This was a letter I sent to Michael Tan, an associate editor at Rowman and Littlefield, at the end of last year.
How are you, sir? I had a book project I'm looking to do, and I thought you were the man to bring it to. It's something I want to do with celerity--writing it all on the next several months--which would be formidable work in and of itself, and also a money-maker. My work has appeared just about everywhere: The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Harper's, The Guardian, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, LA Times, The Wall Street Journal, and so forth. I'm the author of eight books to date and I give many interviews as a guest on radio programs and podcasts.
A number of people know me for a number of different things, but I have a very large following for my Beatles writings, which are typically discussed as works of prose art themselves. I say things about the Beatles no one else does, and am generally thought to have a different kind of insight. My work in this arena garners much discussion and sharing, and I'm badgered--though I welcome it in this case--at my website for when the first Beatles book of mine will come out.
No one writes about them as I do. There will be a big Beatles op-ed by me in the New York Post on New Year's Eve, about the Star Club recordings, which speaks I think, to how I take something so specific and open it up to all readers, in this instance, on the opinion pages of the fifth highest circulation newspaper in the country. Here's a link to a section on my site of some Beatles-based writings. I also give hundreds of interviews about the band, on NPR and the like.
Here's what I'm thinking and this is my secret weapon of a book that will knock Beatles conversation and studies on their collective head. It's what I've been thinking for some time, but then I saw the U2 book you folks did, and this seemed all the more of a logical landing spot.
There is a misguided tendency to overvalue the Beatles' recordings from 1967 on, and pay little attention to their early work. One simple explanation is that radio has long featured the former. It's Sgt. Pepper that plays as we drive in cars, and "Here Comes the Sun" and tracks from the White Album. Then of course we had the likes of the Get Back docu-series.
I've written about the Beatles professionally going back over two decades. I've mulled them and their output since I was a mid-teenager, when I'd kill time in my head by ranking their albums, their best concerts, their best radio sessions, their best demos, their best first takes. And now here at forty-seven, I am of the belief that they never made a finer record than A Hard Day's Night, the only Beatles LP comprised entirely of Lennon-McCartney originals.
Energy is the rarest component in the arts. A value of a work of art, and it's quality, is in direct proportion, I believe, to its quotient of energy. Energy doesn't mean shoutiness, it's not some volume thing. Joyce's Ulysses has great energy, Beethoven's late string quartets have great energy, a Joseph Cornell box has great energy, Citizen Kane has great energy. But I've never encountered a work of art that radiates energy more fully than A Hard Day's Night. Its songs were as invent as anything this duo ever wrote, and completely remade the possibilities of popular music. "A Day in the Life" from Sgt. Pepper is an inversion of "A Hard Day's Night." The earlier song was the blueprint. The crucial chord begins rather than ends the number, Lennon interpolates a key line under McCartney's phrasing the same as he does when he returns for the final version of the Pepper song.
The second side of the record deals in the domestic, whereas the first side is a clarion call to the world. There's an interiority here that anticipates "Strawberry Fields Forever," that may have been more Dylanesque than Dylan was, paradoxically, at the time.
Lennon's voice changed much after A Hard Day's Night. He didn't become a worse singer, but he became a different one. His is the perfect rock and roll voice on this record, and it's also the Beatles' lone perfect artistic statement. Sometimes when we have a perfect work, it's because it risks less; but A Hard Day's Night is constant risk that pays off sans fail.
I've written a book about Sam Cooke's Live at the Harlem Square Club for the 33 1/3 series, which I did in fifteen days, and that book was entirely about the album but also more than the album; the Civil Rights Movement, Cooke's unique brand of soul, how the in-concert set let to the writing of America's most consequential song, along with Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit," in "A Change Is Gonna Come." When compelling narrative pairs with unique analysis, we have potent results. I also write widely about film, and did a book on 1951's Scrooge as the ultimate horror film.
What I want to do in this book with you is a combined Hard Day's Night venture: both record and film. I was supposed to do a book about the film for the BFI, but they changed from one editorial staff to another--moving from England to the States--and some projects ended up in limbo. The person in the States seems to have a disdainful view of anything that might be popular or have resonance in popular culture, as if a Richard Lester picture--and the finest rock and roll film ever made, and a sort of arthouse venture in its way at the same time--was slumming it.
There has never been a good book about the film. There has never been a good book about the record. The film and the record pair wonderfully well. We have the Beatles authority that many people turn to, who also tells stories that feature in the likes of a Harper's and a VQR. We have the film person. We have a big hole in the market, and also people looking to buy a Beatles book from this writer.
I have written often on the album and the film. You can find anything you want, pretty, pertaining to me and the Beatles online. That's why I'm forgoing the typical process, perhaps, and also because I think I have a very different and proven track record from the norm with the press. What I've done says a lot about what I am about to do. And I know there's not much in the way of an advance at the press, but I believe I'd be making that up on the royalties.
So we could have something big here. Given the go-ahead, I'd be looking to have this book done in the first half of the year. As I went, I'd show you chapters. One of the cool things about a project like this is you give people a new way to experience something they think they know everything about. But they're not really listening, and they're not really looking. We become passive, and we parrot what those around us--and on Twitter--are saying.
For instance, you'll see some Twitter poll about what the best Beatles album is, or their best single, and it's the same old, same old, every time. There is nothing like the early Beatles. If you look at my career, you'll see that I'm an expert on many subjects, and range is a thing of mine; but even still, I know nothing like what this band was in 1964. The Beatles had two apogees; Pepper was the second, but A Hard Day's Night--album and film--was the first. I find that first apogee--to slightly mix metaphors--more emblematic of their brilliance. And I find that it has greater cultural utility, too.
I'll tell the story of these joint projects, look at the script, the demos, the outtakes, the inventions, the live versions, the compositional process, the changes from what the Beatles had been. The year before they created no less than a debut for the ages, a sophomore LP that is the definitive statement of British rhythm and blues, and the singles "She Loves You" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand"--but beginning in January 1964, in a Paris hotel room on what was a dire trip for the band to the city of love, something different began to happen as Paul McCartney wrote "Can't Buy Me Love."
The song had a long ways to go, but in a short temporal stretch, for the Beatles always had an alchemical relationship with time. Beatles time is not regular time. The first take of "Can't Buy Me Love," for instance, was a country and western sort of affair. And we will sit with John Lennon in his home in the middle of night, as he sings the earliest version of "If I Fell"--which may be the coldest song of that decade, and one of the most psychologically illuminating, for all of the token rigamarole about it being a love song--into a tape recorder.
So. Just wanted to get this off to you in the dying moment of 2022. Wishing you all the best for 2023.
This was his response:
Happy New Year! Thank you for reaching out. I think this is a fantastic idea, and I’m certainly interested in this for the R&L list.
Before proceeding further, I do want to let you know that R&L doesn’t offer large, five figure advances against future royalties, so if that’s a dealbreaker, I’m understanding. That said, we’ll certainly offer an advance for the work, and I’m happy to talk about this further.
In order for me to consider the project, you’ll need to create a book proposal and submit that to me. I’ve attached a proposal guide form here.
Please let me know if there are any questions, and I hope we get to work on this project together this coming year.
This is what I said back:
Greetings, sir, sorry for the delay. Have been writing like mad in the first few days of the year--about 30,000 words' worth--and am only properly going through my inbox today.
Let me dig in and get you what you need on the A Hard Day's Night front. This is a project that I've had earmarked/underlined/highlighted for a long time, and I'm anxious to tackle it.
Will be back to you soon, and I hope your year is off to a great start.
This week, I provided the necessary information. This was the accompanying email:
How have you been? Attached is that information you requested.
Here, too, is a new op-ed on the Beatles from the New York Post, and also a new feature in The Smart Set that at least featured the Beatles enough such that they were used for the illustration. I'll be giving a half hour radio interview next week about the 585-minute session that the Beatles undertook on February 11, 1963, which produced a key number, incidentally, that helped pave the road to A Hard Day's Night.
Hope all is well with you.
You can see that requested information below, along with the form Tan had sent me. I leave that for you to check out after. My side of it is lengthy--thorough--and I don't want to get away from the meat of the matter. What I wrote in response to the prompts of the form will speak for itself, besides. Here was Tan's response to the requested information that I had sent back to him:
I hope you are doing well too and thank you for submitting this.
You have a fantastic book idea, but this proposal in its current form still needs polishing. I want to make a good first impression for the R&L editorial board and my music board, and right now, this proposal is too informal. However, you did provide almost all of the information needed for a good proposal, so this really just needs more refinement.
Can you please polish this proposal? I’d like this to be more concise (5 - 6 pages), and the quality of the proposal should be reflective of the quality of the finished manuscript. I understand that things will be in flux as you go along. However, I will also need you to provide a tentative table of contents with chapter subjects or chapter titles. Reviewers will be commenting on the overall book’s organization, so this is hugely important for my purposes.
Additionally, can you add a few links to Beatles articles in this proposal? I want to make sure folks who look at the proposal also see some of your Beatles articles.
I enjoyed reading your proposal, and I look forward to reading the finished version. Let me know if there are any questions.
Here's what I said. Now: How does one object to this? It's all axiomatic, yes? It's all true. It's all definitive. It's inarguable. So: what is the problem here? I am not the problem here. In the few instances when you are not dealing with bigots, you are dealing with incompetent people at joke operations. When you deal with bigots, you're dealing with incompetent people as well. There is virtually no one in this entire industry who approaches any level of competence and sanity. Seriously? What is untrue here? You had someone unfit for their job trying to play grown-up editor with me. You want to talk the book business? Okay--we can talk the book business. I have no malice towards this person. I don't think they're a bad person. But at the same time, everything in this letter is plainly true.
Michael, you seem like a really nice man. I mean that. I'll spell out my concerns. I hope that doesn't rankle you. It's not my intention.
You sent me that very informal prompt of various points. That was a red flag to me. The language is so informal, childish, even, that it suggests that this isn't a venue that's serious about selling books. It is itself informal, though what I wrote you wasn't informal at all. It was thorough. Exacting.
I saw a press that features writers who haven't done much and mostly, if not entirely, writers who never will. And that form you sent me reflected this in the language. I just read it aloud to a few people; they were taken aback by the simplicity. They laughed. And sighed in exasperation. I'm not trying to be a jerk to you. But it reads like something you'd present to people who maybe wanted to try and write a book later in life. Amateurs. It doesn't really fit what I do, or the level I do anything at, or where I am in my career. That's another thing--here is a writer who has published thousands of works in basically every venue there is, and every venue of significance; pretty much actually every single one. You don't get writers like that. They never cross your threshold. Not that there is anyone like this writer. You get the guy who does the psychobabble blog, which I know about simply because I know about all of these things, not because it's someone's "platform." Or people in other walks of life. Look, for instance, at Take a Sad Song. The subtitle is The Emotional Currency of "Hey Jude." That's bad. So: this music board and the board of the press can't recognize that? But I'd be turned down, perhaps, based on what I shared with you?
But, I wanted to do this book, and have it come out for next year, and this seemed like a straight shot. You have soft cover books retailing for thirty bucks. That is a bad business model. You don't have that business model because you think it's best; you have it because you don't sell books, and you need to make up for that by raising the prices beyond what people are willing to pay for books.
That tells me that here's a press that ordinarily isn't on the ball when it comes to moving product. It exists for other reasons. Then I'm looking at very generic, not well-designed covers. Homemade, almost. So this is going on as you're talking to me--and talking down to me, really--about various boards, like there are these ace teams in place. But that's not what it is, is it? It's just people finding ways to justify their job. To collect the paycheck. It's not about what will sell, or doing the best job, or marketing, or anything like that.
I was very thorough in giving you the information you needed, as someone, too, who is completely different than any other author at your press, with a totally different track record and visibility. Further: with a truly galvanizing, apple-cart overturning, major book. We can both go through those bios of the other writers, and neither of us will recognize the name of most of the venues cited. The U2 guy? This is just obvious. Put his bio next to mine. And look at the summary of his book on your web page: It's flat. Boring. Typical. Nothing stands out. The language is flat. What qualifies him at all, anyway? Nothing. There's nothing there. But that satisfied the requirements? That passed muster with two boards? Why? Because it was bland, because a quota has to be met? And he was happy to be there, I'm sure. He's not a professional writer. That's not me being cruel. That's reality.
I have a highly detailed site. It even has a Beatles section. So when you then ask me to provide links, like everyone can't go to the site--you or these various boards--and help is needed with this that tells me these are not serious book publishers. Or it's another thing that tells me that. Because that's helplessness.
That you also said the writing wasn't up to par with what is expected for this press...ugh. What I suspect you meant is something else, because the writing is the writing and it's obviously, even in that response to your form, what it is. I can put that on my blog, say what you said about it, and that's not going to be a good look for you. But okay, given the bold lettering, it maybe looks informal. That's the format that you folks have, though. The writing itself wasn't loosey-goosey or slipshod; I don't have that in me.
But I see an editor--an associate editor with limited power, who really could make a nice splash for himself here with an excellent "get"--speaking to me of not just one but two boards--so much red tape to screw up a unique opportunity, and grind on, putting out mediocre titles from mediocre people that won't sell; with no one seeming to know what they're doing, or what opportunity is, and not just looking at that gift horse in the mouth, but blowing an obvious opportunity; well, then I readily understand what is happening. That's a bad situation. I had a major reservation when I saw that form you sent me a few weeks ago. That form is Romper Room, my friend. It's totally inappropriate here. What I ultimately sensed this would be for me is a fools errand of immense proportions, for no money, no point, with people who just aren't good at their jobs and moving books. And then some dismissal with a maddening, facile excuse. Which would only end up on my blog anyway, and make you and the press look foolish, and after I had wasted my time and energy.
Why would I subject myself to that? You don't seem like a bad guy, but this was risible. The press doesn't come across as a serious operation.
Again: Go to their site and look at their books. Amateur hour. Look at that cover of the aforesaid Take a Sad Song. How wretched is that? That terrible image isn't even McCartney during the Beatles years. And my God, that subtitle. The author writes for Aquarian Weekly--I am not making this up, you can see it for yourself--and Dog Door Cultural. Yeah. Those sound great. What fucking hell am I in? Seriously? What on earth did I do in another life to be dealing with nothing but this? In the best scenario. And you know? Dzanc is worse. I've pretty much had it with keeping that a secret. I am at the end of my tether with that person over there. Be competent, don't be a bigot, or go up on this blog.
You want to play shop and play bookseller? Okay. Let's get real, then. What do you say to that? It's all true. It's basic. It's obvious. Here is the form Tan had provided me, with the information I provided entered into the form. We are talking completely different levels of competence. Why was I even here? Because of the situation. Everyone who reads this journal knows that situation. Everyone knows the person in that situation is at zero fault. This is how this industry works. And a guy like this at a press like this? These people are simple, basic, visionless. They don't know how to do their jobs. And their jobs don't exist to select the best books, to reach the most readers, to get the most money. None of that has anything to do with anything in publishing. By the way: this was all for a grand. Go through this with this guy, write an entire book, get one thousand bucks. At a place where they don't sell the books. Are bad at selling books. Don't even have a realistic price point in place. Have books that look bad. And believe me: I know exactly how this would have ended. It was being set up to fail before it could even start. And look at this idea, this information, this plan, the back cover text, etc.
ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD BOOK PROPOSAL OUTLINE
1. Why is the book needed? Who will want to buy it and why? How is it different from other books on the same topic (what’s unique about your idea)?
Put simply and precisely, there has never been a Beatles book like this one on many fronts. The approach to the Beatles themselves has become lazy and predictable as the years go on. There’s an emphasis on the recordings made from 1967—when Sgt. Pepper was released—to the end of their career.
There are a number of reasons for that. Classic rock radio has much to do with it, and then productions like the Netflix Get Back docu-series (which I wrote on for both The Daily Beast and The Wall Street Journal). These latter period Beatles are seen (erroneously) as edgier. It’s a form of recency bias, in a way. Ironically, the pre-Rubber Soul work—meaning before the end of December 1965—has been consigned to a different category that doesn’t get visited that often.
As someone recognized as a leading Beatles expert in the world, and the Beatles expert whose work has appeared in the most, and the most varied venues, I’ve long harbored a belief that there has never been an artistic force like the early Beatles, who reached their apex as artists and shapers of the zeitgeist in 1964, with A Hard Day’s Night. Bob Dylan was driving down the road once when he had to pull over upon hearing those songs from 1964, because he’d never experienced such radical songsmithing. They changed his life in that moment; he put aside folk songs, and picked up an electric guitar.
No one has ever looked at the Beatles from this vantage point, making an argument that inverts the Beatles script, so to speak; a radical argument, based in truth, which will be born out in the text of the book, that changes how we experience and think about the Beatles.
A Hard Day’s Night is an album—the only Beatles LP comprised of songs written exclusively by John Lennon and Paul McCartney—and it’s also a film. They go together, they inform each other, and this book is about both. There has never been an authoritative book on A Hard Day’s Night the movie, which is a classic of British cinema. Talk about a need.
One of the reasons for that, I think, is we don’t have anyone who knows the Beatles well enough, and film itself well enough. I am a leading authority on each subject, known for my writings on each, with a vast record of thousands of pieces written about both subjects and many interviews given on radio programs and podcasts, plus music books and film books.
The album changed how rock and roll songs are written and recorded. How rock and roll is played. How the studio is used. What was unthinkable became permissible. A Hard Day’s Night the film is unclassifiable. It changed what a rock and roll film could be. It’s comedy, travelogue, surrealistic picture, day-in-the-life road picture, musical, buddy film, last instance of Kitchen Sink Realism, and a harbinger of psychedelia and the “anything is possible” attitude that was to define the best art of the 1960s, and, I’d say, the best art of any era.
Nor is this just a book for Beatles people, be they relative newcomers or hardcore Beatles people. That’s what I do and I’m known for—I bring everyone in. Usually when one reads a piece about Beethoven, say, the appeal is only to those who are already into Beethoven. Others get left behind. Not when I write a piece about Beethoven or Beatles or baseball. I have a rule: no reader left behind. If you have the ideas, if you have the gripping story, if you move from your subject to the universal, if you write at the level of both art and entertainment, people will find themselves in your work. That will locate practical application. Discover utility.
That’s what the Beatles themselves did—they moved from the personal to the universal and back again, and they really began doing that—and did it best—with A Hard Day’s Night. The record is of a consistent piece, but it has distinct halves. That second half is darker, more introspective, and it points the way to Rubber Soul—another album, like A Hard Day’s Night, with a very strong John Lennon quotient—and “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “A Day in the Life.”
This connection has never been made. And there is so much to explore with that linkage.
There are no books like this on the Beatles. That’s how much it differs. I have a large following for my writings on the band, which appear far and wide, and I even write op-eds on them frequently in the highest circulation newspapers in this country, where we otherwise never find that kind of op-ed. I’m the only one doing that. It’s just not done, save in this case, because that’s the kind of immediacy and relevance I always bring to this subject.
When I take a look at Beatles Facebook groups, I often see my work being discussed—and with passion. I’m often approached about when my Beatles book will be coming out. I’m looked to on this subject, is how I’d put it. I’m a commodity that represents certain things. There are many people who discuss my Beatles-based work as writing that is itself art and literature, in addition to making the arguments that no one else does, with a knowledge that no one else has. People are waiting for this book. They will buy it.
People want to buy things that are new about the Beatles. The breakdown of the books coming out, and that have been coming out, is thus: They repeat what everyone knows. They’re glorified coffee table books. Or, they center on minutiae; the company, for instance, that made George Harrison’s guitars in the second half of 1965. They’re very limited in scope. Or they’re gossip (yawn). Or they’re personal musings. “What the Beatles meant to me.” That kind of thing.
They’re not for readers, to give them a new experience, to blow their minds, to get them to react. To agree vociferously, to disagree vociferously. To think, to feel, to come away with new ideas in the head, and to be excited all over again about listening to this music they love.
2. Imagine that your book is in our next catalog. Begin with a title that captures the tone and spirit of your book. What would the ideal catalog / website description be, in 2 – 3 short paragraphs? Emphasize special features or sections using bullets where appropriate.
I’m going to be thorough here, if that’s okay; this would be for the back of the book, too.
Giving You Everything: A Hard Day’s Night and the Artistic Zenith of the Beatles by Colin Fleming
Sgt. Pepper. Revolver. Rubber Soul. Abbey Road. The White Album.
Call them the accepted vaunted album masterpieces by the Beatles. Beloved. Acclaimed.
But they were not the Beatles at their absolute best, nor do they represent the apex of their abilities as purveyors of entertainment, shapers of the zeitgeist, and masters of their own formidable, timeless art.
In this bold, bracing, exciting new book—a Beatles book unlike any other—noted Beatles authority Colin Fleming shows us why the Beatles were never better, never more important, never more vital than with A Hard Day’s Night the album, the true masterpiece of their career, while also exploring and extolling the unique cinematic masterwork of the same name.
Get ready to have your Beatles script flipped as new light gets shone in passage ways too rarely explored, for all manner of reasons that need not remain in place.
In this landmark work, Colin Fleming delves into the world of skiffle, the writing sessions, the sense of competition, the home recordings, the BBC radio appearances, the studio sessions, the early history of rock films, the scripts, the cinematography, the demos, the live shows, and perhaps the most important friendship of the twentieth century in revealing what makes A Hard Day’s Night the album and film what they are.
No one thinks about the Beatles like Fleming. And certainly no one writes about them like he does.
Giving You Everything: A Hard Day’s Night and the Artistic Zenith of the Beatles is the Beatles book we need. A blast of unique, Beatles-based truth, testimony, power, and a thrilling, illuminating flight to the actual toppermost of the Poppermost for Beatles newcomers, hardcore fans, music fans in general, and admirers of literature.
3. Identify titles on the same topic published in the last 5-7 years. These will be your book’s competition. Can you give us a sentence or two that would make us want to publish your book even though those are out there?
I covered this above, somewhat, but I think that holds; no one is doing a book like this, no one is advancing this kind of idea, no one is giving A Hard Day’s Night the album and the film the analysis and approbation they merit, no one is telling the story of how they came to be, no one is putting forward an idea that drops Beatles-based thinking on its mop-topped head. This book changes things. It makes a case for something no one else has made. I don’t make it glibly, as a contrarian, or for any other reason than I believe it to be true, and believe it can be shown for what it is.
4. May we have a 1-3 paragraph biographical statement about you written in the third person? Emphasize your education and experience that’s relevant to this book topic. Please include other articles or books you’ve published related to this topic. The point here is to position you as an expert in this area.
Colin Fleming’s fiction and nonfiction has appeared in The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, The Guardian, Harper’s, Sports Illustrated, Vanity Fair, The Washington Post, and many other publications. His op-eds run regularly in The New York Times, the New York Daily News, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, and others.
He’s the author of eight books to date, including various books of fiction, an entry in the 33 1/3 series on Sam Cooke’s Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963, and a volume positing 1951’s Scrooge as the ultimate horror film. He’s given hundreds of interviews on assorted subjects as a guest on many radio programs and podcasts.
He is known and revered for his writings on the Beatles, which have appeared in dozens of venues, and led to the start of his career in radio with NPR.
5. Are there promotional activities that you plan to do for the book, such as author events or speaking engagements? Please include your social media platforms and personal or professional websites, if any.
I will give many radio interviews, and at length. It was a Beatles feature in The Atlantic, that got me started with radio and began my association with NPR. They even have me write their scripts for what they’d say in our segments. Also, I worked for Rolling Stone for ten years, and have been their go-to Beatles person. One of my editors there blurbed a story collection of mine, and we’ll see about running an excerpt with them.
My website is colinfleminglit.com. On that website, there is even a separate section for my Beatles writings, though not all of them. Others are located in the op-ed section, and there are probably 100 or so interviews about them featured in the on air section of the site.
I do have Twitter, and because of what I do and where I do it, they gave me that blue checkmark, but I am not especially active there. I tend to think it’s not good for a person. I’ll also be giving a talk at Harvard in conjunction with the book and screening of A Hard Day’s Night the film—I had previously given one there about Orson Welles for The Magnificent Ambersons—and I’ll also be doing some readings at the major bookstores in my career—my area being Boston, so these are the “big” stops on reading tours—and more opportunities will present themselves, and I’ll do them all. I’m not here to say, “Wowie! A book!” and have that be that. I’m here to reach people with the book, to get the book to people. I want it to sell, and I want me, and you, to make money.
6. Please let us have a tentative table of contents. Please include page number estimates for each chapter. Please also include for each chapter an estimated number of photographs, figures, tables, or other graphic elements you think you would want to include in the chapter.
This is going to be in flux as I go along, but if you need something more exact in the meantime, I can also provide that. I’m looking at 60,000 words for the book. Call it minus 5,000 words, and plus 15,000. For wiggle room.
The first chapter will set a tone, a spirit, and look at two key moments, one pertaining to the album, the other film, and the crucial concept of energy. I believe that the quality of a work of art is in direct correlation to the energy it contains.
Energy isn’t shouting and a rah-rah factor. It’s much refined and sophisticated. But there is great energy in Citizen Kane (A Hard Day’s Night the movie was deemed the Citizen Kane of the jukebox), Moby-Dick, Leaves of Grass, Charlie Parker’s 1945 sides. For us, we start with the first ever take in the studio of “A Hard Day’s Night” and also the fire escape sequence of “Can’t Buy Me Love” in the film. And we’re off.
Other chapters will discuss the road to A Hard Day’s Night the record. We will travel back to the McCartney family bathroom—for real—where McCartney and Lennon recorded themselves in 1960 performing songs that show the first aspects of this later music.
We will look at skiffle. A Hard Day’s Night is the only Beatles album with an evident skiffle influence, and the film also extends this idea, which we’ll also get into.
Then we’ll look at the Beatles’ first two albums. They are very far afield from A Hard Day’s Night, but they also set up that third record. There will be an in-depth examination of “There’s a Place,” the most A Hard Day’s Night-like pre-A Hard Day’s Night song, a work of intense interiority that was the first grown-up rock and roll composition.
Then we come to a chapter that gets us into the formal start of the album. Things happened fast for the Beatles. In December 1963, they were performing at the Empire in Liverpool. They were not a global band yet. At that concert—which we’ll get into—they made jokes about their time at the Cavern Club. They were still the hometown band. In January 1964, they play in Paris. The Parisians didn’t like them at all. McCartney writes “Can’t Buy Me Love,” and we’re off into this new world.
I should stop and say that I will be telling the stories about all of these songs, going behind the scenes, exploring recordings that most people don’t know. For instance, there are demos I have of Lennon alone in his house, late at night, playing “If I Fell” in its earliest iteration to himself. They reveal so much. “Can’t Buy Me Love” began as a country and western tune. Country and Western was huge for the Beatles, specifically their guitar sound, and C&W music was integral to what A Hard Day’s Night became, though that’s never discussed. Or, I should say, integral to the transition the Beatles made to becoming unique artists. For they really left influence behind, paradoxically by how they first absorbed it.
We get a chapter on a BBC session in which the Beatles took on their heroes—by covering their songs—and “won.” Showed that they could do a rhythm and blues number better than someone like Arthur Alexander, who was a god-like figure to them, and Elvis, too. They played “There’s a Place” alongside covers by those giants, and that’s when the Beatles knew they could “hang” as writers. Crucial for A Hard Day’s Night.
The next few chapters follow a timeline, as album project and nascent film project begin to lock arms. I’ll go into the history of the rock and roll picture. It wasn’t a happy history, in terms of quality entertainment. A lot of dross. But director Richard Lester and writer Walter Shenson had other ideas in mind for A Hard Day’s Night.
Who were these men? What were there backgrounds? Why did they take this radically different approach? The film fed the Beatles. They became soundtrack writers. They wrote pictorially.
We’ll move from music to film, as the story goes along, and back again, with natural transitions, suggested by the byplay of these works. Every song will be explored in great depth. We’ll see how it features in the movie. The movie itself will be broken down. How it works cinematically. What the script was based on. We’ll talk about a key early Beatles book that is still largely unread, and we’ll be moving through other sources like that. Magazine articles when relevant. Interviews. Lennon in January 1964 on a TV program reviewing recently released singles by other artists.
Then we will have a chapter on George Martin and his team for the album. The advancements made by using the studio as an instrument. This was the first time the Beatles—or anyone—did that.
We come to a chapter on the relationship of Lennon and McCartney. Lennon wrote most of these songs. He was the leader. McCartney wrote some key songs. Their dynamic at this stage says a lot. This was the full-flowering of both their friendship and their rivalry. Also, we’ll look at Lennon’s voice, which forever changed after this album. We will set the songwriting duo in historical context with the great songwriters of the century. What did they do differently? What were the different techniques they used that no one writers of songs ever had?
The chapter on “A Hard Day’s Night” the title rack (complete with an exploration of the first nine attempts of the song in the studio, which I have here with me) will explore its relationships with “A Day in the Life,” which mirrors it and plays off of it. This is a book that also points to the future. A Hard Day’s Night set up so much of what was to follow.
We will have a chapter on the album’s release, the release of the film, the reception, what both did in the world, the live version of the songs, the 1964 tours, additional BBC sessions, the impact, the influence, how both changed the zeitgeist. The Beatles had two epochal moments. Sgt. Pepper was one, but A Hard Day’s Night was first and harder-hitting. We will explore the changes it made in culture, not just rock and roll.
And all the while we have this theme that there is nothing like the early Beatles. I’ll even say that the early Beatles are the best Beatles. I write on it all, I love it all, it’s a big part of my life, but what these people did on record and on screen in 1964 was a revolution unto itself.
“Perfect” is a strange word in art; it can mean that you didn’t risk that much. A Hard Day’s Night risked everything; went for it—hard. And both record and film are pretty damn close to perfect. Straight-up, hardcore, game-changing, music-changing, movie-changing, world-changing and so sophisticated, virtuosic, and exciting.
7. What is your target date for completing the manuscript?
I would like to have the book come out in 2024. That would be the sixtieth anniversary of the album and the film. I would hit any date you might need in order for that to happen. I write upwards of 60,000 words a week; this is what I do, it’s what I’ve done for a long time, and this I am ready to do this book, explode into it, and have it completed. I’ve written most of this in my head, over several years. I’m thinking that I’d deliver it by the fall, and we could then have it come out next summer for the anniversary, with advance copies ready to go off in the spring or even the winter (circa March). Lastly: I have what I think is a very effective idea for the cover worked out.