Times-Picayune Interview

Local Beatles expert Bruce Spizer’s latest book chronicles the band’s British output

Even though local tax attorney and accountant Bruce Spizer had authored seven meticulously researched books on the American editions of the Beatles’ records, he initially had no interest in examining the Fab Four’s overseas output. “I figured that somebody else would do a book on the British records — probably somebody in England,” Spizer said recently. “But no one ever did.”

Chris Granger / Times-Picayune archive
Bruce Spizer at home in New Orleans with part of his extensive collection of Beatles memorabilia.

And so Spizer and record collector/researcher Frank Daniels assembled the new “Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records.” Over 444 glossy pages containing more than 700 images, the hefty, self-published narrative and pictorial discography chronicles, in exhausting detail, how every single, album and EP (“extended play”) slab of vinyl bearing the Beatles name was written, recorded and marketed in the United Kingdom between 1962 and 1970.

That output included 22 singles, 13 albums and 13 EPs released through the EMI subsidiary Parlophone, plus releases on the band’s own Apple Records, fan club Christmas discs, and recordings made in Hamburg, Germany and released by Polydor.

The Beatles bug first bit Spizer aboard the Newman School bus, when he heard “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in 1964. He eagerly awaited the playing of the band’s songs on WTIX and purloined his older sisters’ “Meet the Beatles” record.

As a guitarist in a high school band, he performed Beatles material, but eventually gave up on rock ‘n’ roll in favor of a more traditional career. He earned a law degree from Tulane University and is a certified public account.

In 1997, he tapped a windfall from a class action suit settlement to replace his roach-eaten original Beatles albums with first editions. He has since amassed a formidable collection of original recordings, promotional items and posters. A dearth of accurate information on the minutiae of Beatles records led him to research the variations and backstories himself, with the same diligence and attention to detail his day job required. He distilled that information in his books.

At this point, Spizer is well known to members of the Beatles’ inner circle. While introducing himself to fabled Beatles producer George Martin in Las Vegas some years ago, Martin cut Spizer off with, “I know who you are.”

He has consulted with EMI/Capitol Records on various reissue and remastering projects; he wrote an essay for the booklet of the four-CD 2006 compilation “The Beatles Capitol Albums Volume 2.” He speaks at Beatles-themed conventions and has appeared on national television as a Beatles expert. He was recruited to write 2,592 questions for the Beatles edition of the Trivial Pursuit board game.

Spizer travels to London once or twice a year on research trips. His new book benefitted from long hours in the British Library. He poured over the archives of Record Retailer, a British music industry publication that chronicled the business of Beatles music in real time.

That research revealed some previously unknown truths. Parlophone usually printed a red “A” on whichever side of a 45 rpm promotional record the company wanted radio stations to feature. When both sides of the record containing “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Things We Said Today” featured a red A, “people assumed that was a mistake,” Spizer said. “But I found evidence that it wasn’t. EMI was originally going to market it as a double-sided single.”

The evidence included an advertisement from the July 2, 1964 edition of Record Retailer trumpeting the “new double-sided hit SINGLE by the Beatles,” reproduced in Spizer’s book.

Such revelations, he admits, are “not earth-shaking, but fine tuning” of the knowledge of what is and will likely remain the greatest catalog in all of rock ’n’ roll.

Tony Bramwell, a former Beatles promotion man, penned the foreword for “Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records.” The orange smudge at the bottom of the cover photo of the band’s 1964 album “Beatles for Sale” is Bramwell’s hand, caught encroaching on the shot as he held back a tree branch between the musicians and the photographer’s telephoto lens.

Bramwell notes that he first went to work for the Beatles in 1961, and received his free copy of “Love Me Do” directly from manager Brian Epstein. However, Bramwell writes, “I could not even tell you what colour the label was. Of course, Bruce (Spizer) and Frank (Daniels) can tell you the colour, catalog number and how many were made. It wouldn’t surprise me if they knew which machine at the Hayes factory pressed the disc and the name of the lady who pressed it!”

For the record, Spizer does not know the woman’s name.

In the book’s introduction, Spizer acknowledges that non-collectors may find extensive discussions about minor variations of labels on the records “demon dull.” He even suggests glossing over this information, unless a reader is trying to identify a particular record.

His pricey books — the new one lists for $69 — are not necessarily meant to be read from cover to cover. They are not biographies, but references books, more like Beatles encyclopedias.

“If you’re driving home from work and listening to the radio and a song from ‘Rubber Soul’ comes on, when you go home you can read about ‘Rubber Soul,’” Spizer said. “You don’t have to start at page 1; you can jump in.”

The Beatles continue to generate copious amounts of copy. National Public Radio critic and journalism professor Tim Riley just weighed in with the 700-page “Lennon: The Man, the Myth, the Music — The Definitive Life.”

In 2012 — August of next year marks the 50th anniversary of Ringo Starr joining the Beatles — Mark Lewisohn may finally deliver the first of three massive volumes of the definitive Beatles biography he’s labored over for more than a decade.

“At some point in time, we’ll reach a point where everything that can be known will be known,” Spizer said. “But we’re not there yet.”

Whether he will continue to contribute to that knowledge remains to be seen.

“I don’t know if I’ll do any more books. But I’ve said that before.”

Source: http://www.nola.com/music/index.ssf/2011/10/local_beatles_expert_bruce_spi.html

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