Music writer Rob Sheffield has always willfully ignored the line between critic and fanatic, and his books serve as breaths of fresh air in the otherwise stuffy world of rock-dude pontificating. Sheffield’s style is exuberant and heartfelt, like a tipsily shouted discussion you’d have hovering over the jukebox with a close friend. Dreaming the Beatles, Sheffield’s book-length consideration of the most famous band in history, doesn’t veer from this approach, which means it ping-pongs between game-changing insights and laughably wrongheaded pronouncements. That Sheffield fully owns his takes, whether dead-on or wholly misguided, makes the book a likeable, effortless read.
Dreaming the Beatles’ thesis, ostensibly, is to examine the evergreen appeal of John, Paul, George, and Ringo, and why subsequent generations keep falling for them. It doesn’t really answer this question—how could it?—but Sheffield has affection for the band to spare, enough to convert a few decades’ worth of new recruits. “I have lived a full and happy life,” he writes. “But being born on the same planet as the Beatles is one of the 10 best things that’s ever happened to me.”
His love of not just the Beatles’ music, but also all of the accompanying lore, gives Dreaming the Beatles an inside-baseball element. There are chapter-length discussions of such arcana as George’s solo live version of “In My Life,” the woeful 1976 compilation Rock ’n’ Roll Music, and the photo that graces the cover of Abbey Road. Sheffield believes, correctly, that the huge amount of obscure trivia that surrounds the Beatles’ catalog is half the fun of being a fan, and his book is steeped in it.
His wisest move is to avoid framing the group as a defining part of their generation; to him, they’re more than a nostalgic 1960s relic. For Sheffield and countless fans after him, the Beatles existed outside of time—he remembers, as a child, what it was like to discover the group years after their breakup and to experience the music on its own terms. As such, Dreaming the Beatles is more a chronicle of fandom than an incisive look at the band itself, but at this point, all of the facts and dates have been exhumed ad nauseam anyway. Sheffield’s near-lifetime of devotion is infectious—this shouldn’t be the first book about the Beatles you ever read, but whether it’s the 10th or 100th, he’d love to turn you on.
Dreaming the Beatles: The Love Story of One Band and the Whole World
by Rob Sheffield
(Dey Street Books)