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What Goes On

The Beatles, Their Music, and Their Time

Walter Everett and Tim Riley

Publication Date - 22 July 2019

ISBN: 9780190949877

322 pages
7 x 10 inches


In a stretch of just seven years, the Beatles recorded hundreds of songs which tower above those of their worthy peers as both the product of cultural leadership and an artistic reflection of their turbulent age, the1960s. Walter Everett and Tim Riley's What Goes On: The Beatles, Their Music, and Their Time blends historical narrative, musicology, and music analysis to tell the full story of the Beatles and how they redefined pop music.

The book traces the Beatles' development chronologically, marking the band's involvement with world events such as the Vietnam War, strides in overcoming racial segregation, gender stereotyping, student demonstrations, and the generation gap. It delves deeply into their body of work, introducing the concepts of musical form, instrumentation, harmonic structure, melodic patterns, and rhythmic devices in a way that is accessible to musicians and non-musicians alike. Close readings of specific songs highlight the tensions between imagination and mechanics, songwriting and technology, and through the book's musical examples, listeners will learn how to develop strategies for creating their own rich interpretations of the potential meanings behind their favorite songs. Videos hosted on the book's companion website offer full definitions and performance demonstrations of all musical concepts discussed in the text, and interactive listening guides illustrate track details in real-time listening.

The unique multimedia approach of What Goes On reveals just how great this music was in its own time, and why it remains important today as a body of singular achievement.


  • A collaboration of two well-known rock scholars
  • Offers new interpretations of the 20th century's most popular songs
  • Features a website with full, methodical explanations and demonstrations of musical techniques

About the Author(s)

Walter Everett is Professor of Music in Music Theory at the University of Michigan. He is the author of the two-volume study, The Beatles as Musicians, and of The Foundations of Rock. In addition to editing or co-editing three other books of analytical essays on popular music, he has published more than thirty book chapters and articles on rock music from Elvis to Missy Elliott, as well as other analytical papers on music of the common-practice period.

Tim Riley is NPR Critic and Emerson College associate professor. He reviews pop and classical music for NPR's Here & Now and On Point, and contributes to The New York Times, Radio Silence, and truthdig. He is the author of Tell Me Why: A Beatles Commentary, Hard Rain: A Dylan Commentary, Madonna: Illustrated, Fever: How Rock 'n' Roll Transformed Gender, and Lennon: Man, Myth, Music. In 2016, he won the LA Press/NAEJA Best Cultural Critic Award for his truthdig book reviews. Visit timrileyauthor.com.


"The value and use of these artifacts in the traditional or virtual classroom cannot be overstated; they help contemporary students understand the lasting importance of the Beatles, their history, their music, and their historical value moving into the 21st century." -- T. Emery, Austin Peay State University, CHOICE

"...this book would be a good addition to the music literature section of a university library or the personal collection of a musically-inclined Beatles fan. It may also be of interest to college professors in search of supplementary materials for a general popular music course or the primary text for a Beatles-specific course" -- Anna Wodny, University of North Texas, Music Reference Services Quarterly

"I do feel heartened by the idea of a new generation of young people discovering their music and the pleasures of delving deep into it in the kind of class that might employ this book as its main text." -- psychobabble

Table of Contents

    Contents of Beatle videos

    Prologue: Who Were the Beatles?

    Introduction - Revolt Into Sound: Race, Class, Generation Divide and Gender Dominate Pre-Beatles Rock 'n' Roll
    John Lennon Discovers Rock 'n' Roll
    Elvis Presley and Other First-generation Rockers
    The Beatles on the BBC
    From Performance to Production and Poetic Concept

    Chapter 1 - The Quarry Men (1940-1960)
    A Pre-history
    The Quarry Men
    Becoming the Beatles: "In Spite of All the Danger"
    Early Paying Gigs

    Chapter 2 - The Pete Best Era (1961-1962)
    1961-62 Original Releases
    The Cavern, "My Bonnie" and Brian Epstein
    Recording for EMI: George Martin
    "Please Please Me"

    Chapter 3 - Runaway Train: British Beatlemania (1963)
    1963 British Releases
    The Rise to National Prominence: Please Please Me
    "I Saw Her Standing There"
    "There's A Place"
    Growth as Musicians
    "She Loves You"
    With the Beatles and "I Want to Hold Your Hand"
    "All I've Got to Do"
    "Not a Second Time"
    "I Want to Hold Your Hand"
    Beatlemania Officially Recognized

    Chapter 4 - Instant Combustion: World Embrace (1964)
    Storming the States
    1964 Original Releases
    A Hard Day's Night
    "I Should Have Known Better"
    "If I Fell"
    "Things We Said Today"
    "I'll Be Back"
    "I Call Your Name"
    World Tour and Further Recording: Beatles for Sale

    Chapter 5 - Repeat with a Twist (1965)
    1965 Original Releases
    The Beatles and the Changing Global Culture of 1965
    "Ticket to Ride"
    "The Night Before," "Another Girl"
    The Beatles as Live Performers
    "We Can Work It Out"
    "Day Tripper"
    Rubber Soul
    "You Won't See Me"

    Chapter 6 - From the Stage to the Studio (1966)
    The Final Tours
    "Here, There and Everywhere"
    "And Your Bird Can Sing"
    "Doctor Robert"
    "Paperback Writer"
    "Strawberry Fields Forever" / "Penny Lane"

    Chapter 7 - Celebrity Psychedelia (1967)
    1967 British Releases
    The Summer of Love
    Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
    "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"
    "A Day in the Life"
    Magical Mystery Tour
    "The Fool on the Hill"
    "I Am the Walrus"

    Chapter 8 - Listening Through a Glass Onion (1968)
    1968 British Releases
    The Summer of Love, Inverted
    Early-1968 Recording Projects and Rishikesh
    Apple and Solo Excursions
    The White Album
    "Dear Prudence"
    "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"
    "Martha My Dear"
    "I'm So Tired"
    "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey"
    "Sexy Sadie"
    "Revolution 9"

    Chapter 9 - They May Be Parted (1969-1970)
    1969-1970 British Releases
    The "Get Back" Project
    "Two of Us"
    "Dig a Pony"
    "I've Got a Feeling"
    "One After 909"
    "Don't Let Me Down"
    The Spring of 1969
    "The Ballad of John and Yoko"
    Abbey Road
    "Oh! Darling"
    The Ex-Beatles
    The Beatles' Legacy

    Appendix 1: Recordings That Influenced the Beatles
    Appendix 2: 1960s
    Appendix 3: Guide to Multimedia Materials

    Selected Bibliography
    Index of Song Titles, Artists' and Others' Names, Musical Terms and Concepts