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New Beatles bio is riddled with errors

Review - The Beatles: The Biography by Bob Spitz
Time Warner Book Group, 2005
983 pages; $29.95

by Trina Yannicos and Shelley Germeaux,
Daytrippin' Editor-in-Chief and Daytrippin' West Coast Correspondent
thanks to Daytrippin' Magazine

Here's an idea for a new Beatles trivia game--take the new biography, The Beatles, by Bob Spitz, and try to see how many factual errors you can find throughout the book. A group of Beatle fans have already started the game and as you can see below, our list is quite extensive.

It's obvious that there was a gross lack of regard for editing and checking source material in the compilation of this book. As we began to notice glaring errors with some shock, we then began hearing from others, most notably Mark Naboshek who sent us quite a list, which we have included. Mark is a well-known Beatles collector and writer for Beatlology Magazine with a tremendous knowledge of Beatles history. He has also fact-checked Elizabeth Partridge's new book "John Lennon: All I Want is the Truth" as well as "Lennon Legend" by Jim Henke, no doubt helping them achieve the status they deserve, as well-researched books.

Mark, in his email to us, expresses the dilemma any Beatles fan would feel after just looking at the errors in the photo captions alone: "When the photo captions in a book are this grossly incorrect, it makes me wonder how much of the book's text is incorrect….An elementary knowledge of the band, a little research, would have taken him (Spitz) far. If I found several errors in one photo section, I shudder to think how many errors the text will have. The bookmark (I saw in the book) stated, "This is the book you've been waiting for!" Thanks, but I think I'll wait for Mark Lewisohn's three-volume Beatles bio. Now THAT'S something worth waiting for!"

Another friend who picked up on many of the text errors right off the bat, commented that these are the easy ones; anyone could have spotted them. He said, "I don't want to miss the forest for the trees, but at this point in Beatles scholarship, there's really no excuse for some of these errors. I'll send a complete list when I'm done. I have a feeling it's going to be rather long."

A comment from a music forum echoes these sentiments. After saying "quite a few errors and plain wrong information", adds, "Nothing new here, no tremendous insight." It continues, "I had a couple of laughs at some of the mis-heard interview transcriptions…". He refers to Spitz talking about the Beatles eating 'chick butties' and Bob indicates in the book that he thinks these are "chicken sandwiches". This amused reader ends with, "I'm a born and bred Liverpudlian and we never ate such a thing as chick butties. CHIP butties, yes…."

Some errors in Beatle books can be forgiven, like mistakes due to memory loss by the people who were actually there. But when a new mega- biography on The Beatles comes out that claims to offer new, inside information to The Beatles story, you bet it's going to get examined. Bob Spitz has made a purposeful effort at consulting many different published sources to write a Beatles history. So he should have gotten it right.

Regarding Terry Ott's commentary on "Beatle Bits" on the Abbey Road site on October 23, it seems Ott must have gone to the same writing school as Bob Spitz. Instead of generating an educated opinion on the subject of whether Beatle "experts" have become too picky or not, he spews insults at those who might care if a book is accurate or not, citing the uproar over Bob Spitz's errors.

In his eyes, people like us are "dopey get-a-lifers" who "wank about mundane points of view". We are now "Beatle fetish freaks" who are "dissing any author who dares to make a mistake" and now have nothing to do but "post snotty comments." I guess in his eyes it's OK to do a sloppy job without checking source material, and forget that the work should be fact checked by several experts prior to pressing "print" for the last time and having it bound. Even self-published books with fewer resources have retained a higher standard of accuracy-- and astonishingly this book is published by Time Warner!

The list of errors follows:

Please remember these are at "first glance" since these errors were found within minutes of picking up the book and thumbing through it. It is in no way meant to be all-inclusive. We believe that if we have found this many errors already, there must be pages more. But as we see it, you the fans should have this information as we are getting it, as soon as possible.

Photo captions:

1. Numerous photos from their fall 1960 visit to Hamburg were captioned as being taken at the Star Club. Interesting...since the Star Club didn't open until 1962. We all know that on their first trip to Hamburg in 1960, they played the Indra and Kaiserkeller.

2. Photos taken in Hamburg in 1961 were ALSO captioned as shots from the Star Club when, in fact, they were taken at the Top Ten Club. Again, the Star Club didn't open until 1962.

3. Even Astrid's famous "Hugo Haas" fairground photo taken in Hamburg in 1960 was captioned as being taken after they played a gig at the Star Club! Again, no cigar!

4. There's a photo showing Gerry Marsden, George's friend Arthur Kelly, George and Pattie. It's captioned as having been taken at Paul's 21st birthday party (which would have been in June 1963). Hmmm. George and Pattie didn't meet until the spring of 1964 when "A Hard Day's Night" was being filmed.

5. Page 6 of photos the caption reads: "George with Pattie Boyd, soon after they met on the set of Help!" Wrong: refer to #4 above

6. One of Albert Marrion's famous leather suit photos from December 1961 was labeled as The Beatles in 1962. Nope.

7. There's a photo identified as a shot of The Beatles playing one of their final gigs at the Cavern in 1963. It's clearly NOT taken at the Cavern, making this a gross faux paux!

8. Page 16 of photos: "The Beatles last appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in August 1965" is wrong. The photo is from their Feb. 1964 appearance.

9. Page 5 of photos: "In a rare display of fatherhood, John shows off Julian, age two, to Uncle Paul and Uncle Ringo". That photo is from the Central Park, NYC photo shoot in Feb. 1964, where John was holding someone else's daughter. Julian, John's ten month old son was in Liverpool at his aunt's house. (For the record, the little girl's name was Debbie Fyall and her father was a London Daily Express reporter following the Beatles. Of course, Bob could have found that out with simple research. There was a 40th anniversary story about that little girl and it can be seen at http://www.nydailynews.com/news/gossip/story/158154p-138835c.html)


10. p 419: Twist and Shout was the "first EP ever to enter the top 10."

How's that? What about the 13 EPs Cliff Richard had in the top 10, the 6 by The Shadows, 2 by Adam Faith and 1 by Peter Sellers, to name just a few, all prior to August 1963, when Twist and Shout entered the top 10.

11. p587: Run For Your Life was "one of the last songs recorded for the album."

It was actually the very first.

12. p588: Rubber Soul was to have "an unheard of 14 cuts."

All their UK albums thus far had 14 cuts, except A Hard Day's Night, with 13.

13. p591: George Martin was "not a pianist by training."

Piano was a required instrument of all students at Guildhall, easily checkable in All You Need Is Ears, which Spitz cites repeatedly.

14. p604: "layers of overdubs on take 5 of Got To Get You Into My Life."

This is on Anthology 2, just two tracks of the four were used, no tape reductions.

15. p605: backward sounds on Taxman and She Said She Said.

Not exactly sure what Ringo is doing on She Said; it sounds backward at certain points, but there's no evidence to support that anything was backward on that song, and the way it was recorded left no room for backward additions. Ditto Taxman.

16. p612: George Martin recorded Spike Jones!

I guess he's older than we thought.

Of course we must acknowledge that many Beatle books in the past have been known to contain a factual error or two. As the author himself, Bob Spitz, writes:

"One of the drawbacks in preparing a definitive biography of the Beatles is the stunning lack of reliable source material. Most of the nearly 500 volumes that make up their canon lack proper citations, and even in those remarkable cases where sources are offered, the accuracy remains suspect . . . For better or worse, misinformation has always been a key element of the Beatles' legend."

But who would've thought he was describing his own book?

There may be some good aspects of this book as reported by the New York Times' Janet Maslin (one only wishes Allan Kozinn was the one to review the book). However, in her one-sided review, she failed to mention that the book contains inaccuracies.

Something else must be noted. Outside of a blatant disregard for accuracy, we are appalled by Mr. Spitz's lack of professionalism when confronted with our concerns over his book. Daytrippin's editor, Trina Yannicos, sent a letter to him, outlining just a few of the errors in his book. This was Bob Spitz's response, quoted word for word: "You need an enema. Really! Do something useful with your life."

Did his publicist advise him that a response like this would be good promotion for his book?

The bottom line is this: We, as Beatle fans and journalists, feel a responsibility for getting the history of the Beatles correct, for this generation as well as the ones to come. We've seen the horrors that myth and error can cause for historical legends. With so many resources available to us now, the "truth is out there", so let's not foul it up.

We think we'll take Bob Spitz's advice, and do something useful--we won't be wasting time reading his book, looking for more inaccuracies. We've got better things to do.

Published October 28, 2005

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