A well-researched book by an author who has devoted decades to writing about the Beatles, but their breakthrough American hit can’t bear the symbolic weight of the subtitle.
If “I Want to Hold Your Hand” hadn’t “changed everything,” another Beatle hit soon would have. As has often been noted, the explosion of Beatlemania across the United States occurred shortly after the Kennedy assassination, as if a nation in mourning were somehow recapturing its innocence, so it’s no surprise that books commemorating the 50th anniversary of each would proliferate. A New York Times cultural reporter and former classical critic, Kozinn (The Beatles: From the Cavern to the Rooftop, 1995) functions here more like a scholarly researcher than a reporter or pop critic, providing plenty of information about the context, the history, the recording equipment and producer George Martin (one of the few primary sources in the text). The hit song was a watershed for the band in America, but it was just one of a string in England, and it was in fact a transitional effort for the band, who soon dropped it from their live performances and made it sound merely cute in light of their rapid musical maturation. As the author acknowledges, “If ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ was a wolf whistle disguised as a bouquet of daisies, it was also the last time that Lennon and McCartney wrote with the teenage market in mind. It soon became clear that they no longer had to.” So, what “changed everything?” The recording was the Beatles and producer George Martin’s first with a four-track tape machine, which allowed more options beyond capturing a performance and would soon lead to more tracks, more overdubbing and more options. It was the right hit at the right time with the right (for its time) technology.
Those most interested in the book’s minutiae will be rabid fans who already know much of it.