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'Beatles Anthology' out today
Ladies and gentlemen, the Beatles! -- in their own words
(CNN) -- It weighs more than six pounds. It contains more than 1,300 images and 340,000 words. And it's all by, or authorized by, the Beatles.
It's "The Beatles Anthology," and it promises to be the last word -- or, at least, John, Paul, George, and Ringo's last word -- on the entire Beatles phenomenon.
More than 1.5 million orders have been placed worldwide for the book, which will be printed in eight languages and released in the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, the Netherlands, Germany, and Norway, among other countries. George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and Yoko Ono Lennon have spent six years compiling the work; the late John Lennon's accounts have been drawn from the hundreds of interviews he conducted over the years.
Also included are Beatles producer George Martin, the late Beatles press officer Derek Taylor, and the group's former road manager Neil Aspinall, who is now head of Apple Corps, the organization that oversees the Beatles' interests.
"The Beatles Anthology" doesn't reveal much new history about the band; the Beatles are already perhaps the most exhaustively chronicled and dissected group in history, and there are books that offer day-by-day diaries of the Beatles' lives and their music. (There's even one book, Mark Shipper's "Paperback Writer," that's a hilarious semi-fictional history, complete with loopy footnotes.)
What "Anthology" does do is offer first-person viewpoints from the four men who sat in the eye of the storm called "Beatlemania" and present their often very different memories of the same events.
One oft-told story claims that the Beatles smoked marijuana in the toilets of Buckingham Palace before receiving their MBEs from the Queen. That was John Lennon's version. In "Anthology," however, George Harrison maintains that Lennon's tale wasn't true.
"We never smoked marijuana at the investiture," he says. "What happened was we were waiting to go through and we were so nervous that we went to the toilet. And in there we smoked a cigarette -- we were all smokers in those days. Years later, I'm sure John was thinking back and remembering, 'Oh yes, we went in the toilet and smoked,' and it turned into a reefer. But we never did."
Starr, however, isn't sure either way. "I'm not sure if we had a joint or not. It's such a strange place to be, anyway, the Palace."
Putting down 'Sgt. Pepper'
The band members don't always agree about their music, either. John Lennon disparages 1967's "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," the album that is generally on or near the top of most critics' lists of the greatest album of all time. " 'Sgt. Pepper' is a nice song, 'Getting Better' is a nice song, and George's 'Within You Without You' is beautiful. But what else is on it musically besides the whole concept of having tracks run into each other?"
But, Starr responds, " 'Sgt. Pepper' seemed to capture the mood of that year, and it also allowed a lot of other people to kick off from there and to really go for it. ... It was a monster. Everybody loved it, and they all admitted it was a really fine piece of work. Which it was."
Neither do some long-festering grudges go away. Paul McCartney has gone on record as saying he's never liked producer Phil Spector's version of the "Let It Be" album, particularly the heavy use of strings and choral voices on the song "The Long and Winding Road." He reiterates that stance in "Anthology": "I heard the Spector version (of the album) again recently, and it sounded terrible. I prefer the original sound that's shown on (the album) 'Anthology 3.' "
But Harrison, who often provides cynical counterpoint to McCartney's optimism in the book, disagrees. "I personally thought (Spector's version) was a really good idea," he says.
Fifty pounds a week
Other stories are more humorous. Early in their careers, manager Brian Epstein offered the Beatles a regular salary of 50 pounds a week for life. The group turned him down.
"We thought, 'No, we'll risk it, Brian. We'll risk earning a bit more than fifty pounds a week,' " recalls Harrison.
It was a wise move on the Beatles' part: such a contract would have only paid them about 100,000 pounds (about $160,000) to date.
The book's release comes more than 30 years since the group's breakup. During that time, each band member embarked on varyingly successful solo careers, and also endured an unfathomable tragedy -- the 1980 shooting death of Lennon by a deranged fan. Despite the distance that time has provided from their days as the best band on the world, the living members say they will always be Beatles.
"It was a one-way love affair," says Harrison. "People gave us their love and their hysteria, but the Beatles lost their mental health."
Ringo Starr's thoughts are more poignant. It's "impossible to turn the page and say, I'm no longer a Beatle," he says. "To this day, and for everyone, that's all I am."
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