Ian MacCormick (known by the pseudonym Ian MacDonald; 3 October 1948 – 20 August 2003) was a British music critic and author, best known for both Revolution in the Head, his forensic history of the Beatles which borrowed techniques from art historians, and The New Shostakovich, a study of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. MacDonald was instrumental in popularising Nick Drake during the late 1970s and early 1980s, after he had been largely forgotten.
MacDonald briefly attended King's College, Cambridge, at first to study English, then Archaeology and Anthropology. He dropped out after a year. While at Cambridge, he was distantly acquainted with the singer/songwriter Nick Drake. From 1972 to 1975 he served as assistant editor at the NME. MacDonald began a songwriting collaboration as lyricist with Quiet Sun, which included his brother Bill MacCormick and future Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera. The collaboration resumed in the late 1970s, with MacDonald providing lyrics for the album Listen Now. Later, Brian Eno assisted MacDonald in producing Sub Rosa, an album of his songs released on Manzanera's label.
In his 1994 Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties, MacDonald carefully anatomised each recording by the Beatles, examining the broad themes and sources of inspiration. The book contains detailed song-by-song analysis, but is often objective and critical. Broad access to the original Beatles master tapes was allowed during the research phase, and this coupled with his forensic writing style has led to a broad agreement that Revolution in the Head is the definitive treatise on the Beatles' music, though Paul McCartney has stated his dissatisfaction with its accuracy.
The book also includes his essay "Fabled Foursome, Disappearing Decade", an analysis of the social and cultural changes of the 1960s and their after-effects. The entries about the Beatles' singles that topped the singles chart were released in a separate book in 2002. The edit featured a new, shorter introduction, and featured only the essays on the songs on the Beatles' chart-topping album, 1.
MacDonald wrote widely on classical music. His The New Shostakovich was one of the most talked-about classical books of the 1990s. It was the first western book that attempted to put the works of the Russian composer in their political and social context. MacDonald's insistence on creating a cinematic scenario for every major piece—a satire on Soviet brutality and Stalinism—polarised opinion sharply. Some rated his interpretations fanciful and musicologically worthless, while others believed they held some subjective truth. MacDonald was a regular reviewer for the UK magazine Classic CD, and was known for his passionate and opinionated views on twentieth-century music.
The success of Revolution in the Head motivated him to resume popular music writing and he began contributing to Mojo and Uncut music magazines. The People's Music, an anthology of these writings, was published in July 2003 just weeks before his death. He had been working on a book entitled Birds, Beasts & Fishes: A Guide to Animal Lore and Symbolism, and another about David Bowie. Neither of these has been published.
In August 2003, MacDonald committed suicide at his Gloucestershire home following a lengthy period of clinical depression. He was 54. Before killing himself, he had posted a note on his front door to call the police. MacDonald's body was cremated and his ashes were given to either a family member or a friend.
The track "Wish You Well" on Phil Manzanera's album 6PM is a tribute to MacDonald.
- Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties. ISBN 1-84413-828-3
- The New Shostakovich (1990). ISBN 0-19-284026-6 (reprinted & updated in 2006)
- The People's Music (2003)
- Williams, Richard. "Obituary: Ian MacDonald". The Guardian, 8 September 2003. Retrieved on 25 February 2008.
- 'Rolling Stone' Issue #1214, July 31, 2014
- Guardian Obituary
- MacDonald's essay on Nick Drake
- Comments on MacDonald's 1973 Krautrock articles in NME
- Music under Soviet Rule : Shostakovichiana, a website he maintained full of Shostakovich information and trivia