by Kevin Burton
As discussed last week, I have declared for Paul McCartney in the great “John or Paul” Beatles debate (John Or Paul? A Fun, Silly Beatles Question, April 6).
There are those who favor one or the other who are quite hostile about it and say derogatory things about the other. I find that ridiculous. Their collaboration is what turned the Beatles into the best rock band ever.
If you don’t believe that, try comparing the second or even third level of Beatles songs to the subsequent solo work. Neither of the two reached those high Beatles levels without the other.
Here is an expert opinion from a man who was on the scene and knew better than anyone.
“Paul and John were extraordinarily similar and yet they were extraordinarily different,” said longtime Beatles producer Sir. George Martin, quoted on www.daytrippin.com. “They were a perfect match because their collaboration was competitive and they both did the same things very well.”
“But they were both geniuses. In my book they were equal geniuses. One was not above the other in any way, they were both superb.”
No way would I argue with Sir George. But pure genius is filtered through personality, diligence and a number of other factors and leads to the product that you ultimately get. The proof is in the pudding, right?
I am saying the McCartney product is superior to the Lennon product.
The website www.ontherecords.net quantifies it by number one hits. They counted nine for McCartney, (“Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Yesterday,” “Paperback Writer,” “Penny Lane,” “Hello Goodbye,” Hey Jude,” “Get Back,” “Let It Be” and “The Long and Winding Road”); six for Lennon (“A Hard Day’s Night,” “I Feel Fine,” “Ticket To Ride,” “Help,” “All You Need Is Love” and “Come Together”) and five written together, (“I Want To Hold Your Hand,” “She Loves You,” “Love Me Do,” “Eight Days A Week” and “We Can Work It Out”).
In that subset of songs, none of the Lennon or jointly-written songs rise to the transcendent greatness of “Yesterday,” Let It Be” or “Hey Jude.” That puts Paul way out in front.
Of course there is no reason to stop with those songs. Let’s bring in the rest of the Beatles catalog. Which songs would you put forward to make the argument for John, which ones for Paul?
Five for John: “A Day In The Life,” “Norwegian Wood,” “Revolution,” “I Am The Walrus” and “Strawberry Fields Forever.”
Five for Paul: “Eleanor Rigby,” “Fool On The Hill,” “Lady Madonna,” “Back In The USSR” and “All My Loving.”
Advantage John for those five songs, I’d say. But not enough to make up the difference.
So you follow up with “Nowhere Man” and ”Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” for John; “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Yellow Submarine” for Paul, etc. You’re going to run out of Lennon songs before you run out of McCartney songs.
Soon after signing the Beatles for EMI in 1962, Martin wondered which of the four to make the lead singer. That was the pattern at the time, a front man and backing players. Think Gerry and the Pacemakers for example.
“Martin was leaning toward making McCartney the leader, when he suddenly realized this would violate the essence of the Beatles’ appeal,” writes Mark Hertsgaard in “A Day in the life: the Music and Artistry of the Beatles.”
McCartney is the better singer, a much better guitarist and overall musician. I say he was narrowly the better songwriter also. It was Paul who rallied the Beatles to keep them working after manager Brian Epstein died. It was McCartney who worked with Martin to stitch together the medley, the songs on side two of “Abbey Road.”
Had that been left to Lennon, Hertsgaard said, that album would have never been finished.
Give Lennon this, he had that rock and roll personality much more than the other three. For those who back him over McCartney, maybe that makes all the difference.
The Hertsgaard book is a must read for Beatles fans. He makes the point several times that the synergy of the four lads created much more than the sum of the individuals. Aren’t you glad we had the group so we can have discussions like these?