28 March 2012
So here I am, a relative newbie, possibly stirring up the Paul vs. John vs. George as the “real genius” silliness. Even as I contribute to the madness, I feel like stating the obvious. All of these guys were brilliant. Geniuses. And also at different points in my life I’ve fed off of each of their respective songs more than the others. They’ve all been, at one time or another, my “favorite Beatle.”
In a way, of course, Paul McCartney is the last person in the world who needs “defending.” The dude is mega rich, the most popular singer and songwriter of all time. But his work gets dissed so often (though not too often here at the Beatles Bible), it makes one wonder why this is so. My own theory about this is pretty simple. He’s basically a happy man who writes basically more-or-less domestic tunes about daily life. The truth is, that’s not very cool. And so his music is derided because, the honest-to-goodness truth of it is that on balance his music IS more bourgeoisie. To which I say: Who cares? It’s still great music.
So my point in this post is NOT that Paul was the real genius of the group or that he was the most important Beatle or anything of the like. All four Beatles made the Beatles the group that they were. But I will say that a fair look at the evidence suggests that Paul is not to be dismissed as some of his critics would do so (though I see very little of this on this site, thank goodness). Here are three ways of measuring his song-writing impact on the Beatles:
- Authorship of number one songs.
- Authorship of the 50 most popular songs today according to iTunes.
- Authorship of the 50 most popular Beatles songs over the last six months according to Last.FM. http://www.last.fm/music/The+Beatles
The first list encompasses songs the band wrote at the time that the band expected the public to like and which, in fact, were popular with the public.
The second and third lists reveal the songs which have stood the test of time and which the public today still seeks out to purchase and hear. These songs, drawn from The Beatles’ entire catalogue, go well beyond just the singles.
Of course this investigation proves nothing conclusively. For one thing, one would have to perhaps weight the songs in list two and three to give more “points” to the most popular songs of the list. Simply counting songs by authorship might not be an accurate gauge of popularity. The other problem is the inevitable controversy over song authorship. To which I respond, use any data one wants. To be “conservative,” I use John’s recollections (acknowledging up front that surely they’re not completely fair and accurate) about song authorship.
And the results? Okay, here I confess to not calculating the results according to a sophisticated formula—counting the songs, weighting the songs both by percentage of authorship and place on the list. Nope. I was lazy. I just eyeballed the three lists, keeping track in my head of the songs’ authors. And what I discovered is this: it’s clear that the Beatles were a remarkably balanced group with respect to their song-writing contributions. Even George, who clearly doesn’t compete with John or Paul in the number of songs contributed, places three gems very high on the lists. And though to my eyes it looks as though in each of these categories, there are a few more Paul songs than John songs, I think the biggest take-away is the balance of contributions. In other words, not much at all is proved.
Except this: Paul’s music, like John’s and George’s, has stood the test of time. And despite some talk in chatter-land about Paul’s contributions being dwarfed by John’s, the reality is that his songs, both when they were released as well as some 40 plus years later, rank up there as equals to John’s in their appeal.
1 May 2011
There was so much input by all Beatles into songs, even in the later days, that pure authorship and lyrics cant be judged as the main factor as all the other elements are just as important. A great song can have crappy lyrics and a crap song can have great lyrics but is just all wrong. A quick thought towards beatle covers would show that many people have destroyed them.
As an example Paul wrote Michelle, with help from others, but one of the telling contributions was by John on puting the emphasis on the "i love you", "i want you" and "i need you" parts. And the same goes for Paul helping John out with lyrics and chords etc. George was more on his own when composing but the others would make suggestions in the studio for most of his songs, and they all helped out Ringo.
Probably one of the biggest positives of The Beatles was that each beatle was open to suggestions for their songs, it was only later on that ego got in the way.
28 March 2012
I totally agree. Take Ringo. I mean, Ringo's drums are an essential part, imho, of A Day in the Life and Tomorrow Never Knows to name just two obvious choices. Without his touch, they're different songs. We all could easily list, what, fifty songs in which his particular drumming style absolutely completes the song--not just complements it but really helps make the song what it is.
And this goes for all of them. The key was they all were contributing brilliantly to the whole package with very little showing off. I love what someone on this forum (I think) wrote about George's guitar on "Don't Let Me Down." Though the songs has never been much to my liking (except the middle section, "I'm in love for the first time…"), but I have to say that George's guitar is just perfect. It adds SO much to the song without drawing excessive attention to itself.
And the irony is that The Beatles are sometimes criticized for not being the performers that other bands were. In a way that's surely true, but in another way their own thoughtful and musically apt contributions do help explain why so often covers fall so short.
So….a long-winded way of saying that I think your comments are spot on, meanmisterm!
1 May 2011
I love the quote where a beatle, i think John after the split, said that all he had to do was blink and the other 3 would know where the song was going instinctively.
George's guitar solo for And I Love Her has been highlighted recently as being an amazing addition.
Talking of Ringo and his drumming, was listening to the isolated drum track for Revolution and it does add a huge amount to the song, its solid for 3 minutes without wavering, and Lady Madonna only works for me because of his drumming. I think around that time how they were recording it was different, its certainly brighter and very sharp. A lot of people say that Ringo's greatest gift to the beatles was that his drumming totally fitted each song perfectly whilst not being overbearing, and i totally agree with that. Which is why its daft when he isnt listed as a great drummer because he didnt do insane fills which added nothing or steal the spotlight.
7 November 2010
I also remember reading a quote, (can't remember for the life of me who said it, maybe Mark Lewisohn?), that said that in all the years of recording with The Beatles, Ringo only messed up enough to stop recording a handful of times. That kind of proves how great a drummer he is, being able to consistently perform that well.
EDIT: Never mind, I found the quote.
It is true that on only a handful of occasions during all of the several hundred session tapes and thousands of recording hours can Ringo be heard to have made a mistake or wavered in his beat. His work was remarkably consistent and excellent, from 1962 right through 1970.
- Mark Lewisohn, The Beatles Recording Sessions
"When I cannot sing my heart, I can only speak my mind."
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