"June 4, 1962: Brian Epstein concluded a tentative contract with EMI through George Martin. Brian sent the following telegram to The Beatles in Hamburg: 'Congratulations boys, EMI requests recording session. Please rehearse new material.' "

If you already knew that without looking it up, first let it be said that you are a strange person indeed, and second that you should get in touch with Allen Wiener. Befitting the climate of Peppermania, the Potomac resident has written the most insanely thorough chronology of the Fab Four ever. Called "The Beatles: A Recording History" (McFarland), it contains a complete time line of Beatles highlights from 7/7/02 to 12/9/85 -- including stuff like the day some of John Lennon's drawings were exhibited at the Nell Gwynne Club in London and the day Radio Luxembourg aired its third 15-minute "It's the Beatles" show. Also consummate listings of every last record, legal or otherwise, that the Boys are on. Also six appendixes.


"It sounds corny, but I really did start out trying to make a list. I was that naive at the time. I didn't have that many Beatles records," Wiener says, adding with the exasperated sigh of a man who has spent interminable nights at the business end of a word processor, "I didn't think there were that many."

There are, and Wiener's project took almost six of his 43 years to complete. But, thankfully, the book transcends the minutia assault so common to the genre. The key is in traversing the faint line between worthless information and compelling facts, and the book succeeds as both narrative and reference text.

The 303-page "General Chronology" is the centerpiece. At first the dread of inundation looms, but when taken in sequence the endless dates dissolve into a bare-bones epic. Turn to Page 96 and it's March 1966. On the 4th, London's Evening Standard ran Maureen Cleave's interview with John, complete with his unfortunate, "We're more popular than Jesus Christ right now." Or scan down to the 6th, when a petition with 5,000 signatures was presented to Prime Minister Harold Wilson, requesting that Liverpool's Cavern Club be reopened.

"A lot of the chronology was taken from newspapers," Wiener says, "but you have to be careful ... There are also a lot of good Beatles fan magazines. The best is probably 'The Beatles Book' in England, and it's still around. Mark Lewisohn writes for that, and he's probably the world's leading Beatles expert. He's also the only guy who's been allowed into the EMI 'inner sanctum.' "

If you wonder what that means, inside contacts at that reticent corporation can provide definitive recording dates, which are gold for Beatles historians like Wiener. When amassing his research, he was in touch with Lewisohn, as well as a core group of maniacs like Mark Wallgren ("The Beatles On Record") and Ray Schweighart (publisher of the defunct Beatles quarterly "How Do You Do It").

One of the trickier points of contention in Beatles history, Wiener says with a gleam, is tracing exact release dates. "Release date information is always a little shaky. For example, take the CD {Capitol's release of "Sgt. Pepper"}. The radio stations have had it for at least a week, and then there's the shipping date, and the date it actually hits the stores, and there's the date that the company announces."

What if nobody couldn't care less?

"That never occurred to me, oddly enough ... You become obsessed with something like this. But clearly, this has to be a subject that you like."

Wiener likes the Beatles. But he doesn't come across as a Beatles nerd, or as someone hopelessly lost in his own trivia labyrinth. No walls plastered with memorabilia, no locks of hair or shreds of clothing preserved in Baggies, no misty-eyed recollections of that first "Ed Sullivan Show" appearance. He comes across more as a guy who just wants to know, a fervent fact checker who got caught up in a monumental task and loved it.

For Wiener, the most fascinating aspect of the project was his discovery of a "substrata" of collectors who shun the bootleg-for-profit game and are content to trade their treasures back and forth. (This aural hobbying is not limited to the Beatles -- similar trade networks exist for the Grateful Dead and Bruce Springsteen.) "They do not buy or sell," he says. "They trade original tapes. And many of these people are adamantly opposed to bootlegging."

As for the anniversary of "Sgt. Pepper," Wiener is happy to see his favorite band analyzed as a phenomenon once again, but is quick to observe (accurately) that the record is not the Beatles' best. He reluctantly ranks "Abbey Road" above it. He gets that gleam again, though, when he reveals that the original mono recording of "She's Leaving Home" is much faster than the stereo version. The discrepancy is there, he theorizes, because the tune was slowed down to fit in with the "cerebral" (depressing) tone of the stereo album.

But then these technicalities fade before ultimate fandom. "The point is that 'Pepper' made the impact. They did things on that record that nobody else could have gotten away with in rock 'n' roll."