herald

Monday 1 September 2014

The Beatles started a revolution back in the USSR

The Beatles

If ever a band has been well served by the literary world it's The Beatles. Practically every aspect of that revolutionary body of work has been dealt with in book form... or so one would have thought. From Hunter Davies' The Beatles, through Philip Norman's Shout, Bob Spitz's humongously detailed history and Ian McDonald's brilliant Revolution in the Head, which offered a musical and contextual analysis of every song they ever recorded, surely there's nothing left of interest to diehard fans of the Fabs. Well, think again.

FASCINATING

Subtitled The Untold Story of a Musical Revolution, Leslie Woodhead's How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin offers a fascinating story of how the band's music affected life in the USSR. Woodhead has impeccable credentials for this task, having worked as a translator/spy in West Berlin during his National Service and, on leaving the army, being the fledgling TV producer for Granada, which filmed The Beatles live in the Cavern.

The tale Woodhead spins is scarcely believable, telling how sought-after copies of Beatles records were distributed on recycled X-ray plates and scratchy bootlegs, with the distributors risking severe censure and, even, jail were they caught. Oddly enough, it was largely the children of the privileged Soviet elite who were more likely to have access to the records being brought back from diplomatic and trade missions abroad.

ILLICIT

For his 2009 TV documentary of the same name, the author travelled to the now fragmented superpower to hear tales of illicit Beatles parties, clandestine attempts to form bands inspired by the band and we got to hear how many people were mildly disappointed to discover that what they thought to be this revolutionary music was, in fact, largely comprised of live songs, albeit brilliant ones at that.

As a testament to how the power of music should never be underestimated as a catalyst for social change, How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin is a must-read.

>George Byrne

How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin, by Leslie Woodhead, is published by Bloomsbury

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