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Review: The Beatles Anthology
By Mary Ann Shultz


The Beatles’ Anthology reveals the Beatles’ story through fairly recent reflections from Paul, George, and Ringo. Each speaks through his own perspective and agenda and each presents himself as he wishes to be seen now -- as his own man bearing all the joys and pains and triumphs and scars of life.

John is liberally represented as well and, though a great deal of his contribution is familiar to his fans, his memories and opinions are arranged and edited in a way that affords a strong sense of the man. In most cases John’s comments are followed by a date which helps the reader trace the progression of John’s feelings as they alternately shift or solidify over the years.

The first four chapters of the book are different from the others in that each one focuses in turn solely on one member of the band. Although these chapters deal primarily with the non- Beatle years, they quickly reveal the key personality traits of the four men who lived the tale. They also foreshadow the mood or tone each one adopts in its telling.

“With the fact that I wasn’t tied to parents I would infiltrate the other boys’ minds. That was the gift I got of not having parents. I cried a lot about not having them, but I also had the gift of awareness of not being something.” -- From the first pages we are met by the chameleon-like John, radical yet sensitive, somewhat ill at ease with his own genius, and looking for acceptance while reveling in his aloneness. “I always was a rebel because of whatever sociological thing gave me a chip on the shoulder. But on the other hand, I want to be loved and accepted. That’s why I’m on stage, like a performing flea.” The love-seeking rebel artist theme runs throughout John’s remembrances. John’s Beatle existence was a constant struggle between the desire to be his own person and the need to fit in. “They all thought I was a Ted at the art college when I arrived. Then I became a bit artier, as they all do, but I still dressed like a Ted...I imitated Teddy boys, but I was always torn between being a Teddy boy and an art student. “ As the book unfolds we continue to see the dichotomy in John and how it affected his art as well as how it came to bear in his time with the Beatles. He alternately loved the group and the security it provided or rebelled against it’s constraints, limitations and hypocrisy.

“His (John’s) mother lived in what was called ‘sin’ - just living with a guy by whom she had a couple of daughters....” “When I used to talk to John about his childhood, I realized that mine was so much warmer.” The second chapter is Paul’s and in it we are exposed to a man intent on emphasizing much different background from that of John. Paul's pride in his roots is everywhere apparent. The leit motif of Paul’s inherit musical ability is also introduced in this early chapter as is the very central theme of Paul’s “studentness.” In Paul’s introductory chapter he reveals that, “There was a little period later in my life when I would take a paper up onto the top deck of a bus and sit there feeling like Dyaln Thomas or someone reading Beckett plays or Tennessee Williams.” Throughout the book, Paul takes every opportunity to remind us of his grammar school education and how it set him apart from the majority of the rockers of the time. Preferring to concentrate on telling interesting incidents about others and explaining musical aspects of his life, Paul gives fewer insights into his feeling than found in John’s chapter. However, there are times throughout the book when we are treated to glimpses of the inner man, such as when Paul reveals himself as in the story of his regret of making fun of his mother’s pronunciation of the word “ask.”

“ I was born in 12 Arnold Grove, Liverpool, in February 1943” -- All the opening sections, save George’s, begin by giving the date, month, and year of the respective Beatle’s birth. George neglects to include the date. This is typical of his sense of privacy as well as, bearing in mind the recent controversy of the 24th or 25th birth date, his sense of humor. Early on, George remarks, “I have memories of being taken around by my mother when she went shopping on Saturdays. I used to be dragged around seeing old ladies...” Many times as the book progresses, we feel George’s frustration at being dragged around as a Beatle. In his solo section, George at times seems impersonal, as when he spends so much time discussing guitars. At subsequent times in the book he likewise holds us at arm’s length. He makes it perfectly clear that he is more than a little resentful of the public’s intrusion upon his life. Even so, his humor comes shining through. “I had a happy childhood with lots of relatives around -- relatives and absolutes.” His stories of building his first guitar and his hiking trip with Paul are foreshadowings of the attention to detail that typify his later recountings of such stories as the life-altering effects of LSD or his passion for Eastern music and philosophy.

“ I wasn’t a great fighter, but I was a good runner, a good sprinter -as I still am- because if you were suddenly on your own with five guys coming towards you, you soon learnt to be.” One reviewer noted that Ringo’s chapter is the only one that really sings. It certainly is true that Ringo makes his Liverpool come to life through his easy humor and friendly manner. You can almost see his grandmother Annie with her sleeves rolled and her hands clenched into fists shouting, “Get over here, you little bastard,” at her much smaller husband. Like the man, Ringo’s introductory chapter is arguably the most personal of the four. It’s not surprising, then, that many of the most heart felt and revealing observations come from him. Ringo’s chapter is marked by balance. For example, his years of sickness are balanced by his joy at tramping through Liverpool or chasing buses “so we’d know where they go;” his anger at his father’s abandonment is balanced by his happy acceptance of the love of his mother, stepfather, and grandparents. Balance is key to his approach in the rest of the book. He tells the Beatle story in his humorous and direct way without pretense, never getting overly cocky about the Beatle highs nor defensive or bitter about the lows. Some may note that Ringo’s contributions seem at times less weighty, but after a ponderous analysis by one of the others, one of his succinct summations is just the ticket to get the story moving again. Ringo describes many of the events in his chapter as being “pretty exciting for me.” That feeling of excitement seems to typify his Beatle years, too.

The remaining 318 pages of the book are an oral history of the Beatles years put together in conversation-like form as recounted by the four principal players with occasional comments by respected insiders such as George Martin, Neil Aspinal, and Derek Taylor. Sometimes the quotes seem a bit redundant as the same ground is unnecessarily repeated by each of the primary four. At other times, key events are barely mentioned. In some cases the stories are so different one wonders if the tellers were even in the same band.

There is a plethora of creatively arranged photographs interwoven within the text, but few of them are actually new to the ardent fan. The text is extensive, and although it tells the story we all know, there are new anecdotes and insights. It’s much more than just a transcript of the Anthology videos. Although Paul, George, and Ringo indicate that the book is closure of the Beatle period for them, it leaves the reader both satisfied and yearning for more.

John, Paul, George, and Ringo are compelling individuals in their own rights. Together they become larger than life. As I read, my emotions go up and down. Sometimes I find myself laughing out loud. You can’t resist the wit, charm, and humor of any of the four. Each one is a fascinating person. Other times I get a bit depressed -- as when I read about the drug use or when the jealousy of various band members comes shining through. At times I want to give them big hugs and at other times I’d like to give each one of them a swift kick. In other words, this is a great book. There is nothing earth-shatteringly new, but the wonderful personalities shine like beacons. There are enough fleshings out of information and differences of opinion and alternate versions to keep the book from being boring. I’ve always maintained that the Beatles’ story is like a sweeping epic novel, and this book has done nothing to lessen that feeling. Is the book worth the price? You bet.

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© 2000 Mary Ann Shultz


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This page was last updated November 20, 2000.