54: Philip Norman’s McCartney

May 20, 2016

Podcast, Podcasting

SATB 54 copyIn this episode, Richard and Robert devote the show to examining the new Paul McCartney bio by the author of 1981’s Shout! Hear an exclusive interview with author Norman as he explains the intent behind crafting a work completely at odds with his oft-stated past opinions about Sir Paul.

Norman’s George Harrison memoriam here and his open letter to Paul McCartney here

May 2016 is upon us and so are the Something About The Beatles 2016 calendars, featuring hundreds of Beatles history dates and 24 full color original illustrations – get one of the last remaining copies in stock here and specially priced!

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    31 Responses to “54: Philip Norman’s McCartney”

    1. riddell Thomas Says:

      The whole reason we read these books are for the facts.And as for his reasons for not calling mccartney back, its so long ago and it doesn’t matter, he’s making a living on the past. He doesn’t seem really that bothered about the people he writes about. He should write for the Sun!!


    2. riddell Thomas Says:

      I must thank the both of you for these podcasts. Love them😀


    3. riddell Thomas Says:

      I sometimes wonder, what would have happened if when ivon Vaughan told paul about the fete where the Quarry Men we’re playing, and paul had decided not to go. The alternative bath each of the beatles would have taken. Would paul and george have formed a band. What might john have done! Ringo would have probably carry on as he had been. But the other 3????


    4. Angelina Roberts Says:

      I’m in progress of reading this book,and I must say that Paul was busy in the 60’s wasn’t he??!


    5. jim Says:

      wish you had gone into detail on what some of the major errors were/are. I am reading it now (a little more than hallway thru)and have noticed several..but so far I think his book on john is much better. (which isn’t saying TOO much!)


      • Us Says:

        Hi Jim,

        We made the decision to concentrate on PN rather than the book’s errors, in the belief that tracking every one would take forever, and plus, we can make a game out of catching them all between us.

        But finding so many was stunning. Besides the big stuff like completely ignoring what we now know to be true about why EMI signed the Beatles, per Tune In, and not George Martin’s creaky old canard about the matter, or conflating the exchange between Paul and George in Let It Be (“I’ll play what you want me to play…”) with George’s walk-out, though they happened days apart and it was JOHN who George fought with the day he left, there are seemingly endless small errors throughout – stuff that any Beatles hardcore fan could’ve caught.

        Some examples off the top of my head:

        Capitol ordered 750,000 copies of Yesterday and Today, not 75,000.

        He mixes up “Eleanor Rigby” with “Tomorrow Never Knows” when talking about the electronic effects Paul worked out at home.

        Paul was 27, not 30, when the Beatles ended.

        And all these years I thought it was Tony Hatch, not Paul, who wrote the theme to the Crossroads TV show.

        The aborted Threetles recording was “Now and Then,” not “Here and There.”

        Linda’s posthumous album was titled Wide, not “Wild” Prairie.



        • Paul T Says:

          My cats know all of the examples listed above! Shocking…monstrous! I think I have just lol the loudest ever on a SATB podcast with the ‘fact’ that it was JULIAN on John’s shoulder in Central Park. Beyond priceless. Won’t be buying that PN tome – will be down the life shop getting one. Top job my friends as ever.


        • jim Says:

          many thanks for the reply. much appreciated! I enjoy the show and anxiously await new episodes.


    6. Ed Manning Says:

      Another fantastic podcast. And how perfect was the final song! As the first few bars came blasting out of my car radio the biggest grin was on my face. Well played gentlemen!


    7. Casey L Says:

      Thank you both for the excellent take on the PN McCartney bio. I too, was left scratching my head at his dismissal of Lewishohn’s tremendous contribution to Beatles scholarship. We don’t want to get too many facts in the way of the story, right?


    8. Mark Astaire Says:

      Many of the criticisms of Philip Norman’s book are fair and his answer to the question about Lewisohn is petty and ungracious to say the least. He is clearly jealous. However your criticism of his pettiness about Paul historically only matches Richard’s slagging off of solo Paul McCartney.

      Also to be so selective with your use of the Philip Norman interview is hardly the practice of a balanced commentator or journalist. The podcast had only one intention and that was to crucify Norman.

      Finally you accuse Norman of historically being highly gratuitous critical about McCartney which is fair but I can only reflect on the gratuitous ciriticisms you make about Pete Best whenever you get the chance. The “fact” is that Best for all his limitations both personality and as a drummer was the drummer of the hottest live band in the north of England for two years.


      • Us Says:

        Hi Mark,

        The interview with Mr. Norman ran for around 40 minutes and believe it or not, any cherry picking we did was for the most revelatory things he had to say. When the talk was done, we had a choice: run it largely intact, in which case we’d have 35 minutes of covering old ground with nothing new whatsoever, or pick what we thought was the most interesting out of all of it. We chose the latter and again – though you may disagree, which is your right – we did not set off to “crucify” him. Our intent was to focus more on him than the book per se, as a way to contextualize where he was coming from and why this major shifting gears toward Paul is a big deal. We leave it for professional reviewers to assess the book. But while you may disagree with the tone, I can say for myself (Robert) that I have no particular axe to grind in making him look bad; he was a pleasant enough interviewee, and Shout!is far enough back in my rear view mirror as to be irrelevant. Richard may have a more personal animus, given Mr. Norman’s derision of his friend and that is completely understandable.

        What was relevant to us was 1) Mr. Norman’s track record of Macca-bashing; 2) the possible motivations for his turnaround 3) how well did he deliver the history. Mentioning the gratuitous bitchery he’s delivered through the years was entirely fitting, mostly for bringing unaware readers up to speed. And we felt his negativity toward Mark Lewisohn, as well as apparent lack of curiosity, spoke volumes about his own motivations in taking on this project, arguably more to be on the right side of history at long last than bringing much of anything new to the Beatles’ story.

        That’s a real shame, as his undeniable gifts as a writer (to give credit) are wasted by an unwillingness to overturn every stone in this well-traveled road. It’s hard not to conclude that either he just wasn’t interested or he couldn’t bring himself to validate Mr. Lewisohn’s work by even acknowledging it. More’s the pity.

        Finally, I don’t think either of us has anything personal against Pete Best. Compared to what Ringo brought to the group, he’s simply not in the same ballpark but I don’t think we’re gratuitously hard on him as a human being; only as a limited talent.


        • Mark Astaire Says:

          Many thanks for your full and considered reply. I enjoy your podcasts a lot and i have learnt a lot, particularly about alternative recordings, from your well researched work. My contention about your podcasts is that that Richard’s attitude to solo Paul is as distorted and subjective as the way Norman has historically treated Paul’s contribution to the Beatles. As for Pete Best, just listen back to the snide comments you have made about the man as human being and musician and then judge whether they were gratuitous.

          For what its worth the podcast I have enjoyed most was ” The songs Lennon & McCartney gave away….”


    9. Hope S. Says:

      This was a great one guys, spot on, was shaking my head, and laughing out loud throughout !
      And by the way, thanks for saving me $ 25 !


    10. Matt Demakos Says:

      I must admit to feeling a bit uneasy when listening to this show. I love you guys but isn’t a bit cowardly to do an interview with a writer and edit it into something like this, unknown to him? He has a certain expectation what you would do with the interview. You don’t give him a chance to defend himself.

      I would like to defend him on one point. His mentioning that he doesn’t present a lot of facts like Americans tend to do was certainly a curious statement. I do forget how he exactly put it but I didn’t take it like you did. You know well that you usually have to collect more facts than you would necessarily present to write about a certain episode truthfully, especially if you are NOT giving a full account, but even if you are. Unmentioned facts help with the tone of your writing and guard against truthful yet misleading sentences.

      Experienced writers know this and see it in the mistakes of other writers.

      Also, he could be simply stating that he would rather write “in early May” instead of “on May 20, 1968, at 3:23 a.m….”

      I do a lot of research on Lewis Carroll and I often have to put data in Excel spreadsheets just to write a paragraph. Reduction is usually more difficult. I always try to collect more facts than I need. It helps tremendously. Good writers do this and you probably do to.

      I love the show. Best Beatles Pod by far. And I do have a mean streak in me too. I’d love to give it to some scholars too!

      On his not reading Tune In. I can defend that too. Only kidding. Can’t. What a fool!

      Matt Demakos


      • Us Says:

        Hi Matt,

        That might be one way to read it (“cowardly”), and perhaps outwardly, it may come off that way when not affording a response opportunity. But as we’ve said elsewhere on this page, 40 minutes of talk amounted to little more than the minutes we used in the show that were genuinely interesting, as the balance broke no new ground and consisted of a recitation of talking points. And honestly, Norman’s “people” showed zero interest in a follow up – once we were checked off the list, communication broke off.

        Given that his road tour, such as it is, seems to consist of deflecting any call outs of the book’s shortcomings, one can conclude that he’s not troubled by the criticism. That reinforces the notion that getting the story right was never his true intention. I see this as, in addition to doing a job for the money, as an attempt to get on the right side of history, at long last; a sort of Goldman in reverse. (He started out as a fan – I can still recall his appearing on TV on December 9, 1980, singing Lennon’s praises, before reversing himself with his book.)

        Thanks for the kind words!


    11. Kevin Says:

      His story about not returning McCartney’s phone call was indefensible. The man was clearly in pain over his friend’s death and the comment about being “hurt” so badly. Norman didn’t return the call because he “thought he was done with” the Beatles as a subject matter? As soon his book is finished they cease to exist for him? This man is reaching out for a short phone call and Norman couldn’t be bothered. It is because he doesn’t have an ounce of respect for the subjects of his books. What a creep. That Macca had the class to help him out at a later date says more about him than Norman ever could. And as for Lewisohn being a “monster” of Norman’s creation, that says a great deal, too.


    12. Sam Says:

      Fascinating … i always love the way you manage to straddle the line between not giving the dull “scrambled eggs” anecdotes but then also not assuming the listerners know everything. I always learn new stuff which is illuminating.


    13. smitty Says:

      i hope You fine fellers will consider doing an episode devoted to the ten best and, more importantly, ten Worst Beatles Books out there. with so many to sort through (and more being published every day, it seems), a roadmap of what to seek out and what to avoid would be much appreciated (as well as Your candor). help!


    14. Ann Says:

      Just recently came across this podcast, it’s awesome. Will be making friends aware of this. Stunning how after all these years there are people out there (me) who still can’t get enough of THE BEATLES. And agree someone SHOULD write a definitive bio of George. Thanks again. Look forward to more SONETHING ABOUT THE BEATLES


    15. Billy Shears Says:

      I have Shout! by Philip Normans, but I haven’t had time to read it yet … I’m a slow reader :-/


    16. RB Says:

      Paul McCartney’s early solo early Wings music which includes a lot of great rock and even some hard rock from 1970-1975 which is Paul’s best post Beatles music/

      Here the very good Russian music reviewer George Starostin reviews Paul McCartney’s solo and Wings albums and songs and he so rightly debunks the common stupid myth that Paul’s solo and Wings music wasn’t very good and he gives good and great reviews to almost all of Paul’s 1970’s albums. http://starling.rinet.ru/music/paul.htm

      Paul McCartney’s early solo early Wings music which includes a lot of great rock and even some hard rock from 1970-1975 which is Paul’s best post Beatles music/

      Here the very good Russian music reviewer George Starostin reviews Paul McCartney’s solo and Wings albums and songs and he so rightly debunks the common stupid myth that Paul’s solo and Wings music wasn’t very good and he gives good and great reviews to almost all of Paul’s 1970’s albums. http://starling.rinet.ru/music/paul.htm

      Paul McCartney is still in the Guinness Book of World Records since October 1979 as the most successful song composer of all time and he has an honorary doctorate in music from Sussex University in 1988 and another from Yale in 2008.

      Paul McCartney is still in the Guinness Book of World Records since October 1979 as the most successful song composer of all time and he has an honorary doctorate in music from Sussex University in 1988 and another from Yale in 2008!


    17. RB Says:

      I didn’t mean to have paragraphs double posted.


    18. RB Says:

      Paul McCartney is the Mozart of rock and he really was born this way because he inherited his father Jim McCartney’s and Jim’s father’s natural music talent,to a rare ridiculous extreme degree. Paul’s father Jim taught himself how to play the piano at age 14,and he broke an ear drum at the age of 10 so he was deaf in one ear,and he went on to become a classical jazz pianist and the leader of his own band Jim Mac’s Band who were popular in clubs in Liverpool. His father even wrote an instrumental song called,walking In The Park With Eloise which Paul and Wings recorded with the name The Country Hams in 1974 and included this song on their 1976 Wings album,Wings At The Speed Of Sound.

      But his father and grandfather weren’t poets,they were naturally musically talented and Paul has always been more of a *music genius* than a lyric genius even though he can and has written very good lyrics,but he doesn’t have to.And even when he did it’s his *music* that is what is so great about his songs and albums.

      Paul’s father’s father,also played brass and other instruments in a band and was a good singer with a good singing voice.


    19. RB Says:

      Paul’s 1975 Venus & Mars Wings album is a great rock album and out of the majority of great reviews on amazon.com it gets a well deserved 5 stars out of over 100 reviews for this album. This is one of the *GREATEST* solo/Wings Paul albums he ever did! It’s great and it’s Beatles quality because every song is very good & if anyone wants to know what a true music genius Paul really is,just listen to the *music* in the great Letting Go.

      My mother only liked classical music,Beethoven,Bach & Mozart,no rock & she played their music on the piano.When I was playing this album and she came into the room when Letting Go was on,she asked me is that Paul McCartney and I said yes and she said Oh that music is brilliant,he’s a music genius like Beethoven! My mother was also a talented artist who sculpted,and drew with charcoal pencils and pastels, and she even sold some of her sculptures at a few local galleries.

      And my sister who is 4 years older than me and had a big diverse music collection since she was a mid teen,bought Venus and Mars when it came out,and I remember listening to it with her,and her friend and my best friend and we all loved it. My sister still says years later that Venus and Mars is one of the best rock albums she ever heard and that it’s unique and she knows no album like it. She always said his 1971 Ram album was a very good album too,although I like this album much better and I really don’t understand all of the love everywhere for his Ram album I think it only has 3 great songs on it, the great rocker Too Many People,Uncle Albert and Back Seat of My Car. Paul’s best post Beatles sounding music was from 1970-1975,with this being his last true great album.After this he wrote some good music but he never wrote the same great quality music again for some reason.

      His first solo album McCartney where he played every instrument by himself (and he played them all great) is very good,Red Rose Speedway and Band On The Run are very good albums too,and he produced all of these great albums by himself and co-arranged the music on Venus and Mars by himself.


    20. RB Says:

      I also don’t believe for 1 minute that Paul *ever* hit a woman.


    21. WingsJer Says:

      I have actually taken this book out of my Amazon shopping cart on more than one occasion. It seems Norman’s knowledge of Paul’s 45+ year post Beatles career is very limited (mentions “Dear Friend” as always his point of reference Wings song) and nothing much new here for that long time period other than pages of the divorce garbage during the the Heather Mills divorce. Also, Norman seems to stick to much of his Shout! beliefs for the early Beatles days even though Mark Lewisohn’s “Tune In” epic book has discounted much of it. So two weeks ago at the “Fest” in Chicago/Rosemont, I instead of buying Norman’s book, I bought the Leon Wildes book about John’s immigration fight and that book is fantastic!


    22. WingsJer Says:

      Forgot to say, I love the show opening with Paul’s “Early Days” a great slap at muckrackers that he has had to put up with for over 50 years. That is a great song (croaky vocals aside) with great lyrics and a great video. It definitely belonged on the “Pure McCartney” box set!


    23. BW Says:

      YIKES… won’t be buying this book. Thanks!


    24. rickylee369 Says:

      It has been a long night listening to these podcasts and it is only the quality of the other episodes I have enjoyed that will keep me listening. This episode was dire!

      The whole hour was a hatchet job on Norman, with a little McCartney solo bashing thrown in. Norman may have done a lousy job with the bio, but to essentially rip the guy for an extended book review which elucidated on little of the content seems journalistically spurious.

      You guys clearly know what you are talking about when it comes to the facts, and are obviously entitled you your opinions, which of course can only ever be subjective, but this subject is a footnote at best, even for a potentially major opportunity scorned, so why the character assassination?

      I found it cruel, and have no particular axe to grind, and I will read the book (from the public library) and reserve judgement and I am sure you are right about its shortcomings.

      However, both you guys are writers, and have experience of interviewing. It is not always as simple as expecting to get the answers you think the world needs, especially when dealing with such a tight-knit inner circle as the Beatles are fortunate enough to enjoy. Add to the dynamic the fact that a billion dollar industry revolves around these four people, with the PR that involves and it is not surprising that people are circumspect.

      You interviewed Norman for 45 minutes. In that interview did you ask any of the questions or direct any of your criticisms to the man himself? Or did you save the snide comments for the podcast audience? It is not so easy to put the tough questions to people even if you are extremely well paid for it. I for one would like to ask Yoko some questions that I know would see her storm out of the room. I would like to ask Trump why he is so full of shit and how he feels about being compared to Hitler quoting numerous examples, but when attempting to get into the head of a subject it is not always best to stamp on it first.

      Factual errors are inexcusable, but publishers should fact check books, especially those which deal with very wealthy individuals who can afford great lawyers. This is not to say that Norman should be let off the hook, but neither should he be garroted in the town square.

      I would state (as full disclosure) that ‘Shout’ was the first Beatles book I read as a kid about the band and i found it a decent primer for those new to the story and who want to learn the basic facts. It is an early work, but for its time I seem to remember it being well regarded even if the spread of information and time mean it is no longer anywhere near definitive. Along with Revolution in the Head, these would be the two books that I would start my own children with (if I had them) and would recommend them. It is the story that is important, the facts crucial, but a podcast where the few new things we can glean about McCartney (who always seems to coat the story in his own brand of syrup anyway) would have been preferable to one where a couple of people who write Beatles books slagged off a bloke who writes Beatle books. I am sure I will find what I am looking for in the next podcast I listen to. Revolver at 50 I think! Thanks for all your hard work regardless of theses criticisms. Peace.


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