The Beatles through Headphones: The Quirks, Peccadilloes, Nuances and Sonic Delights of the Greatest Popular Music Ever Recorded

By Forste, R. S. | ARSC Journal, Spring 2015 | Go to article overview

The Beatles through Headphones: The Quirks, Peccadilloes, Nuances and Sonic Delights of the Greatest Popular Music Ever Recorded


Forste, R. S., ARSC Journal


The Beatles Through Headphones: The Quirks, Peccadilloes, Nuances and Sonic Delights of the Greatest Popular Music Ever Recorded. By Ted Montgomery. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2014. 185pp. ISBN: 978-0-7864-7863-7. $29.95

Ted Montgomery's premise for The Beatles Through Headphones is that it is about listening to the music of The Beatles "in a different way." He assumes that his audience has only (or usually) heard The Beatles through speakers.

Headphones have been used as listening devices since the 1890s, and I clearly remember my audiophile mother explaining to me way back when I was a child in the sixties that the use of headphones could be a great enhancement to one's listening experience, but let us grant that there may be a few people for whom this mode of listening is novel. Montgomery's breathless enthusiasm for these new-fangled contraptions, the headphones, does lend his text a certain naive charm. Moreover, it is true that meticulous attention to anything is likely to yield new insights. Montgomery's attention to The Beatles catalog, and what this leads him to notice about it, is interesting, but mostly to those who are already interested in the music of The Beatles. This presents a problem of its own.

The problem is that Montgomery is not actually very knowledgeable about The Beatles and has not done much research to bolster his knowledge. This leads him to make the type of errors that are very obvious and intolerable to those who are most likely to have an interest in a work of this type. He admits in his preface that, although he was alive during Beatlemania, he did not actually begin listening to The Beatles until after they broke up and that he had "a lot of catching up to do." He still does. This may have been a better book if Montgomery had confined himself to describing his own aural experiences. That approach would have at least held the potential to entertain the reader. Unfortunately, Montgomery also attempts, with little foundation and less success, to "expose some of the long-held myths about the recording of the music." One of his favorite ways of doing this is to repeatedly assert that Paul McCartney is the only vocalist recorded on "Eleanor Rigby." Dismissing all previous scholarship and eyewitness accounts stating that John Lennon and George Harrison recorded backing vocals on the song, Montgomery concedes that he is "aware of the hubris contained" in his assertion. Yet, his only basis for making it is that "there simply is no audible evidence of Lennon and Harrison singing on that track" (p.4). In other words, his own "earwitness" trumps all else. He can't hear them, therefore, they were never there.

Unlike Montgomery, I was attuned to and immersed in the sound of The Beatles music from infancy. I can still remember my mother's Beatles LPs and her very neat printing after the titles of song tracks on their covers identifying the lead singer; she later scorned the practice of writing on album covers. …

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