Who Was the Fifth Beatle?

The question sounds like a mystery – something that would be solved with a game of Clue, perhaps. But there’s a laundry list of suspects we can examine who can lay claim to being the famed “Fifth Beatle,” the unofficial member of the band that contributed to their success. Who are they?

  • Mal Evans – Of course, he’s my pick. He was there for the four from their days in the Cavern Club in Liverpool to the last notes played for Abbey Road. He got them drinks, lugged their equipment around, and even played various instruments and sound effects on several notable Beatles songs, He was indispensable.
  • Neil Aspinall – Neil had a similar role to Mal, mbut drifted more toward the administrative side, eventually heading Apple Records.
  • Brian Epstein – Brian was the first manager for the Beatles, getting them  on the map and directing every bit of their rise to fame during Beatlemania; his untimely death in 1966 signaled the beginning of the end for the group, who never recovered from his death.
  • George Martin – Probably my second choice for Fifth Beatle, George produced all of the Beatles albums, helping them with their experimentation that set them apart from other groups. He was instrumental (pun intended) in putting together the Beatles’ sound.
  • Geoff Emerick – He was the Beatles sound engineer during much of their ground-breaking, experimental phase; he and George Martin share the recognition in creating many of the sounds you hear on later Beatles albums.

Not considered:

  • Yoko Ono/Linda McCartney/Pattie Harrison – They were definitely close to the group during their later years. Pattie was the inspiration for George’s “Something,” Linda was no doubt the subject of several McCartney tunes, and Yoko even made it onto a few Beatles records. But some have argued that their husbands’ growing devotion to them drove the band further apart. Can’t really take them seriously as fifth Beatles.
  • Allen Klein, the Beatles second manager.
    Are you kidding me??

Marketing is Hard.

crowd-1431678Each year, over 1 million books are published. That’s about 2,700 books every day.

About two weeks ago, my book, The Death and Life of Mal Evans, was one of the 2,700 books published that day. Trying to get attention in a market like that is like screaming in a football stadium.

I’ve been screaming so much over the last two weeks I’m hoarse. I’ve watched my book rise and fall from the new releases charts as a day trader watches stocks – at a chart so sensitive that one purchase can move it 5-6 positions. (Right now it’s at #16 because I lowered the price and submitted it to an email list that advertises price breaks in Kindle books. It jumped 24 places. But don’t blink – it’ll go down 5 notches.)

It’s maddening – trying to find the secret sauce to selling books on Amazon. You can advertise, give away books, advertise that you’re giving away books, lower your price, advertise that you’re lowering your price – and there are some programs that won’t even guarantee that you’ll get in on their exclusive offers.

I’ve spent lots of money giving away free copies of books to book reviewers – that’s another tactic – and those are just the reviewers who answer your emails. Some don’t even respond, and you’re not guaranteed a good review.

There’s Facebook. There’s Google and Google Plus. Twitter. Linked In. Goodreads. LibraryThing. Shelfari. And dozens of other sites that are dedicated to books and book lovers. But which ones work? Where do you spend your money? One blog post swears by one method, while another post warns to stay away. So I try one thing, and when it doesn’t work, I move on to another.

To those of you who have bought a book, given me encouragement, told another person about it – I sincerely thank you for your support. It’s a lot easier for me to talk to the person next to me in a football stadium, but I have to rely on others to continue the message to the person beside them, until it eventually gets around the football stadium. Or at least in my section. It’s just too loud out there.

It’s out there. Officially.

So, The Death and Life of Mal Evans is officially out there.

I’ve spent most of the week sending out announcements, joining groups, speaking at book festivals, asking for reviews and relentlessly watching the Amazon charts to see if my book was climbing or falling the charts. It’s been a nerve-wracking week.

Part of my anxiety is that this has been, for the most part, my project and my project only for 10 years. No one else has seen it. And now, boom. It’s on Amazon. It’s on iBooks. Smashwords. Scribd. bn.com. People – mostly friends and family – are buying it and reading it.

It feels a bit odd – like I’m suddenly exposed, my neck on the chopping block for anyone to come by and take a shot. (Friends have already found a few errors that eluded dozens of edits, and I’m kicking myself.) Of course, an author has to have a thick skin, but you’re always wondering if it’s good enough – if your writing is really enjoyable and your friends aren’t just saying it’s good. On the other hand, if it’s not, the truth hurts. Its a tough situation to be in.

The kudos and congratulations feel good. Seeing my book in the top 30 Alternative History New Releases is humbling and exciting. But fame – what little I have right now – is scary. I want it to do well. I want it to be well received and bought – partially so I can make up all the money I’ve sunk into it (Self-publishing is NOT cheap, ladies and gentlemen). But deep inside, you wonder if you belong up there. For a first-time author, I’m sure this is natural.

But it’s not the joy and elation you would think. Part of me wants it to be over, and part of me wonders what I will do after all of it is done. But there is a lot of marketing to be done from what I hear, and for an introvert like me, that’s going to be tough.

People have asked how they can help. If you have a copy – if you’ve read it and enjoyed it – please leave a review on amazon.com and goodreads.com. Tell your friends about it.  That will help more than you know.


The Beatles Apart: John Lennon

John LennonResolved: That John Winston Ono Lennon, having been blessed with an extraordinary songwriting talent, a sharp wit and creative mind, has been duly canonized it such a way that the legend is bigger than reality.

Be it further resolved that Mr. Lennon needed his former songwriting partner, James Paul McCartney, more than he would ever admit.

All it took was one great visionary song, “Imagine,” to solidify John Lennon’s status as a solo artist. And granted, he had his share of hits during the 70s – enough to fill a greatest hits album. But a closer look at his success reveals some flaws: Was “Oh, Yoko!” anywhere close to the genius of “Strawberry Fields Forever”? Was the controversial “Mother” anywhere near the powerful “Revolution”?

I’m not trying to soil John’s reputation nor deny his rightful place among songwriting legends. He was a gifted writer with a knack for poetic, powerful lyrics.  And as you can tell with “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “In My Life,” he had a talent for writing a memorable melody, too. However, I do want to set give a little perspective on what was frankly an inconsistent and unfortunately short solo career.

As with the other Beatles, his solo career began well – “Instant Karma!” was a perfect example of John’s ability to roll out a song quickly and make it sound natural. Writing and recording took just one day, but he was technically still with the Beatles at the time. This could have been a Beatles single.

I differ with critics on his first solo album, Plastic Ono Band. Where many laud his honest, cathartic songwriting, I find it tuneless. His primal therapy with Dr. Arthur Janov peeled too much away from his psyche, revealing too many raw nerves:

  • “Mother” is typical Freudian psychobabble, plodding along at a barely existent tempo.
  • “Working Class Hero” is a droning folkie protest song that seems to go on forever.
  • “Look at Me” is a retread of “Julia” from the White Album. John should have sued himself for plagiarism.
  • “God,” a song which probably angered those already protesting his “more popular than Jesus” comment, begins well but ends on a three-chord refrain in which John names everything he doesn’t believe in. You wonder from the list whether he believed in anything.

Having gotten Plastic Ono Band out of his system, John toned it down just a little in his follow up, Imagine. Several Lennon classics can be found on this album besides the title track: “Oh My Love,” “Jealous Guy,” and “Give Me Some Truth.” But he couldn’t leave well enough alone, taking his feud with Paul public on the tuneless, grammatically incorrect “How Do You Sleep?”: “The only thing you done [sic] was ‘Yesterday’ / And since you’ve gone you’re just ‘Another Day’.” It made the schism between the two irreparable.

The further John got from the Beatles, the more spotty the results. Some Time in New York City was just awful, with John spouting political rhetoric with an amateur backup band; 1973’s Mind Games offered little more than the title track; and for those who thought that his wife Yoko was bringing him down musically, 1974’s Walls and Bridges, recorded during his “Lost Weekend” away from her, has only his lone #1 hit in the United States, “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” as a memorable track – if you don’t count the lethargic “#9 Dream.”

It was only after five years of house husbandry that John returned to form, with his last release while he was alive, Double Fantasy. Gone were the political statements, the rage and sarcasm. The music was sublime.

It’s ironic that John seemed to be most successful with the type of music he ridiculed Paul for: ballads. “Oh My Love,” “Woman,” “#9 Dream,” and “Watching the Wheels” could all be compared with Paul’s “My Love.” John Lennon was a man of extremes, but Paul’s presence during the 1960s tempered those extremes. Without him, the result was unpredictable and sometimes sub-par. Melody often took a back seat to political statements and

John’s death in 1980 made him a martyr; in fact, Paul just admitted that in a recent interview with Esquire, saying, “John did a lot of great work. And post-Beatles he did more great work, but he also did a lot of not-great work. Now the fact that he’s now martyred has elevated him to a James Dean, and beyond.”

Next: Paul McCartney.