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Robert Rodriguez

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Fab Four FAQ 2.0: The Beatles' Solo Years, 1970-1980
by Robert Rodriguez   

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Books by Robert Rodriguez
· Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock 'N' Roll
· Fab Four FAQ: Everything Left to Know to Know About the Beatles and More!!!
· The Fifties Chronicle
· The 1950s' Most Wanted
                >> View all



Publisher:  Hal Leonard/Backbeat ISBN-10:  0879309687


Copyright:  2010 ISBN-13:  9780879309688

The first fully-integrated biography and critical examination of the four ex-Beatles during the decade where it was still possible for them to get back together.

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Professional Reviews

FAB FOUR F.A.Q. 2.0: Life After Beatlemania, From Multiple Angles
Being an ex-Beatle in the 1970’s was both a bless­ing and a curse. Each for­mer Fab had the advan­tage of the com­mer­cial cachet that came with being part of the most suc­cess­ful and influ­en­tial group in pop music his­tory. However, each ex-Beatle also had the dis­ad­van­tage of liv­ing under the tow­er­ing shadow of that past suc­cess and try­ing to reestab­lish them­selves in the eyes of a record-buying pub­lic that was dis­il­lu­sioned by their breakup.

Similarly, any­one look­ing to write a book on the Beatles is in a posi­tion almost as tough as the one the ex-Beatles founds them­selves in dur­ing the 1970’s. The his­tory of the group and each indi­vid­ual mem­ber has been combed through, chron­i­cled, ana­lyzed, sat­i­rized and reex­am­ined sev­eral times over.

Finding a fresh hook for such fre­quently explored mate­r­ial seems impos­si­ble but Robert Rodriguez has man­aged to pull this tricky feat off with Fab Four FAQ 2.0. This sequel to his ear­lier explo­ration of the Beatles’ career suc­ceeds where a lot of Beatles-retrospective books fail because it is actu­ally sev­eral books at once: it is a his­tory, a source of trivia and a crit­i­cal guide to the ex-Beatles music, films and t.v. appear­ances all in one carefully-assembled tome.

Part of the appeal of this book comes from the way it is orga­nized. Its reams of info are bro­ken down into 33 metic­u­lously orga­nized chap­ters. Eleven of these chap­ters devote them­selves to a year-by-year sur­vey of the per­sonal and pro­fes­sional events in lives of the ex-Fabs and they act as a sort of nar­ra­tive anchor for the book. The other twenty-two chap­ters inter­sect with these cap­sule his­to­ries in a vari­ety of ways, explor­ing their music, their ven­tures into other forms of media, their col­lab­o­ra­tions and their feuds.

Armchair musi­col­o­gists will delight in the musically-minded chap­ters, which break down each man’s respec­tive solo cat­a­logs in a vari­ety of ways: biggest and lowest-charting sin­gles, best and worst albums, the #1 hits, etc. These chap­ters aren’t mere “lis­ti­cles,” either: Rodriguez goes into great detail about the sto­ries behind the songs and albums. His pen­chant for thor­ough behind-the-scenes detail really yield div­i­dends in the chap­ters where he explores the group’s col­lab­o­ra­tions with other artists and their unre­leased record­ings: high­lights include the tale behind an abortive, oft-bootlegged stu­dio jam between Lennon and McCartney in 1974 and the story about “Too Many Cooks,” Lennon’s unre­leased col­lab­o­ra­tion with Mick Jagger.

Rodriguez proves equally adept at siz­ing up the ex-Fabs work on tele­vi­sion and in films: he makes a good case for how That’ll Be The Day shows that Ringo could have had a legit act­ing career if he’d really wanted one and offers fas­ci­nat­ing descriptions/analyses of John Lennon’s con­tro­ver­sial early-1970’s t.v. appear­ances with Yoko Ono. On a sim­i­lar track, there is a fas­ci­nat­ing chap­ters chron­i­cling shows and events that attempted to explore (or exploit) the public’s nos­tal­gia for the Beatles (yes, it includes a look at the infa­mous 1978 film-musical stinker Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band — and that entry offers an insight­ful, well-informed analy­sis of the cir­cum­stances that made it such a fiasco).

However, the most fas­ci­nat­ing and valu­able chap­ters might be those that explore the per­sonal inter­ac­tions between the for­mer band­mates. Chapters on their post-Beatles col­lab­o­ra­tions and — even more inter­est­ing — their feuds over the years are engross­ing reads that offer up all the per­ti­nent details behind each inci­dent with­out devolv­ing into tabloid-style innu­endo. A chap­ter on the roman­tic involve­ments of the Fabs is done in a sim­i­larly infor­ma­tive yet classy style and the clos­ing chap­ter about Lennon’s untimely death is han­dled with a well-judged sen­si­tiv­ity, focus­ing on Lennon’s sched­ule that day and the reac­tions of each of his for­mer bandmates.

And for those won­der­ing why a Beatles book is being cov­ered on a schlock site, well, Rodriguez never shies away from schlock when it pops up. Each of the ex-Beatles made some ques­tion­able career choices that came back to haunt them and there is also plenty of cov­er­age on attempts to exploit the Beatles’ mys­tique. Highlights on the schlock tip include the story behind Ringo’s appear­ance in the spaghetti west­ern Blindman, the afore­men­tioned explo­ration of the awful Sgt. Pepper’s movie as well as details about the stage show that spawned it, a look at John Lennon’s awk­ward radical-chic album Some Time In New York City and the story behindAlpha-Omega, a boot­leg Beatles comp that inspired Capitol to begin a series of Beatles repackages.

To sum up, Fab Four FAQ 2.0 is a true work of pop schol­ar­ship. It would take tons of col­lect­ing and read­ing to find all the infor­ma­tion that is cov­ered so suc­cinctly here. Better yet, this book is as acces­si­ble as it is impres­sive. It’s orga­ni­za­tion scheme allows to deliver plenty of enlight­ment whether it is read in a start-to-finish style or just thumbed through in a casual man­ner. If you want to under­stand the twisty-turny path that the for­mer Beatles had to nav­i­gate to find suc­cess in a post-Fabs world, Fab Four FAQ 2.0 is an ideal place to begin.

Fab Four FAQ 2.0 from BackBeat Books
The complete title, Fab Four FAQ 2.0: The Beatles' Solo Years, 1970-1980 by Robert Rodriguez, is a continuation to his and co-author Stuart Shea's highly successful Fab Four FAQ. It frames that decade with the two most significant events in Beatle history: the break up of the band in 1970 and John Lennon's murder in 1980.

But Rodriguez' writing style prevents these tragedies from overshadowing the story and making this a morose read. Fab Four FAQ 2.0 is a celebration of the careers of all the Beatles as separate, solo artists.

A book that ties up a myriad of loose-ends, threads, false rumors and erroneous press writings, FFF 2.0 digs deep into post Beatle band lore with stories, quotes, stats, trivia, arcane photos, and hard information covering the background, reasons, and career arc for each of the former Beatle members.

As a collector and reader of most all the worthwhile Beatle books out there, I found that Rodriguez scores again with his chapters specifically written to inform and answer big questions for me such as: the breakup's effect on each Beatle; memorable and not so memorable solo appearances; each Beatles' forays into film making; and the working circumstances the large cadre of songwriters, artists, musicians and business people orbited each of the Beatles.

I found the Fab Four FAQ 2.0: The Beatles' Solo Years, 1970-1980 a fascinating book that filled in more blank spaces than I could ever cover here and makes a tremendous addition to my collection. It and Rodriguez' and Shea's first FFF book combine to make one of the most comprehensive studies of the Beatles written in a scrutinizing yet respectful way--without the filtering effect of "a hidden agenda" I've found in so many of the newer books.

Robert Rodriguez - "Fab Four FAQ 2.0"
Every holiday season I play All Things Must Pass because hearing ‘My Sweet Lord’ or ‘Isn’t It A Pity’ (George Harrison’s double A side hit single) somewhat ironically brings back that Christmas day in 1970 when I received the triple solo album as a gift from my mother. That same Christmas also found me unwrapping John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band (an album I play year round). Receiving those two albums completed the square: I now owned each ex-Beatle’s debut solo album, even Ringo Starr’s Sentimental Journey.

All of which is my long and winding way of saying that if anybody is qualified to evaluate Robert Rodriguez’s Fab Four FAQ 2.0 it is me. His sequel to Fab Four FAQ 1.0 - co-written with Stuart Shea - covers The Beatles’ solo years from Paul McCartney’s “self-interview” disbanding the band to John Lennon’s murder in December 1980 (a night I remember quite well as I found out about the shooting from a distraught acquaintance while walking home from a cancelled Cramps concert); years I remember quite well; years when I owned probably 80% of the solo albums that John, Paul, George and Ringo released.

When it comes to publishing, however, The Beatles are to rock literature what Abraham Lincoln is to the American Presidency: no other band has as many books written about them. I myself have read dozens beginning with Hunter Davies’ The Beatles: The Authorized Biography (1968). Is there anything original left to say? Apparently, because insofar as I can tell, no one has ever attempted to chronicle and collectively appraise the 1970s solo work and so it’s a fascinating read discovering who helped whom out, how the ex-Beatles reacted to their former bandmates’ solo recordings, and finally fell out of one another’s orbits.

I find the format of Backbeat Books’ FAQ series positively post-modern. Dispensing with the birthdates and childhoods that bog down biographies, each book in the FAQ series features 30-40 chapters of roughly 2,500-3,500 words that can be read linearly or randomly. This structure allows the author to selectively center chapters on the aspects of a recording artist’s career that engross and engage them and hopefully enlighten the reader. By presenting chapters on live performances, sidemen, guest appearances, unreleased recordings, and latter day Beatlemania to name a few subjects, Rodriguez creates a mosaic that is only fully appreciated after closing Fab Four FAQ 2.0. He has also recaptured an era as it moves from long haired hippies to glam rock, funk, disco, and finally punk and new wave, which Yoko Ono may or may not have influenced.

I found Fab Four FAQ 2.0 to be full of original observations, provocative positions, and humor (for example, Rodriguez notes that McCartney, while incarcerated in a Japanese jail cell in January 1980 for marijuana possession, led his cellmates through a sing-along and wonders if they sang ‘Band On The Run’). Despite his obvious fondness for the subject matter, however, Rodriguez is not an apple polisher (pun intended) as he acknowledges McCartney’s penchant for “stringing together a series of phrases,” Lennon’s sometimes “hectoring tone,” Harrison’s grumpiness, and the fact that sessions for Ringo’s solo albums in the latter half of the decade were often little more than excuses for hanging out with friends.

Interestingly, one does not come away from Fab Four FAQ 2.0 sensing a preference for any ex-Beatle. Rodriguez is to be complimented for being even-handed. I’m sure that if I had tried to write Fab Four FAQ 2.0 it would have been hard not to praise Lennon’s solo work over that of the others or to stress repeatedly that Lennon’s best guitar playing and production can be found on Yoko Ono’s albums (a point Rodriguez rarely acknowledges). Instead Rodriguez presents his wealth of knowledge and research and makes his case that each ex-Beatle can be proud of their solo output.

Rodriguez effectively debunks the myth that Lennon’s screaming began with Arthur Janov, persuasively makes the argument that Walls and Bridges is “thoroughly cohesive and a fully realized collection,” points out how the year Lennon was separated from Yoko and with May Pang wasn’t the Lost Weekend of legend but actually a productive period that resulted in two solo albums as well as session work with Harry Nilsson, Mick Jagger, Elton John, and David Bowie. (However, I do like Sometime In New York City more than Rodriguez does: he classifies it as one of Lennon’s worst. But then again that’s one of his provocative positions that makes reading Fab Four FAQ 2.0 so much fun. You often find yourself debating his conclusions or wanting to reassess records long traded away.)

I came to appreciate McCartney’s willingness to put his actions where his mouth was and to tour unannounced and play universities with the original Wings line-up just as he had urged The Beatles to do. I never knew that Wings went through so many line-ups, that ‘Dear Friend’ was not a response to Lennon’s ‘How Do You Sleep’ or that McCartney only laid down basslines after most of the other backing tracks were recorded.

George’s generosity to other musicians was an eye-opener. Sure, I knew he produced Ravi Shankar, but the many session hours put in producing or paying slide guitar with Billy Preston, Badfinger, Ron Wood, and even Cheech and Chong came as a total surprise. Who knew he was a “devotee of madcap absurdist humor” or that his relationship with McCartney never warmed up? (This is worthy of note since it is McCartney who recommended Harrison for Lennon’s band.)

Reading about Ringo’s Beaucoup of Blues, you do wish the underrated drummer had recorded more country rock, a genre that’s his natural fit. I enjoyed reading about the thunder and lightning drumming duo of Ringo and Jim Keltner (and wondered if that prepped me for Adam And The Ants, The Fall, The Butthole Surfers: all bands with more than one drummer at times). I didn’t know that the single version of ‘Goodnight Vienna’ fused the album’s “opening track and its reprise” or that the title is Liverpudlian slang. My criticisms are minor. One relates to Rodriguez’s habit of referring to ex-Beatles by nicknames associated with them. Ringo becomes Ritchie Snare or The Ringed One, George Harrison is Hari Georgeson, McCartney is called Macca so often that I began to think it was his real name and that McCartney was as much a stage name as Ringo’s Starr. The only Beatle that escapes this is Lennon. I don’t think he’s ever called Dr. Winston O’Boogie except when appropriate.

The other criticism is a built-in fault of the FAQ format. Since chapters can be read linearly or randomly, repetitiveness is unavoidable. This is especially true of the chapters summarizing a year’s events, which, while arguably necessary, reduces the impact of what is written elsewhere.

Still, I highly recommend Fab Four FAQ 2.0; even more so if you are looking for reading material while traveling this summer. Less disposable than a newspaper or magazine and more easily read in spurts than fiction, this is an ideal book to read while waiting for a flight or riding on a bus or train. For this reason and all the stray facts you’ll learn about the ex-Beatles and other recording artists I give this 8.8 Hellbombs.

By the way, since we’re posting this review on 7/7/10 - Ringo Starr’s 70th birthday - I’ll leave you with seven additional facts I gleaned while reading Fab Four FAQ 2.0 (and that might make you interested in reading Rodriguez’s book yourself):

1. George Harrison wrote ‘It Don’t Come Easy’, Ringo’s first solo hit, and even “took a crack at singing lead.”
2. Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell auditioned for Wings.
3. Frank Zappa was playing ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ when “a crazed attendee” pushed him off of a London stage, breaking Zappa’s leg.
4. John Lennon thought his ‘Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down and Out)’ was ideal material for Frank Sinatra.
5. Pete Townshend “often expressed his counterintuitive view that Linda (McCartney) was (Wings’) secret weapon.”
6. The “if we ever get out of here” line in Wings’ ‘Band On The Run’ was a George Harrison remark from “an interminable meeting.”
7. The original backing tracks for Lennon’s ‘I’m Losing You’ were laid down by members of Cheap Trick.

(And wanting to be entirely above board with this review, I feel I should disclose that the reason I know so much about the ins and outs of the FAQ series – the number of chapters, words per chapter, etc. – is that I’ve been invited by Backbeat Books to submit a sample chapter and sample Table of Contents for an FAQ book on Jimi Hendrix, an experience I am eagerly engaged in. If anything, this arrangement made me determined to read Fab Four FAQ 2.0 overly critically. When I boarded a recent flight for Copenhagen, I dared Rodriguez to tell me facts I did not know or remind me of music I’d forgotten. I tried to find errors, but - other than a Yoko Ono-related contradiction about John Lennon’s critical comments on George Harrison’s book I Me Mine – I did not find any. Yes, I found printing errors such as “Worth” being omitted in a header on page 62 but that’s not the author’s fault. The highest compliment you can give a book on a recording artist is if it makes you want to acquire more of available recorded material. On that score Fab Four FAQ 2.0 succeeds. That’s how I found out that McCartney is out of print. I bought RAM instead. I think it’s Macca’s last great album.)

Reviewed by Gary Bombardier

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