Help!, by the Duke University musicologist Thomas Brothers, is a historically masterly and musically literate unraveling of some of the most-admired credits in 20th-century popular music: the compositions of Duke Ellington and the Beatles.
In the first half of the book, Brothers focuses on Duke Ellington and his many collaborators, most notably the composer Billy Strayhorn ... The author’s portrait of Ellington pulls no punches but remains sympathetic. The Beatles were another story ... Brothers frames his analysis in smooth, relatable prose that anyone familiar with the music of Ellington and the Beatles can understand. Along the way, the author provides a sweeping history of 20th-century popular music, the rich backdrop against which the incredible music of Ellington and the Beatles was composed—music that is incredible primarily because of the cooperative spirit that brought it to life ... A fresh blend of scholarly musical analysis and provocative ideas about creativity and how composers create great art.
In Help!, Brothers examines the creative process in the corpus of work produced by Duke Ellington's orchestra and by the Beatles. 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. It also opens some windows onto the often rough world of collaboration as it really is.