Ian Inglis


Equinox Publishing

ISBN-13 978 1 84553 865 1 £20.95


Reviewed by Geoff Wills


    Hundreds of books have been produced about the iconic 20th century phenomenon known as the Beatles, including biographies, autobiographies, musicological studies and photographic collections, We now have a concise, compact addition to the list in the form of The Beatles by Ian Inglis, which comes in the Equinox series Icons of Pop Music, aimed at undergraduates and the general reader, and offering “a critical profile of a key figure or group in twentieth century pop music”. Each volume “focuses on the work rather than on biography, and emphasizes critical interpretation”. Ian Inglis, like his fellow series authors, is an academic, and has an extensive prior involvement in writing about the Beatles. In the present volume he is successful in presenting a dispassionate and objective approach to their story.

    The scene is set with the time – immediately after the Second World War – and the place – post-war Britain and, specifically, Liverpool. In this setting austerity and traditional entertainment were jolted by the impact of the arrival of the film Blackboard Jungle (1955) and the music of Bill Haley, Elvis Presley and Lonnie Donegan. This was the atmosphere in which John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe, Pete Best and Richard Starkey, future members of the Beatles, grew up. Their progression as a group is documented in relation to their time in Hamburg – five visits between 1960 and 1962 – and their appearances at Liverpool’s Cavern Club between 1961 and 1963.

    Having contextualised his subject, Inglis breaks down his story with a logical, comprehensive coverage of all aspects of the Beatles’ career. Their stage presentation, their recording career (divided into two distinct periods, 1962–1965 and 1966–1970), their creative development as recording artists, their unique contribution to the art of songwriting, and their distinctive and hugely influential image, are all covered.

    In an interesting chapter entitled Images and Identities Inglis makes the crucial observation that “the sight of the Beatles was as fascinating as their sound”. When they first emerged, the typical group image was that of Britain’s leading group the Shadows – “tidy appearance, mohair suits and choreographed dance steps”. The Beatles changed all that. With their combed-forward “mop-top” hair styles and Pierre Cardin-influenced suits with collarless jackets they provided the blueprint for the uniform of the army of British beat groups that erupted in the Beatles’ wake in the 1963-1964 period. One essential item in this uniform, not mentioned by Inglis, was the Anello and Davide Cuban-heeled Chelsea boot, which came to be known as the Beatle boot.

    In discussing the Beatles as songwriters, Inglis makes some interesting observations regarding their love songs, using the classificatory system developed by social psychologist John Alan Lee. His typology uses six categories, Eros (romantic love), Ludus (playful love), Mania (possessive, jealous love), Storge (love based around friendship), Pragma (love that is rationally calculated) and Agape (universal or altruistic love). In the period 1962-1965 romantic or playful love songs predominated, but in the period 1966-1970 friendship-based and altruistic love songs took precedence. Inglis feels that ceasing touring, Bob Dylan’s influence, increased use of drugs and the questioning of materialism all brought about this change. He feels that “the search for an adequate description of the Beatles’ music is far from easy” but thinks that the underlying sense of celebration that permeates much of the music is a key element. In this respect it might have been helpful to pursue Bob Dylan’s comment, quoted in Michael Tomasky’s book The Beatles and America, that “their chords were outrageous, just outrageous, and their harmonies made it all valid”.

    Again, in the same way that they presented a completely different image to their predecessors the Shadows, the Beatles also presented a completely different instrumental sound: in place of Hank Marvin’s echo chamber came a much rawer guitar sound, and Brian Bennett’s virtuoso, jazz-based drumming approach was replaced by the pared-down Liverpool “masher” style of Ringo Starr.


    Inglis concludes his book by stating that “since their demise, the Beatles have become the touchstone against which subsequent events and achievements [in popular music and culture] are routinely measured”.He has provided a succinct, comprehensive, serious but accessible account of how this happened.