By Skip Coates
I have been accused of being a Beatles fanatic, but that's really a load of baloney. It's not like I was one of those yoyos playing "I Am the Walrus" backward to get secret messages about the death of Paul. And I was only seven at the time, a very susceptible age. (OK, I'll admit the reason was I wouldn't-absolutely COULDN'T-accept the idea that he was gone.) But the earliest tune I can remember is "I Want To Hold Your Hand" played on the school bus driver's transistor radio. I guess you could say I imprinted on that song and consequently all things Beatle. (I imprinted on the bus driver, too, but she let me down gently.) So it was no accident that Musician's Friend tapped me to review their great collection of Hal Leonard books, CDs, and videos designed to make the music of the Fab Four accessible to musicians at all levels of development.
Back porch pickers
Beatles music arose in the era of the guitar band. In the early days John, Paul, and George all played guitar. Paul only switched to bass when Stu Sutcliffe left the band in '61 and Paul had smashed his guitar. So it is appropriate that a good part of the Hal Leonard Beatles collection is focused on guitar players. Of the publications I reviewed, the most accessible resources for beginning and hobbyist guitarists were a pair of video tapes from the Signature Licks series. The first-"Best of Lennon & McCartney for Acoustic Guitar" featuring guitarist Andrew DuBrock presents a blow-by-blow breakdown of eight Beatles classics including "Blackbird," "Norwegian Wood," and "Yesterday." The second tape-"Best of Lennon & McCartney for Electric Guitar" featuring guitarist Tom Kolb also breaks down eight great tunes including "Day Tripper," "A Hard Day's Night," and "Paperback Writer."
Both tapes are very graphic and basic enough for beginning players who want to cut their first chops on Beatles classics. But they're informative enough that more advanced guitarists can cruise through and pick up eight very usable tunes plus a little more in-depth understanding of Beatles guitar techniques. The instructors on both these tapes are accomplished musicians who know how to make the guitar accessible and understandable.
Another very accessible item is "Beatles Complete Easy Guitar". This is a good, basic intro book for guitar-playing Beatles fans. It provides lyrics in large print and chord diagrams with notation for the vocal melody line only. It's not precisely complete, but it gives you 156 Beatles tunes, which is within spitting distance of the whole catalog; certainly all of the most recognized tunes are covered.
Up and comers
Hal Leonard also produces several good products for more accomplished (or at least more diligent) guitarists. I was impressed with the Signature Licks series book/CD packages. "The Beatles Hits" features 26 of the most popular tunes alphabetically by title from "A" through "I" including "Come Together," "Get Back," and "Helter Skelter." "The Beatles Favorites" presents an additional 20 tunes alphabetically by title from "K" through "Y," including "Let It Be," "Revolution," and "Something." Both books provide small chord diagrams at the beginning for all chords in the song and tab plus standard notation for guitar parts only. Within each song there are separate sections with notation and tab for the bridges and solos. There are no lyrics included, but there are 14 pages of very informative frontal material and multiple explanatory paragraphs within each song that give details about the song's history and the styles employed. All of this is accompanied by a professionally produced CD that lets you hear the guitar parts in context and in isolation.
The Recorded Versions Guitar series Beatles White Album books are very thorough guitar transcriptions with all guitar parts including solos in tab and standard notation plus lyrics and notation for vocal melodies. Each song begins with tuning information and chord diagrams for the relevant chords. Book 1 features the 17 songs from the first disc of the White Album. Book 2 presents all 12 tunes from the second disc. For a guitarist like yours truly, these books are the definitive authentic Beatles transcriptions. It was especially gratifying when I finally saw how to play a few vexingly strange little parts of "Happiness is a Warm Gun" after having played a very approximate version for 20 years.
There are also Beatles materials specifically for bassists and pianists. The "Best of Lennon & McCartney for Bass Guitar" with English bassist Bob Efford is a very accessible video for beginning bass players or more seasoned players who want to pick up some of that solid McCartney style. Though he didn't start on bass, Paul picked it up quickly and became one of the most influential and respected bass players in rock. This video gives you the blow-by-blow of eight great tunes including "Day Tripper," "I Want You," and "Nowhere Man."
"The Beatles Bass", from the Signature Licks series provides bass notation and tab on 15 fabulous Fab Four tunes including "All My Loving," "Michelle," and "Taxman." There are no lyrics, but each of the songs comes with explanatory and descriptive text. There's also an excellent CD that lets you hear the bass parts both in context and isolated. Aside from its obvious utility for bass players, this is a great little package for the guitar-playing home recordist or recorder-assisted one-man band who wants to lay down some Beatles tracks and get the bass exactly right.
"The Beatles Best" is a hefty tome of the type commonly found on the family piano or organ. It features 124 of the Beatles biggest tunes with lyrics, standard notation for piano and vocals, plus chord diagrams for guitar.
The Beatle end all
All of the foregoing are really quality products, and professional guitarists who are true Beatlemaniacs will certainly need to pick up the Recorded Versions Guitar books. But if you're a true-blue, dyed-in-the-wool, drooling Beatles fanatic and a serious musician, there is one book you absolutely MUST own. It is "The Beatles Complete Scores". I've had the book for over 10 years and learned more about music from it than from any other source. It contains comprehensive scores for every part of every Beatles song ever recorded, including vocals, guitars, bass, drums, and whatever else might be on the tape. It even has complete guitar tab for both rhythm and lead parts. This is truly a marvel of modern music. It was created in the late '80s by four Japanese musicians who must be way more serious Beatles fanatics than I could ever hope to be. There are little notes indicating where special effects are used, such as the jet at the beginning of "Back in the USSR." You'll even find the full string arrangements on such tunes as "Eleanor Rigby." (No, they didn't attempt the monster orchestral buildup of "A Day in the Life." But who would try to duplicate it anyway?) If you want unlimited access to the whole Beatles "thing," this is your ticket.
Coffee table king
"Beatles Gear" by Andy Babiuk (a Backbeat book distributed by Hal Leonard) is by far the best book on the Beatles I've read. You'd think a book focused on gear would be dull and nerdy. In this case you would be dead wrong. Like most young musicians, the nascent Beatles were generally hung up on their instruments. Focusing on the gear proves to be a very clever key to the inside story of a budding rock 'n' roll band. After all the books about little more than how popular the Beatles were and who they shared their beds with, it's great to get the real nitty-gritty on who they were musically. Babiuk's research is exhaustive and usually related in firsthand accounts from the people who were there. Of course there's immense verbal and photographic detail on the gear itself, but the book reads primarily as a gripping chronology of the musical lives of a bunch of kids from Liverpool who happened to have the perfect combination of talent, drive, and context. This book is a must read for all Beatles fans, whether they're musicians or not.
A treasure trove
These publications are just a representative sample of the Hal Leonard Beatles collection. With dozens of titles to choose from, there's something for everyone who likes the Beatles (and doesn't everyone?). There's a deep wealth of info for serious musicians who want to delve deeper into Beatles music. I was really impressed with the quality of the titles and the broad range of target audiences covered-from beginners to seasoned pros.
Musician's Friend carries the complete collection of Hal Leonard Beatles publications. We'll get the book or tape you're after to your doorstep quickly and hassle free.