963 and New Year’s as a salve after all the mourning for JFK.

Be prepared for some highbrow analysis (Freud! Max Weber!) that interprets the psychology of female screaming and the subtleties of Britishisms. The mop-tops’ antics are set against cultural influences such as John Osborne’s mid-1950s play Look Back in Anger and the 1963 Profumo scandal. We learn of the northerners’ sense of inferiority stemming from the decline of Liverpool’s port and the wealthier snobs from England’s south. Gould deconstructs the Teddy boys, Mods, and rockers. By the time of the real ’60s hippies, Gould writes, the “Beatles had come to personify an ethic of collective nonconformity that took the loneliness out of rebellion and linked the activist and hedonist wings of the counterculture.”

In recounting postwar Britain’s fascination with America, Gould provides such gems as exactly how the teenage Beatles would have known Eddie Cochran’s song “Twenty Flight Rock.” (They saw the film The Girl Can’t Help It.)

We are reminded that the early Beatles valued their baptism by fire in Hamburg not just because Germans found them exotic but because the nightly gigs were “far from doubts of their families and the disbelief of their friends” back home. News flash: their confidence would grow. Gould observes that the Beatles liked to read about themselves in the papers, but “their self-esteem was largely invested elsewhere, in the idea of themselves as musicians and performers, not show-business celebrities.”

In analyzing the songs, Gould spends too many words describing what is best apprehended by ear. And he’s a purist about preserving the album sequences as released in England, panning the American slice-and-diced creation Yesterday and Today as “the most seriously compromised version of the Parlophone product that Capitol would ever release.” (What about the catch-up album Hey Jude, which mixes Beatlemania-era cuts with psychedelia?)

But Gould is insightful. He describes John and Paul jointly singing lead on “She Loves You” as “the editorial we.” And he traces lyrics to the fact that John wrote from drugged-up isolation in his suburban mansion while Paul lived in hip central London. The snippets that were woven into the Abbey Road medley would have been, in earlier years, worked up into full songs—had John and Paul been on speaking terms. We all have our least favorite Beatle offerings: Gould is pretty tough on “Till There Was You,” “Mr. Moonlight,” and “It’s Only Love.”

He is a phrasemaker. Ed Sullivan introduces the group looking like the “world’s most nervous substitute teacher,” and the disembodied radio voice on “Revolution No. 9” is a “cosmic bingo caller.”

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts

Processing

Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.

AARP Bookstore

Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Regal Cinemas movie theater

Members can save $3 on soda + popcorn combos at Regal Cinemas. Restrictions apply.

Tanger Outlets

Members can get a free Tanger Coupon Book with discount offers from top brand names.

Live Nation

Members save 25% or more when buying tickets in groups of four from Ticketmaster.

Member Benefits

Join or renew today! Members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.