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Publisher's Summary

How did four young men from a faded old seaport in Northern England lead such an epic musical and cultural revolution? Why could the story of the Beatles only have happened in such a charged decade? What remains to be said about this British band that hasn’t been said before?

Questions like these lie at the beating heart of these 12 lessons that offer a fresh look at how this celebrated band became one of the most compelling voices against the status quo. Taking you deeper than any simple music survey, Professor Shelden zeroes in on the cultural backstory of how the Beatles emerged as a worldwide phenomenon. Using the advantages of hindsight, recent scholarship, and interviews with key figures, he reconstructs an incredible period in sonic and social history for both dedicated Beatlemaniacs and new listeners alike.

Giving equal weight to the Beatles’ early years as they do to the apex of their career and eventual dissolution, these lectures invite you on a whirlwind adventure that reveals the evolution of a band like no other - from school kids to musicians to pop phenomenon to film stars to artists inevitably drawn in separate directions. They also offer eye-opening cultural insights into some of the band’s greatest hits, including “Yesterday”, “Back in the USSR”, and “Do You Want to Know a Secret?” 

An eclectic blend of cultural history, biography, and music history, this series is your chance to discover how the Beatles became one of the most compelling voices against the status quo.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.

©2020 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2020 The Great Courses

What listeners say about England, the 1960s, and the Triumph of the Beatles

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    2 out of 5 stars

Disappointing

Great Courses? For middle school, maybe. Very simplistic, very little information, none of it new. The author has a major bromance about Lennon, dismissing or downplaying contributions by the other Beatles throughout their years together. The only good thing is that the songs discussed are available on a Spotify playlist.

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Introductory but efficient

Michael Shelden, who wrote one of the best books ever about Mark Twain (“Man in White”), gives a quick overview of the Beatles with a little bit of historical and cultural background. There isn't much here that will surprise anyone who's studied the Beatles for any length of time, but if you're looking for an introduction to the band, this is a good place to start. Shelden does have a knack for putting things in context. He has a low-key, friendly voice; he’s clear and straightforward in his presentation, and the study guide is well-organized and decently illustrated. (I prefer guides that are laid out in outline format, as this one is, rather than the narrative guides: the outlines make it easier to spot the important information.) The course comes with a Spotify playlist, with a qualification. The qualification is that under Spotify’s rules, to use the playlist as intended — ie, to play the songs for each lesson in order — you have to have a paid membership; the free membership (as of this writing) only allows playing in shuffle mode. This isn't the fault of the Great Courses, and it's not really the fault of Spotify either; they deserve to make money off the service they provide. (It wasn't a problem for me, already having a membership. But it needs to be made clear upfront.) It's a good playlist, and the tracks for each lesson are well-selected to highlight topics mentioned in the lesson. My sense is that if Shelden turns his attention to a subject, it's because he knows he has something useful to say about it, and so far I agree with him. When I see his name in a “forthcoming titles” list, my antennae always go up. I recommend this one, again more as an introductory look at the subject than a deep academic study. (For that, I'm still waiting for the remaining two volumes of Mark Lewisohn’s bio of the band.) My one complaint about the content is that it's too front-loaded. By that I mean that in a course with 12 lessons, lesson 11 only brings us up to Sgt Pepper. That leaves way too much material to be covered in the last lesson: the final four albums (if you count Magical Mystery Tour); the advent of Apple Corps; the disagreements over the management of Allen Klein; and the breakup of the band. Shelden covers all this efficiently, but I would have preferred a course structure that devoted more time to the last couple of years of the group.

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Delightful and smart

You'd think all was said on the Beatles, but this really is different. Very happy listening - everything about the Beatles finally made sense. This professor is a consummate professional. He's not talking down to you one time. You get perspective: why Beatles shot up like a rocket; several things they did that were each so distinct; how so much fortune and fame affected the group. No big theories, just background facts put into perspective in a way that's surprisingly delightful. A series of new things were actually said that no other author previously expressed! And all so reasonable. You can listen to this professor easily. If they come out with more audiobooks by him, I'm in.

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A welcome addition to the Beatles literature...

The lecture format works well here and the material is well documented and compelling. I've read most of the major Beatles books, most recently the extended version of Mark Lewisohn's Tune In. This is not a deep dive but more broad and sweeping. A splendid time listening to these lectures.