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How The Beatles Rocked The World (Hardback)

Hobbies & Lifestyle > Music P&S History > Social History

By Stephen F Kelly
Imprint: White Owl
Pages: 248
Illustrations: 32 mono illustrations
ISBN: 9781399036061
Published: 30th June 2024

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When the Beatles burst onto the pop scene in 1962, they not only took the music world by storm but they also brought with them a counter culture that was to have far-reaching effects. With their long hair, humour and irreverent attitude towards authority, they were a breath of fresh air to a generation who had grown weary of the greyness of the post-war years.

Beatlemania was to unleash a revolution against an outdated age. The 1950s with its oppressive and authoritarian attitudes was ready for change and young people, desperate to escape suburbia with its stifling formality, were set to lead that rebellion.

In politics, fashion, education, the arts, religion, television, women’s rights and universities, the time had come to challenge the old order. And in came the swinging sixties with its more liberal attitudes offering hope of change and a more peaceful and just world. The introduction of the contraceptive pill, legalized abortion, gay rights, easier divorce and the relaxing of censorship were all part of this social revolution.

And it wasn’t just in Britain. The influence of the Beatles reverberated across Europe and, most of all, in America where teenagers not only campaigned against a war in Vietnam but also for civil rights in their own country.

This book tells the story of the Sixties and how the Beatles’ influence had such an impact on British society. It’s a social history of Britain told by Stephen Kelly who regularly watched the Beatles at the Cavern and experienced first hand the changes that were to take place.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is a great book to reminisce with as the author was there from the start in Liverpool at the Cavern Club. If you love Beatles music then you will love this book. There is a lot of historical moments of things going on in the world during the 60's that you will enjoy reading about in this book. Highly recommended!

NetGalley, Eadie Burke

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Absolutely loved this book. It’s almost the definitive social history of a decade; it’s far more than just another book about the Beatles. I was a teenager in the 60s and very much part of the social and cultural change that was underway. 1950s Liverpool was full of bomb sites, it was dirty, smelly and struggling to recover from the aftermath of the war. I was too young to go to The Cavern, but I loved the new music and groups that were around. They performed regularly on the pier head in New Brighton, at The Tower Ballroom and even the YMCA. Fly posters heralded the start of a musical revolution; Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, The Undertakers and numerous other Merseybeat bands that were very different. There was an energy lead by youngsters who embraced this change whilst parents tut tutted about long hair and great unwashed. Looking back, they’re all so clean cut!

Stephen Kelly writes about this phenomenon with knowledge and authority. I was pleased to note that he’s one of a handful who recognise that the current site of the Cavern is not original. Even locals have forgotten it was knocked down and resurrected further down the road. Kelly examines the numerous ways in which a few individuals really did not only rock but change the world. They crossed social divides between working, middle and upper class. They didn’t copy the way their parents dressed and they listened to music from the States, much of it brought in by merchant seamen returning to their home port. Their musical approach was individual and their influence extended to the way in which music was recorded and how groups were managed.

Kelly uses the Beatles as a foundation for a much deeper exploration of a few years in which the world really did change. He does so with ease. It was a decade which challenged everything; politics, culture, the establishment, alternative lifestyle, personal freedom, abortion rights, dictatorships…the list is endless. It’s difficult for subsequent generations to understand just how much these few years shaped a new world. Literature, civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, dictatorships and personal freedom all changed as part of the counterculture initiated by these lads who just wanted to enjoy and play music.

Each chapter considers a different aspect; The Mersey Sound, literature, political change, the Vietnamese War, employment, television, education, feminism and much, much more. There’s an extensive bibliography and comprehensive index. If you want a single volume to consider and sum up a decade with insight, this is it. I wish I could give it more stars; the best non fiction title I’ve read this year.

NetGalley, Anita Wallas

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This was such a fun read. Not only a fun look into the Beatles and their music but also a glance into what life was like in the 1960s. A great book for anyone who enjoys reading about the music scene.

NetGalley, Barbara Lawson

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

To paraphrase Dylan, the times were definitely changing.

I went into this book expecting it to generate a virtual jukebox of Beatles' tunes in my head and bring back some fond memories. It did all that but so much more. It's the story of the 1960's as much as it is of the group. The history buff in me rejoiced as it delved into not just the '60s but the preceding times, showing how they helped set the scene for not just the music revolution the Beatles helped herald but why their influence was so powerful. There's a great deal here to take in, so get comfy, put on some Beatles' tunes and simply enjoy this virtual time travel jaunt back into the past.

Oddly enough, the tune that wound up on perpetual loop in my mind as I read wasn't even a Beatles' tune. It was Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin''". The author takes us back to a time when, quite frankly, it sounds like things looked rather empty and bleak for the working class. We're talking England here, of course, but as shown, the situation was much the same around the world, from Liverpool to Moscow to America. Russia, of course, was still very much a closed society at the time, but everywhere jobs were scarce and there was little chance to break out of the sameness of everyday life. Even music choices were limited, the author notes, pointing out that until the ealy 1960's even the fabled Cavern Club was largely limited to traditional jazz. I tend to enjoy jazz but to the youth of the day, well, that was their parents' music. America may have had Elvis, a youthful symbol of rebellion, but at this point in time he was in the Army and not making much music. Even Brian Epsteim, who'd play such a pivotal role in the rise of the Beatles, wasn't particularly interested in rock'n'roll.

The author does an admirable job blending the times and influence of the Beatles. His tone is generally conversational and easy to read, making it feel personable to the reader. I thoroughly enjoyed his own personal memories of the time, making you feel like you were there as he takes you back in time to visit the Cavern Club which, quite frankly, may have had good acoustics but doesn't sound like a comfortable place to have hung out. Shows the draw of music. Non-British readers may not be familiar with all the British names that pop up but the author does a good job introducing them to us and explaining their roles, so it flowed relatively smoothly.

One of the things I most enjoyed was that while the focus was obviously on the role the Beatles played, the author also spotlights many of the behind the scenes players, so to speak, reminding us that nothing happens in a vacuum. I particularly liked that the so-called 5th Beatle, Stu Sutcliffe was given not just space but that for the first time I came to fully appreciate how very talented an artist he was and what a loss to the art world his early death was. You'll also read about the role of poetry and how Paul and John were frequent attendees at live readings. Again, a subtle nudge of memory of how their writing skills were honed. Heck, you'll even get a peek at the controversy surrounding the book "Lady Chatterley's Lover", not to mention a recounting of how the various "profane" words, for lack of a better term, were counted and reported.

Of course, musical groups weave in an out of the narrative, reminding us that that the Beatles weren't operating in a bubble. Dylan, of course, but countless other names as familiar as the Rolling Stones, that are now engraved in our music loving minds, many of which also played the Cavern. See what I mean about the fun virtual jukebox that was playing in my mind along with Beatles' tunes?

I could, of course, go on and on -- after all, the book is current enough to have included the release of the late John Lennon's "Now and Then" song by Paul and Ringo in 2023 -- but will try to wrap this up. You'll definitely come away with not only a better understanding of the influence of the Beatles but the historical times that set the stage for their emergence. You'll learn what came after. You'll appreciate how chance encounters had momentous impact. The "What ifs..." are countless. You'll also marvel how impressive it really was when Paul McCartney played Russia's Red Square, particularly given what it symbolized.

Bottom line, a well-researched, quite readable look back. The author includes his own personal memories, too, making this all the more relatable. There is a bibliography of sources used or referenced at the end -- can you imagine how many pages it'd take to list everything Beatles in a bibliogphy? -- as well as an index. Finally, there are photos, b/w in the digital version I read and at the very end. The captions do a good job showing where they fit within, however, and definitely remind us that "A picture is worth a thousand words". Thanks #NetGalley and #Pen&Sword for taking me on this virtual time travel journey that conjured up such an awesome virtual jukebox in my mind. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

NetGalley, June Price

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I've been a fan of the Beatles and was glad I got to read this book about them. It uses the research perfectly and enjoyed how interesting this was. Stephen F Kelly has a great writing style and thought everything worked overall.

NetGalley, Kathryn McLeer

About Stephen F Kelly

Stephen F. Kelly is a journalist and academic. He is the author of more than 20 books, many about football, as well as a number of oral histories. Born on Merseyside he idled his teenage years away at the Cavern, following the Beatles, and after finally getting around to studying, went to Ruskin College, Oxford and the LSE. He subsequently became a political journalist, joining Granada Television in 1978, before going on to hold a number of academic posts. He lives in Manchester – but his heart remains in Liverpool!

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