Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Dear Beatlehead

The Beatles suck.

So said a good friend of mine, but not because he hated the legendary foursome.  No, it was more of a mind jar, a forced shift in perspective.  And it carries weight because The Beatles do, now perhaps more than ever.  Witness "Love", the newly remastered catalog, and Beatles Rockband (does anyone else think this is is weird?)

The remastered catalog has made me reconsider a few things.  Not because it sounds horrible -- which I can't judge because I've heard it in stores -- but because some things have sunk in.  The last time I heard some of these tunes, I hadn't yet heard the earlier stuff described as "excercise."  Now I think I agree. 

But what re-strikes me the most is the Lennon vs. McCartney debate.  Usually the question is framed in terms of music and lyrics, but now I suspect McCartney is the better musician, but Lennon was the more interesting artist.

Yes, the A-word.  Bane of fags everywhere.  But all I'm saying is that McCartney's skills are more strictly musical -- writing, singing, bass playing, arranging -- while Lennon's recordings interact more interestingly with the rest of the world, including the listener.  Sir Paul sees a bigger musical bubble, but John saw the picture extramusically. 

The lyrics work similarly -- McCartney's are more musical, but almost always exist in a social space.  Lennon's have wider reach.

Think "I am the Walrus" vs. "Eleanor Rigby," or "Paperback Writer" vs. "Tomorrow Never Knows", or even respective contributions to the Abbey Road medly.  "Revolution 9" might call the difference to attention most extremely, if only because Sir Paul never released anything so removed from a well-trodden form.




  1. I agree that there is a noticeable difference between Lennon and McCartney, and that Lennon was the more interesting artist, though I'm not sure I'd frame it as a question of who was more or less "musical."

    To me, it was always a question of Lennon being a bit more open to "the dark side" of experience. Though McCartney was of course capable of addressing things like loneliness and sorrow ("Eleanor Rigby" is a great example), it was always sans grit. McCartney's music (much as I loved it) always felt a bit abstract to me, but Lennon seemingly couldn't help but write stuff that sounded "real," and that seemed to be based in some personal experience. McCartney was writing about characters he read about in the newspaper, while Lennon was working through his own demons.

    Also (and perhaps this is because of "Revolution No. 9"), McCartney often reminds us that he was actually pretty interested in the "avant garde" (such as it existed in swinging London), and often argues that he was the most "experimental" Beatle. I tend to want to at least give him the benefit of the doubt on that. Sgt. Pepper's was his idea, after all.

  2. I hadn't really considered the extent to which Lennon's stuff was demon work. Probably a lot?

    Do Sir Paul's monstrosities show up primarily outside of his music? I know he was interested in Stockhausen -- maybe McCartney has a secret stash of atonal fury, in a deskdrawer under a book of bizarre lyrics. Maybe a big difference between he and Lennon is that the latter would RELEASE tunes like "Everybody's Got Something to Hide, Except for Me and My Monkey," and "Revolution 9."

    In what way does McCartney consider himself the most experimental? Even granting "Sgt. Pepper," and even (especially?) his contributions to the Beatles' films . . . is the territory he mapped from '63-'70 as wide as Lennon's? Even "Wild Honey Pie" and "Fixing a Hole" seem experimental within tight bands of familiarity.

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. In what way does McCartney consider himself the most experimental?

    In interviews, he has always mentioned this in the context of swinging 60s London -- how Lennon was the one with the domestic life/responsibilities, while McCartney was a single man hob-nobbing with the "cutting edge" movers and shakers at the art galleries and so on. Of course there is always a certain amount of construction going on with McCartney.

    And how much of this was actually expressed in his work is an open question -- though I have a feeling that some of McCartney's more experimental dabblings (a string section as the basic texture of a pop tune, for instance) seem less daring in retrospect than perhaps they did at the time, simply because they were adopted and absorbed pretty quickly by the broader pop music culture.