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Summary

Regarded as the greatest and most revealing account of how the Beatles recorded every one of their songs, Revolution in the Head is brimming with details of the personal highs and lows experienced by Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr as they made some of the most enduring popular music ever created.

©1994 The estate of Ian MacDonald (P)2014 Talking Music

What listeners say about Revolution in the Head

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    4 out of 5 stars

This Book Is ABRIDGED

What did you like best about this story?

It's about The Beatles, and probably the best book on the subject i've read. Notice i said read. The printed book is full of foot notes, several on almost every page, that provide a real context to the history. The Audible version misses these out in their entirety. It also misses out much of the specific recording details, other than recording studio number, from each entry.

I love this book, but the Audible version is a definite letdown. Buy the printed book and enjoy...

12 people found this helpful

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What a pleasure!

What did you like most about Revolution in the Head?

I knew of this famous book being the best history, but found it quite hard to read a friend’s copy I borrowed. Listening to it though made a real difference. Knowing the details of how they made the songs and what was going on in their lives has made my understanding of the Beatles music much richer. I like the variety of great voices, men and women. Superb.

11 people found this helpful

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Brilliant

Would you consider the audio edition of Revolution in the Head to be better than the print version?

Well I managed to listen to all over it in a few days - mainly on my computer's speakers - can't imagine I would have managed that had I been reading... books sometimes take weeks to read...

What was one of the most memorable moments of Revolution in the Head?

I enjoyed the little digs taken at the hippy movement... Was also v interested to learn about the history of the How Do You Do track. Had no idea about that...

What does the narrators bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

Getting to hear people like Danny Baker and Dave Hepworth narrating...

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Made me happy to live in a country with such a rich cultural history...

Any additional comments?

Definitely worth listening to...

5 people found this helpful

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A Comprehensive History and Analysis

I found Revolution in the Head a comprehensive history and analysis of every Beatles recording. Not being musical myself, most of the musical terms went over my head. None the less the depth of information was very interesting, and I could imagine myself in the the studio with the Fab Four watching them create some of the greatest popular music of the twentieth century. If I am to be negative about the book, I was turned off by Ian McDonald's rather unnecessary critique of a lot of the songs;. making snide remarks about the quality of their musicianship and lyrical content.

2 people found this helpful

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Often disappointing, but good in parts.

Some of the author's critiques make little sense and he dismisses many brilliant songs.

2 people found this helpful

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The book is better - weak Audiobook version

I read the paperback several years ago and found it fascinating. Recently I thought I'd refresh my memory by listening the audiobook but this was a mistake.

I've made it as far as the Hard Days Night sessions and had to give up. The audio delivery ranges from turgid to pretentious. Interesting to note as well that Paul McCartney has challenged some of the interpretations the author has given as "facts".

Sorry, but even with the inaccuracies noted by McCartney the printed book is much better. Pity it's not available in Kindle format.

1 person found this helpful

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Pompous and over-rated

I real fail to understand why this book is rated so highly by so many and usually included as one of the top Beatles books. MacDonald has a style which combines the worst of arrogance and pomposity, it he isn’t vanishing up his behind waffling about the juxtaposed fluid zeitgeist he’s dismissing a Beatles song or performance with the self satisfaction of a friendless applied maths student yet to lose his virginity. Unless you are incapable of making your own mind up about the Beatles music then don’t waste your money on this flatulent guff

5 people found this helpful

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great journey through great songs

Overall a really good listen with impressive insights into songs. agreed with most options and disagreed with a couple. Found the chapters where the author went banging on about hippies very boring so skipped those.

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Overly critical

Narrated well enough but the script just seemed to criticise most of the songs. Particularly the ones considered non classic Beatles.

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Multiple narrators don’t work

This is an interesting look at the Beatles recorded output and their influence on 60s music and culture.
The multiple narrators ruined it for me though.

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  • A. K. Moore
  • 07-05-15

Five Stars with an Asterisk

Any additional comments?

This is a fascinating book - lovingly narrated by an ensemble cast - all listenable, and a couple of them exceptional. After an introduction it traverses the Beatles recording career song by song - going session by session rather than album by album, including unreleased oddities. The writer is very intelligent and almost invariably brilliant in terms of his analyses of the lyrics and the broader role of the group in the culture of the 20th Century. He's also *sometimes* brilliant in his musical analyses - often enough to warrant 5 stars across the board. That said, he's also sometimes annoyingly stupid on strictly musical elements, making some technical musical errors and overlooking critical details. A perfect example is the song Day Tripper, which he pans rather ruthlessly. Failing to grasp the importance of layered thematic riffs in popular music (and frankly, failing to grasp what a musical hook is) he thinks this is merely a 12-bar blues variant that the Beatles rushed out in an uninspired moment. I find it hard to believe that anyone interested enough in the Beatle to consider buying this book could fail to hear the virtues of this song. He's even more critical of All You Need Is Love, whose thematic 7/4 riff is stunningly brilliant to anyone with ears but he ignores this entirely and damns the song for what he considers its nonsensical lyrics ("nothing you can do that can't be done") but then a few songs later he heaps near-Shakespearean praise on the (similarly full of convoluted word-play) lyrics of I Am The Walrus and lavishes modern "concept art" superlatives on Revolution 9. My point is that Walrus and All You Need is Love - whatever you think of their lyrics - are both dumbfounding brilliant and original from a musical point of view and to say that the first is pure genius and the second is a pathetic piece of rubbish is just infuriating. That said, many of his analyses are spot on and the fact that he's so arrogantly opinionated will challenge you to think, even if you sometimes want to reach through the speaker and slap the guy. So, 5 stars, take each opinion with a pillar of salt, and don't let his sometimes inaccurate use of highbrow technical musical terminology override what your ears are telling you. If you filter out the nonsense, there's an abundance of really great insights to be had.

If you're looking for a 5 star Beatles book without the asterisk, Lewisohn's Tune In is without the slightest doubt the gold standard in terms of both content and narration. Can't Buy Me Love is also fantastic.

17 people found this helpful

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  • Kindle Customer
  • 16-10-21

Malicious, uninformed takedown by a group of amateurs

Colossal disappointment. The writers speak with imagined authority but clearly have neither the experience nor education to speak coherently about the Beatles, the 60’s cultural revolution, or music in general. The thinly veiled compliments are at all times backhanded and suggest an imagined general consensus about how trite or weak a particular song is, while presenting zero evidence to support their simplistic assertions. As a reader I wonder what led each writer to harbor such unbridled and uninformed vitriol. This book reads like the wild and inchoate ramblings of a lover scorned; I wish I could give it a negative-star rating, and I want my time back.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Jared
  • 18-06-15

Unbelievable.

An unbelievably great in-depth critique of the Beatles' entire recorded output, song by song. Indispensable for the serious Beatles fan.

1 person found this helpful

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  • MEMLF
  • 24-04-21

Robyn Hitchcock blows away the other narrators

Still an enjoyable trip through the Beatles catalog. For true fans only. I learned a lot.

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  • Gregg Anderson
  • 03-07-20

Audio is not the best medium for this book

This is a great book. But it's best experienced as an actual book for reference. The audio book just doesn't translate into a satisfying listening experience. The author will keep you guessing as to what he's going to like as he has some strange favourites, and some shocking negative views of amazing songs. The narration runs from brilliant (Matt Berry anyone?) to downright almost unlistenable (the woman who did the White Album time period). So go buy this in a book store and save your credits here on the near perfect "Solid State" if you need a Beatles fix that works in the audio format.

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  • Paul
  • 23-12-19

For any Beatles fan or pop-rock music lover

Once I realized most of the book was comprised of chronological synopses of each song, I accepted and enjoyed the content, even while I disagreed with some of the author's more scathing critiques. The variety of readers was necessary and made the listening more enjoyable.

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  • Tad Davis
  • 22-06-19

Brilliant

Loved every minute. Took a long time to get through it because I had to stop as each track was introduced and listen to the song. As such, it creates a cumulative sense of the Beatles’ development as artists. It’s organized by recording session rather than album track number, so if you ARE trying to follow along with the music, you have to hop around a bit.

Fortunately the audiobook omits some of the session and technical details from the book, easy to represent in tabular or list form on the page but very hard to get across effectively in audio. From my standpoint that’s a plus.

Yes, I differ with the author in his take on specific songs, but that would be true no matter who was writing it and how good it was. Like anybody else, the Beatles produced some turkeys; best to be honest about it.

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  • Mark J. Knickelbine
  • 10-04-19

A Strange Listen

I've been on a bit of a Beatles binge recently, and several other authors spoke highly of this book, so I thought I'd give it a try. Strange, but enjoyable. It starts out with an essay that argues that the cultural trends the Beatles helped foster in the 1960s were responsible for everything nasty in Western society by the 1990s -- essentially the rise of Reaganism/Thatcherism and the decline of Western Civilization. After this incredibly pessimistic opening, the book itself is a discography-style covering of every track they recorded -- when and where, how many takes, instrumentation, mixing and so on. Only a few of these essays have anything to do with Macdonald's introductory thesis. His opinions can be contrarian to the point of being infuriating -- one minute trashing Across the Universe, the next claiming that Hey Bulldog was one of Lennon's best songs. He virtually skips over Here Comes the Sun, and goes on forever about Revolution 9. For extra weirdness, the audiobook changes narrators every few chapters -- some are ok, some just drone on in various monotones. There's a ton of great information here and I enjoyed it, but it's definitely one of the more unusual audiobooks you'll ever listen to.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Tim Prentiss
  • 23-04-17

Robyn Hitchcock is fantastic!

Lots of different voices and accents, some reading better than others, all charming... Robyn Hitchcock is best though!

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  • John W.
  • 03-01-17

Way too much information

What disappointed you about Revolution in the Head?

Was expecting to get an overview of the Beatles formation and recording of albums but got way too much about politics in the 60's. This book will put you to sleep if you don't understand music theory.

Has Revolution in the Head turned you off from other books in this genre?

yes

How did the narrator detract from the book?

yes. They switched back and for, it seemed.

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

The Beatles have an interesting history.