Books: Got That Something!, by Allan Kozinn (2013)

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Many books, articles, and documentaries have analyzed the Beatles’ music, often focusing on their work from Rubber Soul through Let It Be. Their early work is overlooked or seen as “simplistic” in composition and execution.

Noted New York Times music critic and longtime Beatles expert Allan Kozinn’s argues that the group’s single “I Want to Hold Your Hand” remains a crucial song in their catalog and rock music in general. Kozinn’s scholarly yet accessible ebook Got That Something! successfully argues the song’s importance, demonstrating how it radically departed from popular music of the time.

Before discussing “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” Kozinn briefly analyzes the Beatles’ first album, Please Please Me. He guides the reader through John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s songwriting processes, describes how they utilized recording and mixing techniques of the time, and stresses the crucial role producer George Martin played in recording that first album.

Lennon and McCartney consciously wrote lyrics appealing to their initial key audience: teenage girls. Songs depicting young love and directly addressing the listener in songs like “She Loves You” and “From Me to You” peppered the Beatles’ early work — and no other song encapsulates these themes like “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

Rather than being representative of their so-called “simple” and “more innocent” early work, Kozinn argues, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” represents a revolution in pop music. The recording techniques, chord changes, and subtle sexual references distinguished themselves from typical Top 40 fare.

A classical music critic, Kozinn brings an academic perspective to the song, but writes in an accessible style not over-reliant on music theory: “In some ways, ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ is a look back — a summation of the techniques the Beatles used during their first year as hit-writing recording artists,” Kozinn posits. He compares key features of “She Loves You,” such as similar chord changes, use of falsetto, and George Harrison’s guitar playing style.

The author presents an overview of how the single, the album, and the Beatles were ingeniously marketed to Americans. While difficult to understand now, British bands previously experienced great hurdles receiving American radio airplay. As has been chronicled by author Bruce Spizer (Beatles Records on Vee-Jay, The Beatles Are Coming!), EMI’s American counterpart Capitol initially refused to issue Beatles singles and albums, believing the music would not register with American teens.

Due to British Beatlemania and the media’s growing interest, however, Capitol finally caved in and released “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and its corresponding U.S.-only album Meet the Beatles, in 1964. The first of the American Capitol Beatles albums, it differed in sound quality and content from the original British releases.

Kozinn provides a brief guide to these differences in Got That Something!, although the topic merits its own book — such as Spizer’s The Beatles’ Story on Capitol Records.

Despite “I Want to Hold Your Hand” serving as their American breakthrough, the Beatles dropped it from their set lists shortly thereafter. By summer 1964, the Beatles were recording Beatles for Sale, its contents signaling the group’s rapid growth in songwriting. “All this work put emotional, practical, and stylistic distance between the Beatles and ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand,’ the last of their old-style hits,” Kozinn writes, “and as you watch the band’s set lists change throughout 1964, you get the impression they were beginning to be embarrassed by it.”

The Beatles may have moved on from the single, but Kozinn convincingly argues that “I Want to Hold Your Hand” should not be overlooked in favor of their later material. Instead, it symbolizes a crucial crossroads in the band’s burgeoning career, and demonstrates how they hugely influenced rock music. Written in a comprehensive, thorough, yet engaging style, Got That Something! is a unique look back at one song — a surprisingly complex track that impacted a generation.

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Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole is a lifelong music enthusiast who maintains a stand-alone music blog called Listen to the Band. In addition, she is the internet columnist and a contributing editor for Beatlefan magazine. She also holds an Ed.D. in Instructional Technology. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Kit O'Toole
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