Maximum Volume – Kenneth Womack

Max Vol

First of all, I really like biographies about people in the music industry.  The stories of people or bands who make it big in rock or even in other genres are fascinating to me – probably because it’s so outside of my experience.  I also really like music from the sixties and I especially like the Beatles.  So, when I saw a biography of George Martin, the famous producer for the Beatles, I jumped on it.  This book tells the story of his life from birth in 1926 until his fortieth year in 1966.  It’s the first of two volumes.  Now, while I enjoyed the book, I do think that writing two volumes about George Martin’s life is a little much.  He was important in the music industry, but he wasn’t Winston Churchill.  Multi-volume biographies are usually reserved for weightier people.

What the two volumes point to, however, is the real truth of the book.  And that is, it’s not interesting because of George Martin – it’s interesting because of the Beatles.  And because the author gives a somewhat blow-by-blow account of the making of each album, he has tons of material and enough to fill two books.

So how was the book?  It was good.  Would I recommend it?  Yes – to someone who likes the Beatles, but honestly, of the people I know I can’t think of any who would actually enjoy the book.  It was enjoyable for me because it really showed the tenor of the times and also showed just how brilliant the Beatles were (at least John, Paul, and George Harrison – Ringo to this day is the luckiest man perhaps in world history).  They were ahead of their times in just about everything they did.  They didn’t have a set lead singer like just about every other band of the early sixties did (they were unique even in their name – every other band was “Name and the Names” – like ‘Cliff Richard and the Shadows’ – the Beatles were very odd in just having a group name), and they wrote their own songs, which no one else really did.  And they were able to produce an enormous amount of material and just keep on producing it – unlike anyone else.  Lennon and McCartney not only wrote tons of hits for the Beatles, they wrote for other bands too.  And just about everything they wrote was popular.  At one point, in 1964, the Beatles had 12 hits on the Billboard Top 100, including numbers 1 through 5.  Incredible.  And their music has stood the test of time in a huge way – even today their stuff is genuinely liked by people of all ages.  There just aren’t too many bad Beatles songs.

Some of the humorous parts of the book have to do with the band just getting started.  Obviously, no one knew what they were going to be.  Even George Martin was very skeptical of them and didn’t think they were all that special when he first heard them.  Thankfully for him, he didn’t say ‘no’ outright and they got another chance to impress him.  A different record label heard them and the head of the label turned them down because he thought “guitar bands” were dead.  He instead signed a band called “Terry and the Tomatillos.”  Can you imagine living with that the rest of your career?  That’s a bad day at the office.

So overall, I enjoyed the book and even enjoyed reading about the making of the albums.  I could see reading the first part of volume 2 when it comes out, but I don’t think I’ll finish it, as I can’t imagine I’ll be all the interested in anything that happens in George’s life after the Beatles break up in 1970 (spoiler alert).

One thought on “Maximum Volume – Kenneth Womack

  1. Being of an earlier generation, the Beatles were about the only group I enjoyed that crawled out of the late sixties and seventies. Some individuals, yes, but not groups. Their stuff was still melodious. Hard to find the melody in much written during that era or since.

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