Posted November 2019
It’s hard to believe that next year marks the fiftieth year since The Beatles broke up, each going their own creative ways. Since the break-up, there’s been a plethora of books, movies, compilation albums, and documentaries.
A gentleman who was there pretty much from the git-go is the legendary Peter Asher. For those of you who don’t know who Peter is, he is the “Peter” of the 60’s British duo, Peter and Gordon. Their first big hit as a song, A World Without Love, written by Paul McCartney, who happened to be engaged at the time to Peter’s sister, actress Jane Asher.
Peter later moved into artist management with people like James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt among his clients. He has also been a record label executive and prolific record producer for a wide range of artists such as Cher, 10,000 Maniacs, Andrew Gold, and J.D. Southern.
Oh, and if you’re a SiriusXM subscriber, you may have caught Peter’s show, From Me to You, on the Beatles Channel (channel 18). When he’s not on the radio, he’s performing shows across the fruited plain with Jeremy Clyde (of Chad & Jeremy).
Amid all of this, Peter has written an interesting and intriguing book entitled, “The Beatles from A to Zed”. The book is a natural off shoot from his satellite radio program. In it, he shares his reflections into a unique alphabetical journey through some of the Beatles’ songs that happen to start with each letter. He also spotlights recurring themes within the songs, talks about the instruments used, and many other interesting factoids behind and about the songs.
I caught up with Peter by phone as he was working on some advance recordings of his radio show. Because of that, I asked Asher if had anything special coming up on the show.
“Well, no. I don't have guests on - or, I haven't, yet. So, it's just me. You know, I mean, me thinking of things to talk about and music to play. So, no, there's nothing special. I mean, I've recorded a few shows ahead of time, obviously, because now I'm in the middle of all this book promotion stuff, so. You know, I needed to have a few shows ahead.”
Changing the subject over to the book, I asked what the pre-release buzz was, so far, on the book.
“Apparently, I mean, people seem to be liking it. There's been a few advanced reviews that have been very positive, so I don't know. The book world is new to me. I've got some friends who are authors, but I've never had a book out before. So, it's a different process. And it's fascinating. But apparently, I mean, they tell me everything is going very positively and that the reaction, so far, is good. So, we shall wait and see.”
I commented that the book is a fun-filled encyclopedia of Beatles stuff.
“Yeah, I love that it rambles quite freely. But it's not, in no sense, an encyclopedia or meant to be any sort of a definitive reference book. I think the description of it is alphabetical mystery tour, which was the thought. It is quite apt in the sense that I'd sort of follow a similar idea with my radio show, follow the story wherever it led me. And use the alphabet as a very rough format. It doesn't use the alphabet for just song titles, but people and places and musical instruments and musical styles and all kinds of stuff. It's a very freeform encyclopedia.”
When I stated that my feeling was that he approached the book as an informed fan, he enthusiastically replied:
“Oh, definitely! No question! I am a fan! But yes, I wrote the book as a fan and not as any kind of an expert. I mean, I got introduced the other day as a Beatle expert, I said, 'No, I'm not an expert at all. I am a fan who also had the good fortune to be around to witness some of the events and hear some of the music, meet some of the people involved in the whole extraordinary Beatles story. But essentially that just means that I'm kind of a well-connected fan but just a fan, nonetheless.
I asked Peter what he hopes fans take away after reading The Beatles from A to Zed.
“Oh, that's interesting. I hope it makes people go listen to the music again, I suppose, in terms of what it would achieve, I think. I mean, I think one of the advantages of - Well, let's put it this way: When I set the radio into the book, of course, First, I was, like, "That will be easy, because we'll just transcribe everything I said on the radio. It'll be brilliant!". And, of course, it was far from brilliant. It was awful because the way you write and talk when you're just talking to somebody on the radio and following your analysis, it is very different than writing a book. So, I had to rewrite the whole thing.
“And the other thing I realized, of course, is that when you're doing a radio show, you play the music. You have to say a couple of sentences and then play it (the song). Whereas writing a book about the music, you have to actually get more specific and then more descriptive about what it is about the music that's so good. So, I did a lot of writing along those lines. But nonetheless, of course, people do have the opportunity nowadays to have the book in one hand and Spotify in the other, and play and read about the points I'm trying to make about the music and then listen to it and see if you agree.
“So, as far as what I hope people get out of it, I hope they’re entertained by it, that they’re amused by the passage of time. But I also hope maybe that they listen to the music with a new appreciation; that it (the music) is actually brilliant The Beatles were and are.
And how long did the book take Mr. Asher to write?
“I'm not certain I want to get it. It was a huge project. It was much bigger than I expected because I would with the transcripts of the radio shows and then go, ‘Oh, my God, it needs massive amounts of work!’ So, each sample was a great deal of work. So, I will not pretend that there weren't moments where I said, 'I don't know about this book stuff!', you know? It was a challenge. I like to try to write reasonably clearly and well. And I didn't want to co-write with anybody. I wasn't going to have somebody else do it because I pride myself on a certain amount of things and I'd rather do it myself. That makes it hard. And then you learn the value of the rewrite and all that stuff. So, with the help of an excellent editor at Henry Holt - my publishing company - I was eventually able to get it done. But, did I feel, at some points, I’d feel quite daunted by how long the bloody alphabet was. 'Will we ever get to Zed?' But eventually we did. But it was it was hard work.
“But now I'm pleased. I'm happy I did it. But I did have some moments where I just kind of went, 'Maybe this was just meant to be a radio show. And maybe this book idea is not a good one.' But then then I’d read as far I'd gotten and go, 'You know, maybe it's okay. Maybe people will be entertained, interested, or even conceivably enlightened or at least, you know, learn something about music that hadn't thought of on their own.”
I had to ask Peter if there was, from his unique vantage point, THE Beatles song of songs.
“To tell you the truth, I'm avoiding that question. I get asked so many times, 'What's your favorite Beatle song? What's your Beatles top five, top ten?' And, you know, it changes day to day. I honestly choose, if I may, politely, to say, no, I'm not going to say this is the best Beatles song ever. I know people like that kind of thing. They love lists and Top Tens and all that. But I'm kind of politely avoiding that because it's impossible. And it would literally change day to day. Or, I’d choose one now and then listen to the radio and hear a different one and then go, 'Well, you know that should be it.' You know, I don't know. I think it's important to remain flexible and I'm truly not sure.”
What is the biggest misconception of the Beatles?
“Wow. The biggest misconception. I don't know. I mean, I have to think about that at some length. I suppose. You know. I think because it ended in some arguments and anger, perhaps people give undue weight to that part of the story and forget how incredibly well they got on for so many years. They were an incredibly well blended band. It was the perfect storm both musically and personality wise and everything. They fit together so extraordinarily well when I did have an opportunity to watch them work together in the studio or on a project or whatever. I think the misconception is that there was, like all bands, that they did end with some arguing and some anger. But I think one forgets the extent to which they were genuinely cohesive, coherent and a creative whole for a long time. And that's how they created this body of work that is unequaled in the history of rock and roll.”
Peter has worked with lots of household names in some form or fashion over the years. Who would he like to work with that he hasn’t, yet?
“Actually, there's lots of people. I mean, there's so many great singers out there now in current pop music. The funny part is everyone thought the minute they put in technology that it enables you to do stuff on records that you couldn't necessarily do live or fix vocals in ways they couldn't previously be fixed. There was a feeling that it would lead to less great singers. But in fact, any of the current crop of singers like Ariana Grande.
“It's extraordinary how many good singers there are - and good songwriters! I'm a big Brandy Clark fan. I'd like to work with her one day. And Brandi Carlile, too, actually. People forget about her. But I think Brandi Clarke is spectacularly good. And, as I was saying, there's a lot of great singers. You know, Ed Sheeran obviously is not brand new anymore. But I mean, he's a singer/songwriter entirely up to the standards of the previous singer/songwriter era, in my view. I did actually get to do a track with Ed and became a huge fan as well as friends. So now there are lots of people. In fact, this guy, Lewis Capaldi, he's out now. He's spectacularly good. There's a lot of people, many of whom I would I would love to work with. I find new singers and new songwriters as exciting as I ever did.”
Does Asher stay in touch with his old clients?
“Oh, very much so. Both James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt, for example, are dear friends who I stay in contact with. Absolutely! Those are the people I worked with most extensively as a manager.”
I asked Peter if he were made music czar and given complete control of the music industry and was tasked with fixing the music business, first of all, does he think the business broken and, if so, what would he do to fix it. His answer surprised me both by its forthrightness and its laissez-faire tone.
“I don't think there's any such thing. I mean, you can't fix a business other than by the free market. I don't mean to be an economic seminar. I realize it's an entirely hypothetical question but a political one. If this 'Music Business Czar' tried to impose order on the music business, you'd be doomed. You know? Every time that the industry has reacted to new technology or new music. I tried to do that. 'We can fix this. Let's pass some rules; some laws.' It's always been a complete disaster.
“So, ultimately, the free market will fix the music business. No, the music business is not broken. The record business was kind of broken there for a bit. The music business is flourishing. Music is more important to people's lives than it's ever been. The live concert business is flourishing. Concerts themselves is just so much plain ol’ better than they used to be because of the new sound, sonic technology. And, then, touring technology has changed so much that live shows are terrific now and sound good and look good and fun to go to and safe to go to and all kinds of stuff that didn't necessarily used to be.
“So, the music business is fine. The record business went through a period when it did look like it kind of sunk because everyone was finding ways to get music without paying anything at all for it or, at the most, a little. And now, finally, as you as you've seen, streaming is turning into a viable industry and people are making a living out of it.
“So, if I was Music Czar, the first thing I do is fire myself and say, 'No, we don't need a music czar. We need to allow the fans and the technology and the free markets to just shake itself out and find a way that people can make a living in music. And it's not the huge living that it used to be. You know, it probably isn't.
“I mean, my friend, Bob Lefsetz, has pointed out that the new rock stars are the tech guys, not the actual rock stars. If you want to make billions, have private jets and yachts and things, you're much better off inventing some app or a new social media format or something than you are writing songs and playing electric guitar. So, you know, it's changed. Being a rock star is no longer the ultimate rock star profession. It's harder to make a living doing that than it is, you know, being a techie guy. The nerds are getting younger and younger.
“That's a roundabout answer, I know. But I think the music business is fine. And if you don't make the same number of millions that you used to make in the old days, then so be it. But that's not the end of the world, either, because that means that people get into music because they love it, not because they want to be rich.”
As for what’s on Asher’s itinerary after he’s done promoting The Beatles A to Zed, he shared:
“Well, I've got some gigs lined up. I do this memoir show with a bunch video and audio and stuff. I've got some of those booked including a cruise I occasionally host - these rock and roll cruises. I'm doing one early next year, a 60s cruise that is really fun. I've done those several times before in the Caribbean. I have a great time doing that; a whole bunch of gigs. I'll be working on a couple of movie projects with Ann Timmer, who I work with a lot on film stuff. Gosh! What else? I'm trying to think there's a whole bunch of stuff I'm doing. But, to say 'immediately', we're trying to get this book off the ground. And obviously they're hoping to keep selling books through Christmas and all that. It makes an ideal Christmas present!”
Wrapping up our chat, I closed our conversation by asking how Peter hopes to be remembered and what he hopes his legacy will be.
“I really don't give much thought to that, to be honest. I don't particularly mind, you know. I won't be around by the very definition of your question. It's strange, I suppose. Maybe one is supposed to worry about one's legacy. But other than leaving my family well and my wife and daughter and all of that, I don't really have any post-death ambitions, nor do I have any belief that there is any such thing as post-death. So, as far as I'm concerned, you're dead and it's all over and that's it. As a staunch atheist, I find myself minding not very much about after I'm dead. It's odd, in a way. Why do people worry about that? Why do people worry about the size of the statues built about them, the books written about them or the stories told about them? I don't think I really do. I think whatever happens is okay with me.”