Fifty years after the Beatles released their first album, the group’s music continues to resonate with fans. In their new book, All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Beatles Release, Philippe Margotin (PM), and Jean-Michel Guesdon (JMG) offer an in-depth examination of the stories surrounding these renowned recordings, giving readers a glimpse of how the Fab Four wrote, recorded, and produced the songs that have become a part of our cultural consciousness.
PM: Ironically, I was more interested in the [Rolling] Stones’ music than in the Beatles’ music. I talked about that with Jean-Michel, and, after endless discussions with him, I got hooked…. I became absorbed in the [Beatles’] albums. Fifty years later, [their songs] haven’t become dated. On the contrary, they are a wonderful source of inspiration for all songwriters.
JMG: The Beatles represent the most colorful and exciting period of the past century. In a way they were the conscience and the sound of the 60s. But most important, the songs are real masterpieces. Most of them have fascinating stories: how they were written, composed, recorded. The Beatles, [their producer] George Martin, and the technical crew were always looking to get the best out of a song, and that’s exactly what we hear on the records. So 50 years later, we are still looking for new information. It’s the search for the Holy Grail!
Cataloging every release by the Beatles was obviously an overwhelming undertaking. What inspired you to write this book? How did you get started?
JMG: The first [Beatles] song I ever heard was “I’ll Follow the Sun,” when I was four years old. It was 1964, my father was working in Turkey for the French embassy, and we were living in the American military area there. So the Beatles and I have a long history! I wanted, with Philippe’s help, to pay tribute to all the happiness they have given us throughout our lives. We started with the documentation I’ve collected over the years. Then we went through each song, looking for every detail, giving priority to the memories of the Beatles themselves, their wives, and friends.
How did you balance writing about the songs from a technical standpoint while also incorporating more personal information about the band members (for example, John Lennon’s deteriorating first marriage)?
PM: Beyond their genius for composing timeless melodies, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, then George Harrison, added their personal characters to their songs—they had an introspective approach. We can neither understand nor appreciate Lennon’s songs if we don’t lift the veil on his life, on his intimate relations with his wives, especially Yoko Ono.
What, if anything, did you learn that surprised you?
JMG: For me, it was finding out that John never really participated in the recordings of George’s songs. Especially during the second period, the “Studio Years.”
What was most challenging about writing and researching this book?
JMG: Cross-referencing information among sources. Paul would give one date or fact while John had a different recollection. Even information about the studio sheets was sometimes [at odds] with what we heard on the records.
Though songs like “Yesterday” and “She Loves You” are iconic, you also include detailed information on lesser-known releases, such as early cover songs. Did you want more casual fans to become aware of the group’s more obscure songs as well?
PM: Yes, we did! The art of the Beatles wasn’t born ex nihilo. Rock ‘n’ roll pioneers and Motown composers had a major influence on the Fab Four, at least when they first started writing songs. Very quickly, however, they created their own style, even while they enjoyed covering Carl Perkins’s or Chuck Berry’s songs.
JMG: It’s also interesting to see how they recorded minor songs or covers. Most of the time, the Beatles were looking for perfection, trying to get something special in the songs. Something to “turn you on.”
Do you have a personal favorite Beatles album or song?
PM: It’s very difficult to choose. Maybe Abbey Road and “Strawberry Fields Forever” or “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” JMG: The same for me. “Strawberry Fields” represents for me the best song ever composed. As for albums, I am torn between Revolver, The White Album, and Abbey Road. Maybe The White Album.
Q&A: Philippe Margotin & Jean-Michel Guesdon