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You Never Give Me Your Money: the Battle for the Soul of the Beatles

By now all of us should have recovered from our latest dose of Beatlemania, occasioned by the release of the Beatles' remastered back catalogue on the ninth day of the ninth month of 2009. The number nine had recurred in works by the band and its members - in Lennon's single "No 9 Dream", George Harrison's album Cloud Nine and, most memorably, in "Revolution 9", the rebarbative sound collage on 1968's The Beatles. But were the people in charge of the band's legacy - now Paul McCartney and Richard "Ringo Starr" Starkey, plus the widows of John and George, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison - simply perpetuating Beatles mythology for commercial gain by choosing this date? And even if they weren't, can music lovers cope with the idea that mysticism and money were always happy bedfellows for the Beatles?

You Never Give Me Your Money explores in detail this second idea - crushing for anyone who believes in the magic of pop music, obvious for those who know how the music industry works. Doggett's approach to the Beatles is brave, because a history of the world's best-loved band set against the backdrop of dodgy receipts and doctored expenses sounds about as enticing as a night in with a wailing Yoko. But by showing us that the problem of cash is so often about the politics of control, Doggett gives us a refreshing perspective on a band who are too often deified rather than analysed. And by subtitling his book The Battle for the Soul of the Beatles, he is also showing us that he is on their side, keen to preserve their special musical alchemy while unravelling the myths that surround them as people.

Doggett begins with a prologue about the death of John Lennon and how it marked a turning point in the management of the band's legacy. He shows us the reactions of Lennon's ex-wife Cynthia and his Aunt Mimi in order to remind us that the Beatles were real, breathing human beings, not gods. Then we leap back to "that acid summer" of 1967, when the band started to change. Doggett presents the four men as "closeted princes faced with a high-street vending machine", "clueless and confused" about what to do with their riches, and shocked into action in August that year when their long-term manager, Brian Epstein, died of a drug overdose. The absence of his leadership certainly contributed to their setting up Apple Corps, a multimedia corporation envisaged as a commercial utopia, though run on the principles of nepotism, and even though various companies were set up within it to relieve the band of their tax burdens. Doggett shows McCartney praising Apple's "controlled weirdness" and Lennon likening its workings to a form of "western communism". Meanwhile, the company's pressman Derek Taylor, who had been close to the band since he reviewed an early gig, described their offices as being "like Alice in Wonderland". Drugs fuelled these proclamations, and also impaired the band's business acumen. Doggett details this period painstakingly, using newspaper reports, legal letters and interviews.

The story of the Beatles' subsequent demise unfurls amid a blizzard of copyright claims, buyouts and other legal wrangles. Yoko Ono pops up and never disappears, even being wheeled into a recording session on a hospital bed after a miscarriage; Linda enters stage left, wide-eyed; and every Beatle but Paul ignores the management potential of Linda's business lawyer father, falling instead for the rogueish Allen Klein. By this time, the Beatles were at the point of bankruptcy - musically and psychologically as well as financially. And while we know what happened to their music - the four men recorded together for the last time in August 1969, on a song called "The End" - it is good to gain such an insight into the way their money was changing them.

It can be difficult to navigate Doggett's dense narrative. This has as much to do with the complex nature of Beatles business affairs, however, as the author's way with his subject. His style, though occasionally wooden, is mostly engaging. And he is excellent when ­quietly laying bare the extent of the Beatles' hypocrisy. He begins one chapter with two contradictory quotations from Lennon about Klein's abilities. In another, he shows us Lennon and Yoko demanding a global revolution for peace and then, a week later, telling Yoko's daughter, Kyoko, to choose between her mother and her father - just as Lennon was asked to do, to his horror, as a child. Doggett also carefully annotates each member's obsessions, describing, for example, how Harrison's spiritual plans were helped by owning a huge country estate, and how McCartney struck a deal for more royalties than his bandmates a few years after suing them.

From the more recent past, one recalls the money-making Anthology project, the band's short-lived three-piece reunion in the mid-1990s, the Cirque du Soleil Love shows, and now the 9 September project. It is clear that each of the band's money-making projects before 1980 pivoted around the idea of the four members coming together, and that after Lennon's death they were all about the preservation and re-creation of its memory.

Doggett concludes, not entirely unexpectedly, that "the soul of the Beatles turned out to reside not in the boardroom of Apple Corps . . . but in the instinctive, natural grace of their songs". Nonetheless, he gives the reader as much matter of fact as mythology, and proves that even the most mystical stories can emerge from the mundane.

Jude Rogers was a judge of the 2009 Mercury Prize

You Never Give Me Your Money: the Battle for the Soul of the Beatles
Peter Doggett
Bodley Head, 400pp, £18.99

This article first appeared in the 12 October 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Barack W Bush