Do we need one more book about the Beatles? Surely there are enough books out now about the lads from Liverpool — and that’s not including autobiographies and biographies of George, John, Paul, and Ringo, or music criticism about the solo careers of any of them — to exhaust even the most stalwart Beatles fan. Of course, fans will respond that you can never know enough about the band and their lives and music; plenty of them would argue that the Beatles remain the world’s greatest rock and roll band, despite their not having been together now for almost 50 years. How much more can we know — or, how much more do we want to know — about the Fab Four?
Graphic designers John Pring and Rob Thomas, who founded Designbysoap Ltd. and have created infographics for organizations as diverse as Google and the United Nations, have found a way to present already well-known information about the Beatles in entertaining, refreshing, and stunning fashion. In Visualizing the Beatles: A Complete Graphic History of the World’s Favorite Band (Dey St.), the designers proceed to tell the Beatles’ story album-by-album, illustrating the history and features of each album with clever graphs, charts, and other illustrations that bring new life to the details of the composition of each album.
Every chapter opens with a very brief overview of the album. So, for example, Help!, released on August 6, 1965, produced by George Martin and engineered by Norman Smith, was “originally set to be called Beatles II and then Eight Arms to Hold You … . It is considered to be one the of band’s most diverse albums, featuring elements of folk, rock, country and western, classical, and bluegrass.” The authors then offer a timeline for each album — usually listing events from a few weeks before the release to selected events that took place a few months following the album’s release — placing it in its cultural context. They include a graphic image and description of each album’s cover design, a collage of “the words they sang the most,” and a fun graphic — with mics and mic cords rising out of the head of each Beatle — illustrating which Beatle took the lead vocal on which song on the album. On Revolver, for instance, John sings lead on five songs, Paul on five, George on three, and Ringo on one. Pring and Thomas also reveal that the titles considered for Revolver included, among others, “Bubble & Squeak,” “The Beatles on Safari,” and “Abracadabra.”
A bar graph illustrates the length of each track on each album, the running time of the album, and the numbers of covers and originals on each album. Of the 14 songs on With the Beatles (November 1965), there are almost as many covers (“You Really Got a Hold on Me,” “Roll over Beethoven,” among others) as originals. A circular chart illustrates the keys of the songs on individual albums, while another graphic illustrates which Beatle played which instruments on the album and points out instruments that the band used for the first time in their songs. One of the most fun graphics has nothing to do with music but illustrates the group’s style through the years, highlighting the style for a particular album and showing the changes from earlier and later years.
Pring and Thomas also include illustrations of, among other elements, the pedals that the Beatles used on Magical Mystery Tour, illustrations of the Beatles’ guitars, and a graphic of the Abbey Road studio, set lists from various shows, including the August 15, 1965, show at Shea Stadium, as well as various quotations from individual members on the making of each album. So, they include Paul McCartney’s reflections, from 1996, on the recording of Let It Be: “We were all fraught with each other and just about everything else. We were probably all on the verge of nervous breakdowns.”
Diehard Beatles fans may find little new in Visualizing the Beatles, but they will find a celebration of a band and tribute to the many and various ways that the band contributed to the evolution of rock and roll. The focus on the details of songwriting and musical composition in the book illustrates vividly the restless genius of the band and its members and their adventurousness in moving, album-by-album, into new musical territory. Fans old and new will have fun spinning Beatles’ album with this book at hand as they discover the various features lying behind each album.