- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 23, 2000


Bruce Spizer has hefty competition this season from the surviving Beatles' own best-selling account of their history. But the New Orleans lawyer has a hunch that his unusual take on the Fab Four can find a keen audience and long shelf life.
Mr. Spizer is the writer-compiler of "The Beatles' Story on Capitol Records," a two-volume tome that lavishly documents the packaging and paraphernalia surrounding the ultimate British rock band's music as it originally was released on vinyl records in America from 1964 to 1968.
Mr. Spizer imaginatively carves out his own niche by focusing on the myriad details of how Capitol, the band's U.S. record label, belatedly signed and aggressively marketed John, Paul, George and Ringo on these shores after they had conquered the pop scene in their native England.
"I think that for the first time there's an accurate picture presented about what Beatlemania was like in America," Mr. Spizer, 45, says of his work. "You know, most of the books about the Beatles are not written from an American point of view."
What Mr. Spizer aimed to do was tell the story from the point of view of those in the business of manufacturing and marketing the music and image.
As veteran fans know, Los Angeles-based Capitol did not simply put its own label on the Beatles singles and albums released by Parlophone, the group's record company in England. Rather, Capitol released additional singles as it saw fit while radically reconfiguring the songs, titles and artwork of albums to squeeze more records — and sales — out of them.
"The whole premise," Mr. Spizer says of his history, "was explaining Beatlemania as we in America experienced it in the '60s, which was through the records released by Capitol."
Mr. Spizer's exhaustive, lovingly illustrated chronicle is an apt companion piece to "Anthology," the Beatles' in-their-own-words account of their fame.
His project is a feast for first-generation American fans who fondly remember buying the (45 rpm) singles and (331/3 rpm) albums as they first came out. It also will be a revelation to latter-day fans who know the Beatles' recorded legacy primarily through the revised catalog available on compact disc and tape since the late 1980s, when the original British album configurations were restored and the singles rounded up on two additional compilations.
Part 1 of "Beatles' Story" covers the 19 singles released by Capitol in many variations, from "I Want to Hold Your Hand" to "Lady Madonna." Its authoritative account of Beatlemania includes details on the band's first North American concert — here in the District at the old Washington Coliseum on Feb. 11, 1964. (The book reproduces a set list in John Lennon's handwriting on Shoreham hotel stationery.)
It also recounts Capitol's initial marketing campaign (anyone remember Beatle wigs and "Beatle Booster" buttons?) and recaps the history of the record company founded in 1942 by songwriter Johnny Mercer, music-store owner Glenn Wallichs and Paramount Studios executive Buddy DeSylva (with a classic logo depicting the U.S. Capitol dome topped by four stars).
Part 2 delves behind the scenes of 12 studio albums, from "Meet the Beatles" to "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and "Magical Mystery Tour." It also explores alternate "mixes" of various recordings, describes how the records were pressed and gives the inside story on two "Live at the Hollywood Bowl" albums that the Beatles blocked.
Most intriguing, though, are the two chapters that meticulously nail down the facts on how the then-shocking "butcher" cover for 1966's "Yesterday and Today" album (the photo shows our lads dressed in white butcher smocks amid decapitated baby dolls and cuts of meat) was quickly recalled by Capitol and replaced by the inoffensive "trunk" cover (picturing them in, on and around an upturned packing case).
By painstakingly reconciling interviews with internal documents he unearthed, Mr. Spizer conclusively establishes that the "trunk" photo actually was taken earlier and incorporated in a cover design before the Beatles ordered use of the controversial "butcher" photo instead.
Mr. Spizer manages to make such details entertaining even for the reader who is not a serious student of Beatles lore.
Networking with fellow collectors of all things Beatle, he has amassed for these 490 glossy pages a trove of sometimes subtly different label designs, album and single jackets, posters, press releases and sheet-music covers, trade ads and in-store displays. Reproduced in vibrant color, these hundreds of full-color images are the visual aids to a precise survey of corporate ephemera behind the Beatles' lasting impact on pop culture.
"You have to remember that a lot of these items are one- or two- or three-of-a-kind items, particularly some of the posters and point-of-purchase displays," Mr. Spizer says. "And it would be impossible, even if you had the money, for one person to own all of these things because some of these collectors would never part with them. So while you can't own them all, my objective was to try to document them all."
"Story" actually is the middle passage of a work in progress: In 1998, Mr. Spizer published "The Beatles Records on Vee-Jay," his scholarly account of business mistakes and courtroom fights behind "Please Please Me" and 15 other songs first released in 1963 and frequently repackaged by a small Chicago label before Capitol acquired exclusive U.S. rights. He is at work on a similar treatment of the remaining records released on the Beatles' own Apple label (distributed by Capitol) before and after the band's breakup in 1970.
To ensure deluxe treatment, Mr. Spizer self-financed his labor of love after getting a hefty legal fee for settling a class-action lawsuit over pension benefits. (That victory, fittingly, followed the lawyer's trip to Capitol Hill as a first-time lobbyist in 1994. The popularity of Lindy Boggs, a former legislator from Louisiana, helped him persuade the chairmen of two key House committees to free up related legislation caught in pre-election gridlock.)
Mr. Spizer's choice of profession was inspired by his grandfather, a respected lawyer in New Orleans. He was born and raised in that city, the youngest of three children born to a homemaker mother and pediatrician father. He was 8 when the Beatles hit America.
"What I remember is being on the school bus in early 1964 and hearing 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' on the radio and immediately just taking a liking to the song because it was very exciting. It had a great hook to it. And from that point forward, I was interested in anything to do with the Beatles."

The seed for the books was planted by Perry Cox, compiler of authoritative price guides, who commissioned and then praised an article by Mr. Spizer on Vee-Jay's Beatles releases. Nine months later, the lawyer had researched, written, designed and published his book on the same subject.
All his books, bearing the imprint of Mr. Spizer's 498 Productions, are available through his Web site (www.beatle.net).


"[And] you can't go to court with a witness saying something that contradicts documents. And so it was the same thing: I didn't want to go to press with quotes from people that were contradictory to documents that I had in my possession."

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