THE SONGWRITING SECRETS OF THE BEATLES BY DOMINIC PEDLER
Four VERY Happy Faces (Out Of Four Possible)
This is the best book ever written on The Beatles – I’ve read dozens of them over thirty years and this is the best by far. It’s an almost 800 page book that could be described as “Music Theory and The Beatles” as it doesn’t go into lyric writing. Each chapter describes an aspect of music and then shows how The Beatles used it in their songs (as opposed to the song by song approach more commonly used, including in Alan W. Pollack’s wonderful Notes On series, available for free on the internet.).
The first chapter is on the V chord. You would think that their wouldn’t be much new to say about the V to I chord resolutions that are the backbone of most songs, you’d be wrong, he goes on for 20 pages about them. What is most exciting is how I can read this book and instantly get what he is teaching (without even having to listen to the CDs again) because of the vast databank of Beatles songs burned into my memory – to finally merge that databank with real music knowledge is just amazing.
I have a feeling I’ll be studying this book for as long as I’m into music and would recommend it anyone regardless of musical skill level. There are no songwriting “methods” or “techniques” in this book, the book is simply an attempt to describe what is going on in the Beatles songs. Many may reject this kind of approach as too “intellectual” and the point should be made that the Beatles themselves didn’t know much of the musical terminology used in this book. They did actually “know” (in their own way) everything in this book because this book does nothing but talk about what is in their songs. They learned by studying and playing great songs in situations where they had to play for hours at time to the point where they had the musicality burned into their muscle memory. Plus they had each other to learn from. For those of us without those advantages this book could be a vital tool for vastly improving our songwriting. It has been for me.
So what are the songwriting secrets of The Beatles? He gives the often-stated answer of “matching the words to the music”. But he also shows how The Beatles songs were often given their sense of movement by shifting from one key to another – not simply in terms of key changes when moving between different sections (IE verse, chorus, or bridge) of song, but sometimes by having key changes within a section. Sometimes those shifts would be only a measure or two long. Sometimes it would be ambiguous which key you were in, and that would support the ambiguous nature of the lyrics.
The more the author points out things like this the more you realize – The Beatles REALLY knew what they were doing. For those of us who want to know what they were doing as well, this book is indispensable.
The biggest problem with the book is availability, it’s out of print and hard to find even online. The author tells me he is (as of late 2008) trying to get it reprinted. I found some used copies at www.amazon.co.uk
NOTE: The author of this book wrote a Musical Analysis of my song Emotional Issues which you can read here: