John Harris

Journalist & Author

Paul McCartney by Philip Norman review – the Beatle finally gets his due

Norman was one of the commentators who made popular the idea that John Lennon was the key member of the Beatles. In this flawed but powerful new book he admits he was wrong

Philip Norman’s biography of the Beatles, Shout!, has sold more than a million copies. Published in 1981 soon after John Lennon’s murder, it was buoyed by the wave of nostalgia that ensued – the first stirrings of the over-the-top Beatles worship that is now an immovable part of popular culture all over the world. Norman delivered arguably the first literary look at Beatledom: the book divided their career into four parts – Wishing, Getting, Having and Wasting – and told the story in gleaming prose. But Shout! has one big drawback: a glaring bias against Paul McCartney, who was portrayed as a kind of simpering egomaniac, and a correspondingly overgenerous view of Lennon, who, Norman later claimed, represented “three quarters of The Beatles”.

Norman went on to write John Lennon: A Life. Now, eight years later, comes this new book, introduced with a blunt mea culpa. Norman’s damning of McCartney, he now says, was a reaction to how much he had once not just admired him, but wanted to somehow be up there, in his place. “If I’m honest,” he now writes, “all those years I’d spent wishing to be him had left me feeling in some obscure way that I needed to get my own back.” Now, he has a more generous view – and so, with McCartney’s “tacit approval” (assistance with sources and information, but no direct involvement) he has written the Lennon book’s companion piece.

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