Can't Buy Me Love
The Beatles, Britain, and America
By Jonathan Gould
(Three Rivers Press, Paperback, 9780307353382, 672pp.)
Publication Date: November 4, 2008
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Nearly twenty years in the making, Can’t Buy Me Love is a masterful work of group biography, cultural history, and musical criticism. That the Beatles were an unprecedented phenomenon is a given. In Can’t Buy Me Love, Jonathan Gould seeks to explain why, placing the Fab Four in the broad and tumultuous panorama of their time and place, rooting their story in the social context that girded both their rise and their demise.
Beginning with their adolescence in Liverpool, Gould describes the seminal influences––from Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry to The Goon Show and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland––that shaped the Beatles both as individuals and as a group. In addition to chronicling their growth as singers, songwriters, and instrumentalists, he highlights the advances in recording technology that made their sound both possible and unique, as well as the developments in television and radio that lent an explosive force to their popular success. With a musician’s ear, Gould sensitively evokes the timeless appeal of the Lennon-McCartney collaboration and their emergence as one of the most creative and significant songwriting teams in history. And he sheds new light on the significance of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as rock’s first concept album, down to its memorable cover art.
Behind the scenes Gould explores the pivotal roles played by manager Brian Epstein and producer George Martin, credits the influence on the Beatles’ music of contemporaries like Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, and Ravi Shankar, and traces the gradual escalation of the fractious internal rivalries that led to the group’s breakup after their final masterpiece, Abbey Road. Most significantly, by chronicling their revolutionary impact on popular culture during the 1960s, Can’t Buy Me Love illuminates the Beatles as a charismatic phenomenon of international proportions, whose anarchic energy and unexpected import was derived from the historic shifts in fortune that transformed the relationship between Britain and America in the decades after World War II.
From the Beats in America and the Angry Young Men in England to the shadow of the Profumo Affair and JFK’s assassination, Gould captures the pulse of a time that made the Beatles possible—and even necessary. As seen through the prism of the Beatles and their music, an entire generation’s experience comes astonishingly to life. Beautifully written, consistently insightful, and utterly original, Can’t Buy Me Love is a landmark work about the Beatles, Britain, and America.
JONATHAN GOULD is a writer and a former professional musician who studied with the eminent jazz drummer Alan Dawson and spent many years working in bands and recording studios. In addition to writing and playing music, Gould has raised a family, served in local politics, and taken an active role in the life of the upstate New York community where he has lived for the past twenty-five years. He currently divides his time between New York City and Willow, New York.
‘Gould has written a scrupulous, witty and, at times, appropriately skeptical study… As a clever person once said… “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” Gould, it turns out, is an astute and sensitive choreographer... If I had the space I’d cite dozens more examples of Gould’s graceful unfolding of various Beatle tunes. At his best, he lets you hear with keener ears the way a great novelist lets you feel with keener emotions. He even made me want to listen to “Eleanor Rigby” again. I can’t think of higher praise.’
—Bruce Handy, New York Times Book Review
"Gould, a former musician, has written an engrossing book, both fluid and economical (aside from one overlong section on the concept of charisma). Page after page, you can hear the music; Gould's deft hand makes the book sing. This is music writing at its best."
—Publishers Weekly, starred, signature review
"What separates writer and musician Gould's first book from the multitudinous others is his threefold focus; Gould deftly mixes biography with social commentary and musical and lyrical analysis, illustrating how the band crafted its groundbreaking songs and how its achievements impacted, and were impacted by, the tumultuous 1960s. Highly recommended for all academic, public, and music libraries."
"Gould's combination group biography, cultural history, and musical criticism artfully places the Beatles in their time and social context while examining with great skill how they became an international phenomenon comparable only to themselves. ... Setting Gould's book apart are his careful dissection of cultural history and his astute critical eye. ... Long on history, short on gossip, he gives nuanced assessments of the world's most admired rock band and of its era."
—Booklist, starred review
"Every so often – every rare once in a while – it is good and cleansing and necessary to have one compact volume that sums everything up, hitting the heights and depths and sticking with the facts all the way to the bitter end. Jonathan Gould’s Beatles biography 'Can’t Buy Me Love' is that book – and, aware as it is of the fact that even titling the book 'Can’t Buy Me Love' is something so completely simple and banal, it tells the sprawling, complicated Beatles story in a refreshingly straight-forward manner. ... Gould succeeds in not only expertly telling that tale, but infusing it with a voice that’s all his own."
—Santa Barbara News-Press
"Gould excels at depicting the complexities involved in creating songs destined to become classics…He juxtaposes their personal history, the genius, the outrageous statements, the women, the drugs—with the arc of world events then. If you loved the Beatles, you'll love this book."
—Dayton Daily News
“It’s been said that not only did the world want the Beatles in the 1960s, it needed them. Gould, for the first time, really explains why….Gould has written a book that both fans and rock historians will enjoy.”
“Can't Buy Me Love provides a thrilling account of how four nowhere kids from Liverpool translated their love of American rock and blues into a body of popular music unmatched in the nearly forty years since they ended their careers as Beatles. Writing with a scholar's attention to history and a musician's interest in songcraft, Gould meticulously charts the group's evolution from three-chord sprints like "She Loves You" to multi-partite, symphonic masterpieces like ‘A Day in the Life.’ If you've ever wanted to know why the Beatles' music is great and how better to appreciate it, look no further than this brilliant book.”
“Essential….his narrative literally sings itself off of the pages.”
—The Boston Globe
“Excellent and engrossing….Gould has the two gifts essential to a critic–passionate expertise plus a bulletproof sense of humor–and his descriptions of the music are hilariously on target….Yet Gould also possesses that third essential gift: the capacity for awe.”
—James Marcus, The Los Angeles Times
“Excels by providing what’s been missing from many biographies: context.”
“Volumes have been written on the Beatles….Now comes one of the best, Jonathan Gould’s Can't Buy Me Love, a smashing group biography that doubles as a masterful cultural history.”
“Offers a fresh vision that, like the Beatles, brims with entergy, wit and charm.”
—Glenn Frankel, Washington Post Book World
“Can’t Buy Me Love the book is not just a book, it is an experience and if I had to name must-read/must-own books on the subjects covered, it would be in the Top Ten of all my lists. Don’t miss one of the best music history books ever written!”
“If what follows in this book review reeks of juvenile gushing, I won’t even attempt to apologize for it. ... Gould has created in this, his ... first publication, what can only fairly be described as the ultimate musician’s guide to song writing and producing. ... I’m about to re-read and re-savor this writer’s work, this time in an effort to shake-off self-doubt, and siphon off some of that determination and talent.”
“In Can’t Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain and America, author Jonathan Gould presents perhaps the most comprehensive, enjoyable read concerning the Fab Four ever written. More importantly, Gould’s book illustrates how events influence our thought processes, and how we turn to idols to make sense of it all. This isn’t just a good book–it should be required reading for anybody interested in the influence of the sixties, and how we perceive ourselves now.”
—Ray Ellis, Culture Salad Online
“In Can't Buy Me Love, freelance writer Jonathan Gould has produced the best book ever written about the Beatles. An elegant and economical stylist, Gould is a brilliant narrative historian, with an archaeologist's ability to re-create the world inhabited by his subjects. Can't Buy Me Love is a magical mystery tour that must not be missed.”
—Glenn C. Altschuler, American studies professor at Cornell University
“Can’t Buy Me Love joins the late Ian MacDonald’s Revolution in the Head (released last year in a third edition by Chicago’s A Cappella Books) on the very short shelf of essential Beatles reads… Prickly, smart, loving without being blind to its protagonists’ follies, and comprehensive without resorting to mounds of pointless minutiae, Can’t Buy Me Love is an involving, wildly intelligent book that allows us to experience anew the band’s great moment in all its glorious, world-shaking velocity. A better title may have been Re-Meet the Beatles.”
—Los Angeles City Beat
"A nearly 20-year labor of love by a first-time writer, it's a fascinating, witty, and highly original take on Beatles music and mystique, and a worthy addition to 'Beatle lit.'...Gould delivers a multifaceted gem of a book that should delight and surprise even the most oversaturated fan."
—Christian Science Monitor