The Beatles are no strangers to artistic interpretation. Even during their heyday, the group members were rendered as fun-loving cartoon characters getting into one playful adventure after another. By the time of their disbandment, the Fab Four’s lyrics were interpreted as individual works of art in Alan Aldridge’s lavish The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics series. In recent years, artists have continued in their quest to capture the sight and sounds of the Beatles. Take Andrew C. Robinson’s award-winning panels in The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story, a graphic novel authored by Vivek J. Tiwary. And then there’s Mat Snow’s provocative Beatles Solo: The Illustrated Chronicles of John, Paul, George, and Ringo after the Beatles.
Which brings us to Visualizing the Beatles, John Pring and Rob Thomas’ arresting collection of Beatles-oriented illustrations and infographics. A pair of British graphic designers, Pring and Thomas trace the Beatles’ incredible career in all of its pictorial splendor. Along the way, they succeed in educating the casual fan about the band mates’ humble origins, evolving fashion choices, and chart-eclipsing hits. But perhaps even more impressively, Pring and Thomas take the Beatles’ story into the realm of musicology, demonstrating—or, to be more accurate, illustrating—the ways in which they transformed from a simple four-part rock combo into a bravura musical unit of staggering proportions.
Readers of Visualizing the Beatles will likely be struck by the colorful, albeit intentionally blank renderings of the band mates. By purposefully reimagining classic images of the Beatles as faceless representations of highly recognizable poses and period photographs, Pring and Thomas challenge us to “see” John, Paul, George, and Ringo through strangely familiar, yet intriguingly different lenses.
Much of Visualizing the Beatles rehearses standard biographical data that should be common knowledge among seasoned fans. In a series of eye-catching charts and infographics, Pring and Thomas highlight the group’s emergence, as the group members hone their craft in Liverpool and Hamburg, conquer Great Britain and the USA, and eventually enjoy nearly unparalleled fame and fortune as twentieth-century culture’s most influential musical fusion.
But the real treasure at the heart of Pring and Thomas’ book involves their insightful study of the Beatles’ evolving artistry from their first, comparatively primitive recordings during the Please Please Me era through the remarkable sonic heights of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road. The authors accomplish this feat through the pictorial representation of the band’s progressive soundscapes. They pointedly reveal the band’s development as songwriters through graphical representations of the group members’ musical contributions and their increasing ratio of original material versus cover versions. Better still, Pring and Thomas draw upon their infographics to demonstrate the increasingly complex key signatures and musical structures that typify the band’s work with each successive album. In so doing, the authors vividly bring to life the great Beatles musicologist Walter Everett’s theory about the “progressive tonality” that distinguishes the evolving aesthetic power of the band’s pop-music attainments.
Visualizing the Beatles also skillfully illustrates the incredible intensity and unremitting output of the band mates’ working years from the early 1960s through their dissolution in 1970. In this way, Pring and Thomas underscore the Beatles’ stark-raving passion for taking their sound as far as it could possibly go in such a comparatively brief spate of time. Leafing through the pages of Pring and Thomas’ book will leave many readers hungry to consume yet another nugget about the band mates’ lives and times. But perhaps even more impressively, Visualizing the Beatles—in the tradition of the finest books devoted to the Fab Four—will inspire readers to gather up their mp3 players and cue up yet another timeless tune from those four Mop Tops of yore.