The fascinating story of how creative cooperation inspired two of the world’s most celebrated musical acts.
The Beatles and Duke Ellington’s Orchestra stand as the two greatest examples of collaboration in music history. Ellington’s forte was not melody―his key partners were not lyricists but his fellow musicians. His strength was in arranging, in elevating the role of a featured soloist, in selecting titles: in packaging compositions. He was also very good at taking credit when the credit wasn’t solely his, as in the case of Mood Indigo, though he was ultimately responsible for the orchestration of what Duke University musicologist Thomas Brothers calls “one of his finest achievements.” If Ellington was often reluctant to publicly acknowledge how essential collaboration was to the Ellington sound, the relationship between Lennon and McCartney was fluid from the start. Lennon and McCartney “wrote for each other as primary audience.” Lennon’s preference for simpler music meant that it begged for enhancement and McCartney was only too happy to oblige, and while McCartney expanded the Beatles’ musical range, Lennon did “the same thing with lyrics.”
Through his fascinating examination of these two musical legends, Brothers delivers a portrait of the creative process at work, demonstrating that the cooperative method at the foundation of these two artist-groups was the primary reason for their unmatched musical success. While clarifying the historical record of who wrote what, with whom, and how, Brothers brings the past to life with a lifetime of musical knowledge that reverberates through every page, and analyses of songs from Lennon and McCartney’s Strawberry Fields Forever to Billy Strayhorn’s Chelsea Bridge.
Help! describes in rich detail the music and mastery of two cultural leaders whose popularity has never dimmed, and the process of collaboration that allowed them to achieve an artistic vision greater than the sum of their parts.
“A historically masterly and musically literate unraveling of some of the most-admired credits in 20th-century popular music….This is musicology with taste as well as ears.” – Dominic Green, Wall Street Journal
“A richly detailed portrait of the delicate balance between group dynamics and individual vision, and the nexus between African American vernacular traditions and commercial imperatives, Help! adds significantly to our knowledge of popular music and iconic musicians of the 20th century.” – Glenn C. Altschuler, Philadelphia Inquirer
“Wonderfully written….[Help!] is an important book. It should be read; it should be studied in detail. Anyone reading it with an open mind will come away enriched in his or her understanding of music.” – Edward Green, Professor, Manhattan School of Music
“An erudite, engagingly written history…Brothers’s rich analyses make for an engrossing narrative that illuminates some of pop music’s greatest creative collaborations.” – Publishers Weekly
“A sweeping history of 20th-century popular music….A fresh blend of scholarly musical analysis and provocative ideas about creativity and how composers create great art.” – Kirkus
“Brothers’ musicology background is evident in his closely attentive and detailed responses to Ellington and Beatles compositions.” – Booklist
“Engaging and considered….A thorough and unique introduction to two legends.” – Library Journal
About the Author
Thomas Brothers is the author of Help! The Beatles, Duke Ellington, and the Magic of Collaboration; Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans; and Louis Armstrong, Master of Modernism, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. A professor of music at Duke University, he lives with his family in Durham, North Carolina.