Can't Buy Me Love

Narrated by: Richard Aspel
Length: 29 hrs and 52 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (73 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Nearly 20 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. Here 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. 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.

©2007 Jonathan Gould (P)2013 Bolinda Publishing Pty Ltd

Critic Reviews

"Not just another biography of the Fab Four, Gould's ambitious, decades-in-the-making volume tells their larger-than-life story and uses it as a lens through which to look at the cultural and historical forces that shaped the band - and its ongoing significance." ( Rolling Stone)
"Fascinating.... An essential addition to Beatle literature." ( The Guardian)
"Brilliant.... Engrossing.... Gould's deft hand makes the book sing. This is music writing at its best." ( Publishers Weekly, starred, signature review)

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Light on gossip, rich on context

I took a long time listening to this because I didn't want it to end. I also wanted to listen to the music chronologically as Jonathan Gould worked his way through each album and single; so I kept taking breaks from the audiobook to catch up on the songs.

The Beatles are THE band for me and always have been, since my brother and I took the bus into Richmond in 1964 to see the first run of "Hard Day's Night." I won't go so far as to say this is THE book about the group, but it's a fine one, and is well narrated by Richard Aspel. To the standard question, would you read / listen to another book by this writer / narrator - yes, definitely, on both counts.

It's not the most gossipy book about the Beatles. Gould doesn't have any ground-breaking new research or exclusive interviews to offer. What he has, in abundance, are two things: a rich sense of the political and cultural context in which the Beatles' career took place; and a detailed analysis, musical and lyrical, of every released single and every track on every album. His discussions of the songs are what impelled me to go back and listen to them yet again, this time with a handful of specific things to listen for in each one. (I didn't always understand the terminology Gould uses: at one point, he refers to "the elemental subdominant cadent in A-major" - at least I think that's what he said - but his descriptions are more often concrete and illuminating than over-my-head baffling.)

Gould sets the Beatles firmly against the backdrop of Elvis, Les Paul, Brian Wilson, the Stones, Dylan, and the Goon Show on the one hand; and Vietnam, assassinations, student rebellions, the Prague Spring, the Chicago riots, the Profumo affair, and the political rivalry of Edward Heath and Harold Wilson on the other. If you didn't live through those times, the book will give you a better sense of the wider world than any other Beatles book I know. If you did live through those times, it will remind you of how glorious (and sometimes gloriously awful) they were. Woodstock makes an appearance, even though the Beatles didn't show up there: they were putting the finishing touches on the "Abbey Road" album. But Woodstock was an important part of the cultural background; it's impossible to understand the Beatles' place in popular culture without taking it into account.

I haven't listened to all the Beatles-related audiobooks on Audible. Of the ones I have listened to, the only one in the same league is the book by Bob Spitz - unfortunately only available here in abridged format. (The Hunter Davies account is on my list, but even though it has a 1996 update, it's mainly focused on the period ending in 1968.) Until someone offers Spitz unabridged, or Philip Norman's Shout!, or Hunter Davies writes a fuller account of the later years, this is the audiobook I would recommend to anyone wanting an introduction to the history of the band. Gould presents the story with admirable objectivity; it's obvious that the band, and the band's music, fascinate him; but he's willing to call baloney when he sees it, and some of the Beatles tracks, especially as he moves into the troubled territory of The White Album and the Let It Be sessions, come in for particularly harsh criticism. ("Shapeless" and "gormless" are two of the adjectives employed in Gould's discussion of one of the tracks on the White Album. "A parody of a travesty" is his verdict on another.)

The only thing that could make the audiobook better, in my opinion, would be an edition that integrates the songs themselves into the narrative. But you can always do that on your own, like I did.

UPDATE, MARCH 2020:

I've gone back and listened to this again, and my opinion of the book has only risen. Gould really captures what it was like to be in the culture of the 60s and 70s. The book covers political and social movements that influenced the Beatles, and were in turn influenced by the Beatles. There’s a lot of information about other bands, other musical trends, other recording centers, all of it helping to ground the Beatles’ own music in their place and time.

What remains a particular pleasure in the book is extensive coverage of the Beatles’ own music. Gould knows music in general and the Beatles’ music in particular, and there are few tracks they recorded that he doesn't discuss with insight. (He must be conscious of the irony. He is one of the all-time great appreciators of the Beatles; yet he quotes John Lennon as saying that “appreciation” of their music was “(expletive)” because all they did was string words and noise together.)

If I were on a desert island and I could only bring one book about the Beatles, hands down this is the one I would bring. It bears reading and re-reading, and each reading yields new insights.

18 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Ambitious - this book's strength and weakness

Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

Yes and no. I enjoyed the beginning of the book, describing the Beatles' start, their rise to fame, and the cultural backdrop that contributed to and caused their success. Toward the second half of the book, however, there are several passages that describe in verbose detail the making of albums and the attributes of each song. Several hours could have been removed from this book just from editing those out. One would have to be a HUGE fan of the Beatles and/or a musician to understand much of the later lingo.

Any additional comments?

Another reviewer indicated frustration with Richard Aspel's odd pauses, and I must confess I found them grating as well. With that exception, he did a very good job of narrating, particularly when he was being flippant.

Overall, this book may appear to music history buffs, cultural history buffs, fans of the Beatles who may want a comprehensive biography... But I am not interested enough in these topics - or perhaps their intertwining as compiled by Gould - to wholeheartedly recommend this book.

2 people found this helpful

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Enjoyable...

Any additional comments?

I have listened to The Beatles for years and only knowing tidbits about them and their music. This book was a great way for me to have a better understanding of them as individuals and as a group. Even though I have very little knowledge in music the book goes into detail about chords. Not too much detail that it turns me away.
The narration was good, but at times there are unusual pauses as if he's turning a page to continue reading.

1 person found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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Ruined by the Narrator!

I've read just about every Beatles book ever written, and I thought after Mark Lewisohn's All These Years: Tune In there would be little else to say. But Gould makes some interesting points about the Beatles in the context of British and American culture at the time.

Sadly, the narrator has made this book almost impossible to listen to. He has what I suppose is a British accent. Well, I've never met a British accent I didn't like. Until I heard Richard Aspel, that is.

It's an odd and irritating accent he's got. His voice is quite strident, nasal, and somewhat pedantic. But one of its most prominent and annoying features is his pronunciation of "or" words. For instance, he says the word "four" like this: foo-wuh. And not subtly, but very distinctly. "More" is moo-wuh. It's just weird!

Even worse, though, is his mispronunciation of three words very important to the Beatles story, and thus repeated frequently. Those words: Epstein, Mimi, and NEMS.

Would it have killed him to do a little research and find out how those involved in the story pronounced those words at the time? I think it's insulting and unforgivable that he didn't.

Brian Epstein was was adamant that his name be pronounced EP-STINE, not EP-STEEEN, as Aspel does. Listen to any Beatle or anyone who was close to them pronounce the name and it's quite clear that Aspel is wrong.

As for his pronunciation of John's Aunt's name--seriously, who says Mim-Eee?! There are hours and hours of audio in which John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and others close to her are heard pronouncing her name as MEE-Mee. Not MIM-ee. Jeez!

Finally, Brian Epsteins family record business, North End Music Stores. Anyone who knows the first thing about the Beatles' early years know that the the store was known by the acronym NEMS, pronounced Nems. Not En-Eee-Em-Ess, as Aspel does. Every freaking time.

En-Eee-Em-Ess. En-Eee-Em-Ess. En-Eee-Em-Ess! Arrrrrggghhh!

Just inexcusable.

If I'd listened to this when I first got it, I'd be returning it. But it's too late now.

4 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Perhaps the best book on the Beatles.

I know that more than 500 books haver been written on the Beatles, so it's unlikely anyone could speak of any one of them as being the best. But Gould's stand apart as a marvelous treatment of the lives of the Beatles and the times during which they made their music. What distinguishes the book, however, is Gould's incisive analysis of the music itself. While many biographies of the Beatles are caught up in gossip surrounding the four musicians, Gould keeps his eye on what makes the music revolutionary, beautiful, and even, at times, profound. I especially like how he analyzes the music in terms of its placement on record, where a break occurs at the halfway point, the disc is turned over, and a kind of new beginning takes place. The continuous format of a CD disguises and disrupts the ingenious placement of the songs--especially noticeable on Sgt. Pepper.

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The Best Beatles Bio Out There

My history with The Beatles goes back to when I was 10 years old and on a chance I bought the Beatles 1 album that enclosed all of their number 1 singles. Little did I know I was getting caught up in a whirlwind of greatness. I would listen to that album over and over. I would memorize the words and sing along, like all of us have done. At the time, that was all I knew of The Beatles. Sure my parents liked them and enjoyed their music but they didn't know any of the history, so I went for nearly a decade just really knowing The Beatles 1 album. During that decade I was really influenced and into The Doors, at the time they were my all time favorite band and no one could top them. Sure I bought the White Album and my dad had Abbey Road, but that was it. Things really took off when I got into college and saw that my university was actually offering a 16 week, 3 credit hour course called The Beatles: A Cultural and Musical Revolution at The University of New Mexico (the class is still taught there). This class took us through everything of The Beatles, we went into the smallest details to the common details. This book, Can't Buy Me Love, was the text we had go through in the class. The audiobook format did not exist when I took the class. But this class grew my love and admiration for The Beatles. We went through all of their albums, including solo careers, and movies. I bought the complete box set that released back in 2009 and I must've gone through that thing more times than I have for any other group. The Beatles mean so much to me and this book is great. The audiobook format is great and the narrator is awesome. This is a book for the real, die hard, fans of The Beatles. If you don't want to know their childhood backgrounds, the smallest of details, the culture they grew up in, then this may not be for you. This book literally has everything about every person associated with the group. It goes into their history as well as the history of all the people and business that The Beatles encountered. I recommend this for those that want all the details. If this book does make you stop a thousand times to listen to the songs that are being discussed, then you are following this book in the wrong way. So here is my recommended way to listen. Get comfy, throw on some headphones, have a snack ready and have The Beatles catalogue ready for you to get lost in.

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Read other bios first!

I think it’s a good book overall. But with that said it’s only good because I’ve ready other books about The Beatles. Most of the time the bio felt summarized. What it lacked I was able fill in the gaps from my previous knowledge. Trying to cover 4 people and their history in a single book is a daunting task, but possible. I’ve read the Bob Spitz bio on The Beatles, and is great as a single volume. And “Tune In” which will be 3 volumes once completed. The first volume is AMAZING! But this book I’m not sure exactly what it was trying to be. It was part bio, and part music theory. The bio side I feel like if this was your first introduction to the beatles it’d be okay. As I said above it felt summarized, especially the early years. Though I know it wasn’t trying to be the same book. But “Tune In” has spoiled me.

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Definitely not your ordinary Beatles Bio

Having read extensive writings on The Beatles and their tumultuous rise to top of the music industry, it was with trepidation that i purchased this title.

My reservations were unfounded, as here we have an in-depth study of their work, influences and their story provides the perfect backdrop instead of being the main focus.

For example, whereas other books would have spent chapters on John's faux pas regarding the Beatles being bigger than Jesus... this treatment spends a few paragraphs discussing it briefly, and doesn't spend needless time on stories we have heard ad nauseum.

One particular part I enjoyed was the descriptions of the creation of each song, how it came about and s detailed breakdown of why the song is - or is not - brilliant.

Overall, this book is like no other Beatles read I've come across and will delight die hard fans with a new perspective, as well as anyone interested in the tumultuous 60s and the effects it had on popular culture, with a more than sufficient recital of how the Beatles not only fit in to this era but helped shape it.

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can't buy me love

very in depth story about beatles and the events that made them the most popular rock band on the world

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Better Than I Expected

Like many of you, having read virtually ALL of the Beatle books in the past 35 years, I don't expect to be surprised anymore. Gould's book is well-written, and well researched, and well-read, but there is little new about the Beatles. As a first Beatle book, this would be excellent. He skims the highlights of their story well without getting into significant detail. His analysis of the individual songs is good, with an interpretation of And Your Bird Can Sing I'd not heard before. There was a pleasing amount of new information about people and events that occurred in the music business and elsewhere in the world in relation to significant Beatle events. So, for what Gould attempts to do, this book is very good. I suggest Tune In for a more complete telling of the story, but this is s great book for a grandparent to give a child who has just recently come across the band.

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  • Susie Rainbird
  • 09-23-14

Decent Book, awful reader

Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

If you're a Beatles fan you will enjoy much of this book - some parts are heavy on the wider social issues, but I guess it's all related to the subject.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Can't Buy Me Love?

The most memorable part of the book is the ending - a genuine sense of sadness as when a family disintegrates.

How did the narrator detract from the book?

The narrator should have been sacked on day one. Apart from his annoying timbre ( I thought that this was a contrived 'DJ' type voice - but it persists for the whole book) he simply hadn't done his homework - he clearly hadn't listened to some of the Beatles material. His musical vocabulary was limited - as evidenced by the fact that he can't pronounce several musical terms - and his enunciation of lyrics was excruciating! I almost gave up on listening several times.

If this book were a film would you go see it?

No

Any additional comments?

A half decent book completely sabotaged by the narrator. If you want a book on the Beatles don't muck about - get All These Years and have done with it!

2 people found this helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Kim
  • 08-04-14

FALLS BETWEEN TWO STOOLS

If this book wasn’t for you, who do you think might enjoy it more?

People who want to know something about The Beatles, and are starting from a position of no knowledge.

What was most disappointing about Jonathan Gould’s story?

Half the book is written like a dissertation on the sociology of the 1960's. Not very well written at that. The other is the usual rehashed tale of the Beatles. there is no insight here. His description of the music is based on Ian McDonald's ground breaking Revolution in the Head.

How could the performance have been better?

By getting a narrator who can pronounce the words...
For example his pronunciation of place names in Liverpool is pitiful, he constantly refers to Nems as N. E. M. S. the pattern of his de-livery is very strange.

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Can't Buy Me Love?

I'd cut out the sociology, and I'd look for some originality.

Any additional comments?

I'd advise people not to download this.

2 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Joy
  • 01-09-15

Those were the days!

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes - I've already done that. It is a very well written analysis of the Beatles story. The author is not afraid to express his opinion and is very critical of the different characters in the story's behaviour.

Have you listened to any of Richard Aspel’s other performances? How does this one compare?

This will probably only be irritating to people from Merseyside but the narrator mispronounced many local Merseyside names! Otherwise I don't have any complaints - the narrator sounded as though he had written the book which made it easy to listen to.

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

It made me very nostalgic!It was full of interesting aspects of the Beatles story which was being played out while I was a secondary school on Merseyside. I enjoyed being able to look back across the years and evaluate those formative years.I will confess it supported my prejudices about Yoko Ono! I went off the Beatles after John took up with her. Many blame her for the break-up of the Beatles and the author seems to be of this view too.

Any additional comments?

I thoroughly enjoyed the book and didn't get bored once.I'm even thinking of buying a paper copy. The book is very well written with changes of scene at a pace that keeps you interested. For anyone who plays a musical instrument the analysis of the music will be particularly insightful. I've recommended the book on the basis of this aspect alone. I would warn people that this is not an easy reading 'popular history' that you might buy in an airport. It is a serious analysis of a significant musical phenomenon which brought many changes to society (eg regional accents became acceptable on the BBC) and to the music business.Some people might find the analysis of the songs (eg which key a song is in) tedious.