Book Review: “All You Need is Love: The Beatles in Their Own Words” by Peter Brown and Steven Gaines

Book Review: “All You Need is Love: The Beatles in Their Own Words” by Peter Brown and Steven Gaines

By Shelley L. Germeaux

All You Need is Love: The Beatles in Their Own Words, written by Peter Brown and Steven Gaines, is comprised of hours and hours of previously unpublished interviews conducted in late 1980. Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison were interviewed, but John Lennon was killed before the authors were able to meet with him. Yoko was interviewed shortly after John’s death.

These interviews were for done for their 1983 book, The Love You Make: an Insider’s Story of The Beatles. Forty years later, the authors felt the audio tapes of the interviews needed to be preserved. In a YouTube interview, Gaines revealed that the tapes were languishing in a safe and they were getting worried about them. For legal reasons, they could not actually air the tapes; so after much thought, they decided to transcribe them in this new book for posterity.

Besides Paul, George, and Ringo, over twenty Beatles insiders were interviewed, including former wives Pattie Boyd (at the time married to Eric Clapton), Cynthia Lennon Twist, Maureen Starkey, and longtime girlfriend of John Lennon, May Pang. In addition, a transcript of a 1966 interview with Brian Epstein conducted by his attorney Nat Weiss is included. Six essays by Peter Brown are included on various topics. It is stated in the beginning of the book that these interviews have been “edited and condensed for clarity,” yet reading through them, they are raw, and seemingly include every pause and stammer!

It’s fascinating to read various perspectives through the lens of late 1980, on so many topics, while John was still alive. Many controversial subjects were addressed with the interviewees, making for fascinating reading, and highlighted some conflicting memories. The traumatic experience in Manila, John’s divorce from Cynthia, and Yoko Ono’s unsettling presence in the studio are covered. Allen Klein’s role in causing the split between the Beatles and subsequent break-up is discussed. Then there’s the infamous story of “Magic Alex,” an instigator who caused the Beatles to abruptly leave the Maharishi behind, and even seduced Cynthia Lennon in order to help John divorce her. The intrigues and twists and turns are covered by several viewpoints; most of the time, people remembered things differently.

Paul McCartney’s candidness regarding groupies during the Beatles years ended on a funny but awkward note when he described running into one of his one-night stands years later—while with his wife. He talked of more serious girlfriends, from Dot Rhone (misspelled as Roam) to Jane Asher, and fessed up about the brief affair with Francie Schwartz, who “made a career out of those three weeks”; and how he met and married Linda Eastman.

The authors’ negative commentary on George Harrison felt horribly jarring. On page 93, they write: “George Harrison remained an enigma to many people, even those who were close to him. For a man who lectured passionately about karma and the meaning of existence, he seemed self-protective and closed off. Witty when called upon there were also moments when he could be quite boorish.

Boorish? George Harrison? If this description causes fans of George’s to bristle enough, the authors then go on to describe him as “gracious but cool,” during their interview; and by the way, George’s kitchen at Friar Park was “drafty.”

While George has been characterized as warm, generous, funny and sweet by those closest to him, his reaction to press arriving at his house for a lengthy interview may have been as chilly as his kitchen. His wife Olivia has often said that if George liked you, you knew it–but if he didn’t like you, you knew that, too. Yet, despite the obvious vibe in the room, he gave a long, thoughtful interview, filling 13 pages, discussing many subjects. He answered questions about the extent of his LSD use (despite pursuing spirituality at the same time), The Beatles’ frightening experience in Manila, his love of India and Transcendental Meditation, his thoughts on John Lennon, as well as his new book that was about to come out, I, Me, Mine.

When Peter Brown mentioned to George that he was going to interview John when he returned to New York, George said, “You’ll probably think [John] is a piece of shit, you know? He’s so negative about everything.” George’s disdain was not based on personal contact, as George had not seen John in a few years; he was reacting to John’s interviews in various publications that he had been reading, and wondered why in the world he had become “so nasty” after all this time.

These interviews reflect a snapshot in time that was soon to be snatched away with John’s death. Everything changed after that, including their perceptions. George’s feelings about John immediately shifted to grief, and he later released the song, “All Those Years Ago”, a beautiful tribute to his old bandmate and friend. The other Beatles performed on the song as well, becoming a joint commemoration by the Beatles in John’s memory.

The interview with Yoko Ono, conducted shortly after John’s death, is searing and gut
wrenching, reflecting her willingness to be open, during that time of grieving. She was candid about how she and John got together and that it was platonic for a year and a half. She even expressed sympathy for Cynthia during the whole debacle. She revealed heartbreaking details about her miscarriages, saying that two of them were so far along in gestation, by law they had to be given names and given proper burials. She openly discussed the extent of her and John’s heroin use. These are topics that would wane in later years as she began the work of preserving John’s fortune and legacy.

May Pang’s interview reflects a cryptic, politically correct PR statement, which is very interesting in retrospect. In her interview, she describes John as a “friend”, and wishes John and Yoko well after their reconciliation. Her comments are in stark contrast to what would come out later, after John’s death. It would later be revealed that she and John still occasionally saw each other in secret, for a long time.

In 1983 she published her first book, Loving John, in which she described fully what their romance was like and the shock she experienced when he reconciled with Yoko. Later she would publish yet another book, Instamatic Karma, featuring her photographs of John, and in 2023 her documentary, The Lost Weekend: A Love Story was released to great acclaim. Her work has made it clear beyond a doubt that her love for John has never wavered and she is devoted to his memory.

The authors made a few factual mistakes in the book that could have easily been avoided; errors that reveal a lack of basic knowledge of The Beatles’ history, but also laziness in editing. This is surprising given Peter Brown’s long-term proximity to the group. For example, in the interview with Alexis Mardis (“Magic Alex”), regarding the trip to India, Brown inserts his own text that claims that George Harrison wrote the song, “Dear Prudence” for Prudence Farrow because he “longed for her.” This is a laughable error.

The song was actually written by John Lennon. Prudence had been staying inside meditating too long and John felt she needed to “come out and play.” This story has been Beatles lore for many years and widely known.

In Paul McCartney’s section, the authors give their impression that Paul was the true force of the group, and that John Lennon was only the “nominal” leader, even at the beginning. In the Afterword, the authors claim that Paul McCartney was the one who used to cheerlead the other Beatles in the beginning with “Where are we going, Johnny?” To this, the others would respond with “To the toppermost of the poppermost!

They got it backwards. It’s been long established that John was the primary force of the Beatles from day one, only relinquishing control after Yoko came into his life. He was the one who said, “Where are we goin’ fellas?” and they responded, “To the toppermost of the poppermost, Johnny!” Paul McCartney even shares this during his interview in this book. Again, this is a story that is so well-known to fans, the mistake is puzzling.

The authors are to be commended for preserving these interviews, especially given that many of the participants have passed away. The interviews are important for historical perspective and will be used as a reference for years to come. However, the mistakes detract from credibility and could have easily been caught with some editing. In addition, the authors went too far with some of their opinions and commentaries at times, distracting the reader from the true purpose of the book.

All You Need is Love: The Beatles in Their Own Words is available on Amazon in hardcover, Kindle and audiobook formats.


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