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John Lennon and the Lost Chord
22 April 2015
6.24pm
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ewe2
Inside the beat
Rishikesh
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So why an analysis of John Lennon 's musicianship? He's not as good a guitarist as George, not really a multi-instrumentalist in the same way as Paul, and his development is both slow and harder to chart than Ringo. Well, for one thing, he's easier for me to approach as an average guitarist and I might need the practice for George later (sorry @Beatlebug, patience).

Several reasons, actually. My overarching theme which I will again and again thwack you over the heads with is that our songwriting Beatles were melody people first and foremost, which affected the way they approached songwriting. It wasn't the whole consideration, but big enough. I wouldn't say John was disinterested in learning instruments, he merely learnt enough for what he needed. Nor would I say that he was physically incapable of stretching himself in technique, he played better barre chords than I ever will. John was a songwriter first, and a rocker second, and most other things were at a good distance from both. But he was a complicated guy and had his soft side, for all his public scoffing at Paul's ballads.

John also had great problems translating his ideas. He would get inspiration from words and attach a melody to them, but find the rest of the song harder to come by. He would get, there's no better phrase, sound-pictures that are well-documented, and helplessly leave it to technical effects to approach what he saw-heard in his mind. I get the sense that he was a good deal frustrated by this, and by his methods of inspiration but couldn't or perhaps was afraid to, develop a better means of translating it, in case he lost touch with it. It's not an uncommon thing in the musical world for untrained musicians to be suspicious of musical training. The feeling is that once trained, one will forever see things through that training and lose the freedom to experiment. Trained musicians of course protest that this isn't true but they aren't the Beatles, are they? Of course John was a wilful soul, no one was going to tell him what to do :D

At this stage, before we get into details, let's have a word about The Partnership. It's difficult in the early stages, to really separate songwriting efforts because there's at least a middle eight or a lyric between John and Paul. The "who sang it, initiated it" rule helps until a bit later when their works begin to sonically and lyrically diverge. Keep in the back of your mind that at least up to The Beatles, they were generally, if not actually collaborating, at least critiquing each other's work; from that album onwards, they were more inclined to outright criticise. There are exceptions, of course, but they were really consciously writing for themselves from about that time. So there was a healthy competition between them for much of the Beatles time, which at least kept John engaged if not always prolific and Paul somewhat in check and getting important feedback.

What I'm getting at with all this guff, is that we'll have to look at John's development a little differently than Ringo's or Paul's. We don't have phases in the same sense, we have the genre phases I've already sketched out from the songwriting:

  1. Rock/surfer
  2. Country/blues
  3. Folk Rock/Psychedelica
  4. Soft/Hard Rock

That's pretty much common ground. Here's a basic framework for John's instrumental phases:

  1. Electro rhythm. All the way through the Beatles, it was John's basic job in the band. Paperback Writer is a great example of how he was often the spine of the song, allowing Paul to play those free melodies. And of course he played harmonica until he got sick of it and/or it became physically impossible. It includes strumming and riffing, so having a separate riff-based phase doesn't really work.
  2. Acoustic rhythm. He began this relatively early but it changed according to the style he was working from. The Ballad Of John And Yoko give you a nice big acoustic sound, among many other examples.
  3. Finger-picking. He learnt this from Donovan in India, and it's an effective style. Julia is the canonical example.
  4. Keyboards. He was fiddling fairly early on, and often played keyboards for overdubs. I'm not certain when/how he picked it up at all, it seems a bit of a mystery. Most people are aware of his solo piano work, but I Want To Hold Your Hand was a joint composition with Paul on piano.

But wait, there's more. Instead of just concentrating on genre and instrumental style, let's elevate it to the songwriting plateau and mark out John's songwriting phases to give us a much better way of describing things.

  1. Initial burst. Everything written up to the first album. Songs from this earliest phase pop up later. We get a more representative sample from Paul, especially on the first albums, but there's a few of John's early ones too. Many songs from this period are at least partly joint compositions.
  2. Movie bursts. John has to write something and he's still in full Beatle mode. He's beginning to change the way he writes, realising he can fuse his poetry with his music, influenced by Dylan. His subject matter begins to change.
  3. Exploration phase. John's subject matter almost totally different now. He begins to withdraw. Paradoxically, he writes some stunning material.
  4. Waking up phase. India and Yoko give John a new sense of purpose. Big spurt of writing. Picks up finger-picking.
  5. Plastic Ono phase. John's not a Beatle in spirit any more. Composing more on piano.

Let's cover his instruments of choice. He and George favoured hollow-body electric guitars, and John isn't known for really branching out that much with guitars unless he was looking for a specific effect. Interestingly Wikipedia seems to credit Lennon with ownership of the Fender VI and a Jazz, and although Lennon played at least the VI, I'm a little surprised at that. He did learn to play the banjo before picking up a guitar but appears to never have played it again after his mother died. And of course he was a capable harmonica player, which he did get sick of doing on the records, and it was always difficult to use in the stage act.

John's primary musical job in the band was rhythm guitarist, his chords drove the songs, and were largely their structure. This was the case for most of their records and certainly their live career (except the occasional organ insanity), with exceptions as will be documented I hope! Most rhythm guitar is played with barre chords, these are chords where the index finger acts like the nut of the fretboard and the other fingers form basic chord shapes, allowing you to use these shapes anywhere on the fretboard within reason. There are also half-barre chords which don't use the full width of the fretboard, not used quite as commonly but rather handy when you need a passing chord (like during a chromatic run). John uses these in a free mixture as can be seen for example in shots from A Hard Day's Night and Help ! and the Anthologies. John liked to strum the half-barres, allowing his finger to partly mute the unwanted strings and avoid having to play the full barres all the time, which can be physically demanding on an acoustic, less so on an electric. The thing about rhythm guitar is that it's hard to say much about it except that you notice when it's not there! One small note of warning: don't take John's chords at face value all the time on film. While George often tries to play what you're hearing, John likes to "experiment" depending on how he feels. I've seen some odd things in A Hard Day's Night , which I prefer to imagine were directorial decisions, at least some of it :D

Additionally, the sound of the rhythm guitar is important when you're filling up a good portion of the whole sound. It can't be too lower-midrange or it'll clash with the bass, and not too trebly or it'll overshadow the lead and/or vocals. It has to "sit" in the mix, and that's not as straightforward as it appears. John and George particularly paid attention to such things, Paul is on record as saying they listened for an interesting sound of obscure records as much as musical ideas for inspiration, so there was a lot of experimentation in this area. More on that later.

To track things, I've leaned on Lewisohn's Complete Recording Sessions fairly heavily. I don't trust MacDonald with who played what (and I'm not impressed that Wikipedia does), and although Lewisohn can be faulty, it's better than most sources. I'll be talking a lot more about chord progressions this time and will use the time-honoured number system of I to VII for the intervals and the terms I've used previously on the previous effortposts. Because there's so little documentation of exactly what John was playing, especially in the early days. I've also used the Complete Scores as a reference, although it too can be misleading. For instance, it can omit the rhythm guitar altogether when it is audibly on the recording, for reasons unknown. It gives the lead to Guitar I regardless of who plays it. So for example, on Please Please Me Guitar 1 is clearly George. On Get Back its obviously John. This doesn't help! I've also leaned heavily on the beatlesbible song notes, just to be sure, because @Joe often has all the handy notes put together, it's a great resource!

There are a few techniques guitarists use which were either known to or invented by the Beatles (there are a couple!). John claims he invented feedback on a recording with I Feel Fine (well, deliberate feedback), I think the jury's still out on that one. Bending notes is a core skill to any guitarist doing solo melodies, many of the same techniques I described Paul using on the bass equally apply to guitarists, but perhaps a word on strumming might be appropriate here: there are many ways to strum chords, depending on the rhythm and what effect you want. General up-and-down strumming is fine with acoustic guitar and rhythm guitar in slow to medium tempos. Emphasis is often done with repeated downstrokes, but upstrokes are not uncommon either, especially on chords which are on the higher scales (confusingly, the bottom strings from the point of view of a guitar). There are all sorts of combinations in between, Paul's strumming style is a good example. There's the use of harmonics, which are a side-effect of the frequency wave at different points along a string's length. This is precisely why fretboards are designed the way they are, for tuning. By lightly touching a string at the right point (eg the 12th fret) and striking it at the same time, you'll get a frequency that is an exact multiple of the base frequency of the string's root note. Nowhere Man has a fantastic example of a harmonic right at the end of the guitar solo.

Also: I just want to clarify what A or B section and the middle-eight means, because I'm aware that I often use it without clarification and possibly contradict myself as well as confusing readers. Middle-eight is often also called the bridge and is jargon from a standard song format known as thirty-two bar format. Most 32-bar songs have an AABA format, that is two verses with or without choruses, a bridge and a concluding verse/chorus. That's four eight-bar sections, hence the term middle-eight. Another use for marking sections with letters is to refer to each section individually. In actual songs, that AABA should probably be ABABCAB to show four-bar verses and choruses and an eight-bar bridge. Sometimes it's just simpler to use letters to describe songs that don't have such a standard structure, particularly later Beatles songs which add extra bars or beats either because that's how John wrote it or they wanted to mix things up a bit. So be aware that I don't use letter-form in its strict sense, and when I say middle-eight, you know I mean bridge section or at least the section different to the rest of the song. Please do pick me up on something you don't understand, it usually means I've been sloppy!

To recap: John developed as a songwriter and adapted his instruments and style accordingly. In some ways this makes him a purer artist than the others who had a more instrumentalist outlook; but John wasn't an innovator in that sense anyway. He was driven by his personal development, and the band was, initially at least, his vehicle for it. The ebb and flow of his involvement with the songwriting reflects the power of his other concerns and his individualism. It was his band, it was his artistic progression and that position became clearer over time. However sublimated that individualism was for all of them for some time in the beginning, it was still John who was the leader/spokesman. John was one of the great rock singers, an instrument he didn't even like to everyone's amazement. Daft bugger! I like to imagine had he lived, he would have shaken off some of his inhibitions about what he could do, like Paul has, and maybe even gotten into ambient music, since Yoko's influence on him suggested ideas often frustratingly (for me) close to it.

Thanks for your continued good response to these monographs, we mad Beatle peoples need to witter on about our obsession, or we'd explode. :D This was a tricky one to write, and I more or less had to feel my way through it and then go back and fix it up. The title refers to a particularly mad fan of John's who claimed that in a dream he'd seen that the only saviour of the world was John who would find the Lost Chord and play it on the Universal Instrument and he had to start looking NOW. John was that kind of catalyst.

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Please Please Me

To get here, John had to get a band together, learn his instrument and how to entertain people on stage. and convince someone that his songs were worth recording. We often forget what a mountain all that is. John is playing the songs he wants to here, covers to show the bands versatility, and the battle begins as to who gets whose songs where and how many with Paul. Because these are the rocker/surfer/ballad stages, and this was a one-day album, they went with their stage act plus a couple of overdubs here and there. The initial burst doesn't see a lot of songs here from John but we get a good look at his vocal style. All the songs are light-hearted, love-related and have a personal aspect, even the covers.

I Saw Her Standing There

Because the bass leaps out at you on this track in mono it's a little hard to hear Johns driving strums, but they're there, like the clickety-clack of a freight train. John tended to use a Chuck Berry style of riff on these numbers (just about everyone copied either Berry or Holly in this manner).

Misery

With the country plod of this song, it's much easier to hear John and he chooses an upbeat strumming style that prevents the song from getting too bogged-down. It's a clearer picture of the style that drives early Beatles songs, that chugging rhythm over the swing of the drums. Led by John, we get a little more of that delicious harmony singing.

Anna

John first plays acoustic guitar on this song which was a favourite.

Chains

This is a very bouncy rhythm, you can hear how the guitars are ringing away on this one, it sounds to me like George and John are in combination: I'm assuming George is on the higher notes, or at least accenting them. This is a problem that will come up a lot due to the lack of documentation. Major all-the-way-through type harmony singing!

Boys

Out-and-out rocker, great demonstration of John's ability to hold down the rhythm. The mix has John being felt rather than heard, and this is typical of the album.

Ask Me Why

Yes John was a rocker and...oh. This is very tongue in cheek, at least that's what the vocals suggest. It's a fairly unusual thing from John at this stage, but as he had input from Paul perhaps it was felt that this particular rhythm would work better.

Please Please Me

The number one. It's the surfer and John's style suits it perfectly, again felt not heard, allowing George to jump out with the riffs. The harmonica is obviously dubbed.

Love Me Do

The harmonica is the key hook here, which set a pattern for a couple of albums.

P.S I Love You

John supports this ballad with with a restrained and relaxed rhythm.

Baby It's You

I think this one might have been a bit of a giggle to do also. Using a similar rhythm to Ask Me Why , John early on demonstrates that he had a better grip on RnB than Paul.

Do You Want To Know A Secret

Again, it's difficult to hear where John ends and George begins, it's almost lockstep on this one. Sheet music doesn't give the second guitar anything to do.

A Taste Of Honey

Generally George took care of the fiddly bits, like extended arpeggiated chords on this one, but you can just hear John chugging away behind that. The sheet music doesn't even acknowledge a second guitar which is a little surprising.

There's A Place

The first song they recorded on this epic session, John's harmonica dubbed on later. A little ironically back to back with the last track of the day, you can hear the strength of his voice and the chugging of his guitar rhythm. He gets a little clear air to do his typical blues phrasing in the middle eight before doing one of the lowest harmonies of all Beatles songs.

Twist And Shout

If there was any doubt that John Lennon had an extraordinary voice, and an extraordinary ability to perform, it's wiped out on this track. Don't forget that while you're mesmerised by that vocal, he's playing terrific rhythm guitar at the same time, and in a way this is his answer to I Saw Her Standing There , Paul's own rocking performance. Particularly of note is John and George's interplay in the instrumental before the Ahhs. Nor was it a fluke as the Anthology 1 version attests.

SINGLE: From Me To You /Thank You Girl

The Beatles harmony-fest (and harmonica-fest see what I did there) continues with the second single after the album, and you can hear John's clockwork Berry rhythms going clearly on the A-side and the B-side.

SINGLE: She Loves You /I'll Get You

Not content with that, they belt out a classic single. She Loves You is still full-on (as we Aussies say) after all this time. John straightens out his rhythm, it's that in-between Mersey Beat and how John achieves it is by implying that swing that Ringo actually beats out, the strums match what the kick/snare are doing, while Paul keeps out of its way by straight notes.

With The Beatles

They took this album more slowly and the production is much better, you can hear John much more clearly for a start. It's become one of my favourites of theirs, just for the raising of the bar in quality in every department. Most bands are running out of material on their second album, these guys are just getting started. Nevertheless, they're still pulling songs from the their initial burst phase, in between the newer ones.

It Won't Be Long

John's song, really strong vocal. Complete Mersey Beat tune, with the rhythm guitar playing eighths on the second beats.

All I've Got To Do

George and John do what I'm going to call a "guitar chiming" thing where John plays a simple rhythm and George plays a busier rhythm over that and you get an interplay between them, it's something they kept in mind as they went on. One of my favourite Lennon vocals, I think he's doing his Roy Orbison here :D

All My Loving

Paul's first very strong song. John is strumming up a storm, though, the musicianship from both is incredible. Of course Paul is singing harmony with himself but the Ooohs are a very trademark George and John addition.

Little Child

Another John song, and there's the dreaded harmonica again, necessarily overdubbed and perhaps overdone. One of his "work songs", a straightforward rocker, but still fun.

You Really Got A Hold On Me

Another great Lennon vocal, like Please Mr Postman and All I've Got To Do . The covers on this album are all terrifically strong and often show off John's voice.

Not A Second Time

This song is a terrible thing to get stuck in your head, it's been banging away in mine for a week. To me, this is the first real hint that John Lennon wasn't an ordinary songwriter. Most of their songs up to here are calculated, and more conventionally-structured. This is a song written from lyrics, the words suggested a melody, the melody suggested chords and the chords built a structure that is anything but ordinary, but it's interesting how your mind wants to interpret it conventionally. For some reason the first part of the middle eight makes me thing of a much later cover they did on Beatles For Sale , Mr Moonlight , its got the same cadence and timbre to it.

Money

The raucous closer, with unrelenting guitars and frankly freaky backing vocals as John shreds this one with menace.

SINGLE: I Want To Hold Your Hand /This Boy

Another single to fill in before the movie album release, and a big factor in the US success, the A-side was absolutely a collaboration and they share the vocals, while This Boy is a Lennon composition, a Beatles doo-woop. Some amazing 3-part harmonies, and a big Lennon middle-eight in this one.

A Hard Day's Night

The first of the movie bursts, and this is a very strong John album, the strongest until The Beatles. Noticeable is the high range of John's vocals on this album, I'm not sure why he picked the keys that forced it. John's contributions are a good deal more serious than the surface suggests, and he repeats this on the next movie album.

A Hard Day's Night

The opener and single, very bluesy and John is saying all the work will be worth it, won't it? He's beginning to have doubts.

I Should Have Known Better

The harmonica's back! A straightforward chugging work song, but the title doesn't suggest happiness.

If I Fell

There seems some confusion as to who wrote the preamble, Paul says its him but it's on John's home demos. Mystery! A strong collaboration with Paul, with classic harmony singing.

Tell Me Why

An energetic strummer, using the same rhythm as All My Loving (in fact a lot of it fairly yells quickie take-off) and again sung quite high in John's range.

Any Time At All

Another throwaway by Lennon's standards, a studio quickie that never even got lyrics for the middle eight, and was released as-is.

I'll Cry Instead

A dark note, the first. Either from misogyny or the pressures of fame, Lennon hints at what he'll do if he suspects disloyalty. It's a bit odd to see this and You Can't Do That on an otherwise upbeat Beatlemania album, when the myth decrees it should have been on Help !

When I Get Home

John's not a happy chappy, he's in a hurry and there's all this trivial rubbish getting in the way. The rhythm guitar is fairly belting out his frustration.

You Can't Do That

And again John takes out that frustration on a woman. On this song he plays lead for a rare change, because he was sick of the monotony of playing rhythm guitar.

I'll Be Back

An acoustic-backed number, with fantastic harmonies and a plaintive John solo voice. Not as angry as the previous songs, but still can't decide whether to apologise or to accuse.

SINGLE: I Feel Fine / She's A Woman

The famous feedback song, and a nice riff to start with too, but otherwise a fairly pedestrian song, I've never liked the middle eight. Paul's B-side is actually better.

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Beatles For Sale

The confusing album that fans don't get. I've already noted that this is where they switched the basic rhythms to country from straight rockers in their originals, and John's output here, although greatly curtailed, is evidence of that. The subject-matter anger of the previous album turns to depression on this one. They're running out of good covers to do and aren't inclined to push it with the originals, yet there are gems in the dust. The release history of this album in the US is nothing short of weird, with approximately half of the album released in separate sections as different albums, as if John's songs were somehow not related to the rest of the album.

No Reply

Still accusing his girl, counting out the offences but then an almost agonised middle eight begs her to stay. It's a pretty dramatic way to start an album and it makes me wonder what fans must have thought when they first played it. Note that John reverts to acoustic for this.

I'm A Loser

The first naked self-examination in public and a swinging country song as well. John even breaks out the harmonica and continues with acoustic rhythm.

Baby's In Black

An unusually rhyming couplet-style for the lyrics fits this country waltz, John again on acoustic, and that gorgeous middle-eight.

Eight Days A Week

Released as a single in the US for the chopped-up album, this wasn't one of John's favourites, a work song that wasn't good enough to make the Help ! soundtrack.

SINGLE: Ticket To Ride /Yes It Is

Another double-Lennon single. It's a power pop/ballad combination, yet still puts on the country swing.

Help!

This movie album is where Paul edges out John in terms of output. Apart from the title song, John is determined to stay acoustic and folky, but it's definitely a withdrawal here. He still competes on singles but the fun seems to have gone out of things for John, even as he progresses.

Help !

This is where people noticed that maybe John wasn't so up and bouncy any more, despite singles and an album's warning before. But the movie smoothed over this apparent discrepancy. At this point, we're going to hit the subject of drugs, and it can't be pretended that they weren't a major escape for John from this period going forward (sorry, I usually hate that phrase but it works). The major weed period starts at this time and it's partly responsible for the tone of John's compositions as it aided his withdrawal of interest.

You've Got To Hide Your Love Away

A waltz, and John's very Dylanesque delivery and yet another unhappy lyric.

You're Going To Lose That Girl

With the triple-barrel of Beatle harmony and the jangly guitar tones, it's very Byrds-like.

It's Only Love

John indulges in a major augmented progression in this subdued mope about not being forgiven and yet doesn't understand his feelings either.

Dizzy Miss Lizzy

The last turn around the block for a Beatles cover, John belts this out like a maniac.

SINGLE: We Can Work It Out /Day Tripper

The B-side was John's with Paul's input and lead vocal, John getting to put his guitar stamp firmly on the track. Another beautiful set of harmonies, particularly the middle-twelve!

Rubber Soul

Some of John's most solid compositions are on this album and they are outright introspective pieces mostly, and he really started playing with song structure. By now John is using acoustic as well as electric guitars on practically every song.

Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)

This song is almost a drone, and pushed along by the twin attack of sitar and acoustic. It's a very naturally-worded story of a one-night stand that wasn't to be and has a sense of humour about it.

Nowhere Man

Unusually for John, he takes a 3rd person angle look at himself. It's a very unhappy portrait. The song's arrangement bustles along a bit brightly for the subject-matter, in a very Byrds-influenced fashion, with that lovely guitar solo, and the close harmony. For all it's jangle, it's also claustrophobic and empty.

The Word

A joint composition with Paul, proselytising about the concept of love. I love the sparse, almost ska guitar stabs and the great unison singing.

Girl

Another complaint about a wilful woman, who doesn't seem to understand John's situation. The melody is very extended and easily lends itself to a Mediterranean treatment.

In My Life

A beautiful melody and virtually a poem set to music, a difficult feat for anyone. Still taking the Byrds approach of all-out harmonies at the appropriate points, it's noteworthy that the greatest difficulty was figuring out what to put in the instrumental break to give the song some breathing space.

Run For Your Life

We revert to country rock for this nasty little song, which is a shock after the almost dreamy contemplative pieces by John on this album. In the context of country songs about tragic ends to relationships (which Ringo would cover much later on), it's unusual to come from a personal angle which makes it all the worse. It's an high-watermark of verbal cruelty that John would thankfully retreat from.

SINGLE: Paperback Writer /Rain

It's John's very striking Leslie-d rhythm forming the basis of the A-side, and he and George make a acid-splashed heaven of Rain , which I think pretty much sums up John's attitude in lyrical form.

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Revolver

John's contribution of just 5 from 14 songs on this album underlines his continuing withdrawal from the forefront of all things Beatle, even taking a back step and letting George have the first song. The song structures are more irregular and the melodies are less obvious, there's no artifice to put a blues spin on them. Nevertheless, the Beatles were still largely thinking as one, but they were beginning to take more time out for themselves and bringing something new and individual back when they recorded.

I'm Only Sleeping

Running the show with acoustic again, this song has irregular verse sections and choruses in relative name only. The B section is a true B-section, twice the length of a middle-eight, yet seems to be an aside between the verses, as after the first B section the verse gives up and becomes an instrumental with backwards guitar instead, and returns to a chorus. The lyrics are practically conversational, if rhymed.

She Said She Said

This was a last-minute addition to the album because John needed one quickly and it's a rare collaboration with George. More acid-splashed guitars and a 3/4 middle-section and some very nice backing vocals and bass from George.

And Your Bird Can Sing

The final version is very different from the first version envisaged by John, the rhythm for this is more uptight and RnB than the more floaty and giggled-over Anthology version which I would equally have enjoyed. We'll never know for sure now just how John and George (or Paul?!) put those guitars together but it's fantastic work, and the middle-eight is one of my favourite John passages. People indeed were not getting John.

Doctor Robert

This is a more straightforward, even backward-looking effort, where the rhythms sit uncomfortably, both lyrical and instrumental. I still like the song mostly for the guitars, by this stage, just masterfully handled by John and George and the well-well-well section, but the verses are a bit odd.

Tomorrow Never Knows

A great example of lyrics starting a song off and John having trouble translating a sound-picture into reality. He was never happy with the result but I think Paul at least should be commended for trying very hard to get somewhere towards where John wanted to go, and George's contribution was not small either. John did like the Leslie vocals at least. I'm a fan of RM11 which got canned in favour of RM8 and both mono and stereo versions each have their special moments.

John had a habit of remembering these things badly; when he couldn't get across what he wanted, he just told them to fix it, and would always like the result. Then years later blame everyone for being "experimental" with his stuff. It's true that by this stage Paul was greatly in control of how he wanted his songs recorded (and would get much more session-master with his bandmates as things progressed), but John was equally disengaged with the process of realising his work.

SINGLE: Strawberry Fields Forever /Penny Lane

There's no better example of the brilliance, disengagement and perverse nature of John Lennon than the recording of SFF. After stunning the others with a simple acoustic version, they put together a lovely band version which John then decided wasn't big enough. So he then recorded a heavy orchestra version with KILLER DRUMS and a baffling conclusion, and after a listen decided that wasn't it either. So he told George Martin to fix it. Thankfully Martin did. Most fans know this story, but think of the sheer balls of Lennon to go "well I'm not doing it all again, fix it". The chain of recordings in Anthology show that Lennon was already finger-picking, but not too successfully.

But it is the lyrical elements which is the real hero of the song. Lennon's chorus literally invites us to go back to a dreamland where nothing is real, isn't it awesome. The verses are like watching someone's thoughts verbalise, full of starts and stops and contradictions and confusions, and no one before John had the sheer brass to put it on tape with a melody that matches the thought. There's a great deal of humour here along with the seriousness: those little flourishes when John says "that is I think I disagree" with the pompous strings underneath is funny as well as confused "it's all stupid, who cares la la la". It's a unique juxtaposition of emotions, thoughts and a hearty whack of LSD. It's also fascinating to me that it was done right at the end of 1966, although the single itself wasn't released until February (Penny Lane took 3 weeks to finish in mid-January), by which time they were already 6-7 songs deep into recording the following album.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

George claims least involvement on this album, but it's noteworthy that he is often the only guitarist apart from Paul on Paul's tracks. John collaborated on many of Paul's songs as well as writing his own, although strictly speaking he had even less songwriting input than before. I'll mention John's contributions on the songs I know he contributed to, most of it was singing. Like @Joe says, Lennon retreated to suburban day-dreaming in this period but he was unhappy and isolated.

Sgt. Pepper 's Lonely Hearts Club Band

John played no guitar on this, all by Paul and George, but he sang on it.

With A Little Help From My Friends

John did backing vocals again with Paul. And cowbell!

Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds

It's John's song with some contribution by Paul, and in the arguments over who wrote what, everyone forgets how much George contributed to the final recording. Nevertheless, it's one of John's stand-out compositions, and fantastic vocal performances.

Getting Better

Backing vocals again, John doing a call-and-response vocal with Paul. John at least co-authored the lyrics.

Fixing A Hole

Backing vocals yet again. Much confusion as to who really played what. Lewisohn credits Neil Aspinall for the harpsichord on the original 3 takes, but it could have been John, then later in the month they did further overdubs. Other authorities credit George Martin. It seems John did play a guide rhythm guitar on it but this was later wiped for overdubs.

She's Leaving Home

A similar call-and-response to Getting Better , but stronger. This was another proper collaboration.

Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!

Ironically, the credits would seem to indicate that the only one who didn't get to play harmonica on this track was John, the harmonica-player! He did play the organ, racking up another keyboard credit. It's a credit of another sort to make a memorable tune out of a literal poster, that melody is really fairground-roundabout territory (when the organ plays it, you realize just how crafted it is). I don't buy that Paul partially wrote it, it doesn't have his tidiness about it. It wouldn't be a Lennon of this period if there weren't at least one time-signature change, or a few extra bars in a verse.

Lovely Rita

A Paul song, but John got to make hilarious noises and play acoustic on it.

Good Morning, Good Morning

A classic case of Lennon fitting the song around the rhythm of the lyrics. Many people mistakenly think Lennon didn't have a good sense of rhythm, obviously impossible for a rhythm guitarist. He was just a very original songwriter, and by now felt he could dispense with traditional structure. Contrast this with Paul's mania for two-step vamp at this period.

Sgt. Pepper 's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)

John got to play rhythm on this one as well as sing backing vocals.

A Day In The Life

John took by now a familiar path to the song, using TV or print media to provide himself with inspiration, finding a melody for the words and chords for the melody. The lyrics once again are a stream of consciousness, in the now, reflecting the triviality and distraction of modern life, and are still relevant 50 years later and I expect they may be for another 50 years until we forget what newspapers and movies were because we've got the network going straight into our brains by then :D But at the same time, he's contrasting that triviality with death and tragedy, how we can be untouched observers of it and move onto something else. And after all, it's John who gets the last word.

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Magical Mystery Tour

Another movie project, this time born out of giving themselves something to do more than any real artistic vision. It's the straggling, undignified end to the psychedelic era before they properly shook it off, and this time the others share John's rootless day-dreaming. The sarcastic Rutles footage of Eric Idle rushing around being a direction-finder through various obstacles, fellow Beatles and entourage in tow is reportedly not popular with Paul, but it's really what they were doing, running around in circles. It's understandable; the miracle is that it never happened earlier and they got out of it lightly compared to the trainwrecks of other bands. When you read Ian MacDonald and Geoff Emerick fume about the endless days wasted, keep in mind who were the creative cultural icons and who were the bystanders who never had to deal with that situation. The Beatles were human, not some sausage factory of endless brilliance. The US album, collecting the singles concurrent at the time gives you a sense of the confusion, with B-sides preceding A-sides.

Magical Mystery Tour

Depending on how you listen to it, the song can be a slog until the coda or a wonderful dreamlike thing. It's the harmony singing that's the best part of most of the song for me, John plays rhythm on it but it can be hard to hear.

Flying

John features heavily on organ and Mellotron on this rare joint composition.

Blue Jay Way

Just backing vocals for John here.

Your Mother Should Know

John played organ on this one too, with those not-quite but I'm-willing-to-bet ironic backing vocals.

I Am The Walrus

A rather odd order to the album has this B-side before the A-side of the collected single. This is another melody fitted to a poem and what a vocal! This is a true composition on keyboards, quite early for John, and it's full of ideas and jokes and coded shout-outs. Perhaps more than Strawberry Fields Forever , this song is deeply indebted to George Martin's score, and even benefits from an edit because John didn't want to redo the basic track. Lennon's style is associated with descending chords as a result of this song and probably All You Need Is Love , even though there are few examples otherwise. I'm always surprised at how high he sings this, at the top of his non-falsetto range, and with such power.

Hello Goodbye

John's contribution was again keyboards and definitely not any songwriting on this A-side.

Baby You're A Rich Man

This should have been on the Yellow Submarine album (it was on the movie) but ended up here as a B-side to All You Need Is Love , and another by now rare joint composition, a fusion of songs by Paul and John. It's a strange, psychedelic assessment of being a Beatle (even if, as claimed, it was about Brian Epstein), and again John is on keyboards. John's part of the song is all about being asked questions about his status and his ironic answers and Paul's part is the nonsensical chorus.

All You Need Is Love

The hymn of the psychedelic generation, this very simple lyric with its strong chord structure seems to say it all.

Yellow Submarine

Bits and pieces from elsewhere, bunged on to this movie soundtrack album, these were either left off Pepper or recorded in between albums.

Hey Bulldog

This was a quick studio collaboration that Lennon wrote off as a throwaway but it's a great vocal and guitar performance.

All Together Now

John wrote the middle section, and there seems to be much confusion again as to who played what. Most likely John played acoustic and harmonica but I'd be amazed if he played banjo or ukulele as claimed by various people. Is it possible that it was George, given his love of the instrument?

Only A Northern Song

It features John on the piano and glockenspiel, and hilarious piano it is too!

It's All Too Much

The main interest for John on this track is whether he played guitar or did Paul. Perhaps John played bass instead.

The Beatles

Brian's death and India were a watershed for John personally. He starts to break away, from Cynthia, from suburban life, from acid, from psychedelica, from being a Beatle. Most of this is well-documented in John's own words. He learnt another style of finger-picking from Donovan in India and wrote a massive number of songs, as if to compensate for the previous three albums. I think the idea of The Beatles as being a better John Lennon solo album (give or take a collaboration or two) than a Beatles album is not altogether unattractive. The songs follow the mode he'd already established with I Am The Walrus and Hey Bulldog , but in different sonic clothing: gone largely are the frills and the psychedelic trappings, but there is now a recognisable Lennon style. It's bluesy, and often in descending chords, and it's sung mostly with a pained or sardonic edge to it, with some exceptions. The problem with John "waking up" again isn't that the others weren't used to it as he said. It's that they had also woken up and weren't going to think as one again, except recording together for now.

Dear Prudence

A rare glimpse of Eden before the fall, psychedelica that's finally been grounded in a concrete interaction. John and George pull off another interlocked guitar pattern, this time a kind of wall of sound of their own making.

Glass Onion

But just to confuse you, John pulls out a sarcastic list of psychedelic references. There's no mistaking the intent of it, even if you discount the harrowing oh yeahs of the middle-section. And this becomes a characteristic, ruthless juxtaposition, cutting off your expectations across the entire album and it's unsettling.

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da

The very aggressive piano is John's, a counter to the jollity of the vocals.

The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill

Perhaps this is a pre-emptive answer to Rocky Raccoon , its one of a few Lennon compositions involving a fictitious character, despite it being common in his poetry. Yoko gets a walk-on part, having become a sit-in part of the sessions. It has the edge of his poetry too, the way he sets up his characters to fail or have a dramatic deux ex machina come in and save the day.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps

John plays rhythm on the released remake but played organ on the scrapped first version.

Happiness Is A Warm Gun

One of the Lennon-McCartney collage pieces, with very striking lyrical imagery and equally-striking riffing. The sardonic edge is again on show, but the joke is less funny now since he died.

I'm So Tired

I see this as a companion to Yer Blues , Lennon using his life or his emotional experience to breath life into the composition, a bluesy chromatic ramble that recalls I'm Only Sleeping except he can't sleep this time. The beautiful melisma (I used it again!) of the phrase although I'm So Tired is like the good chocolate in the chocolate box, you wait all song to hear it and it rewards you every time. Remember, this is the guy who wanted to try singing by being suspended from the ceiling to make it different.

Rocky Raccoon

John actually plays the VI bass on this as well as harmonica, and does quite a good job of it too. Just goes to prove that he understood how to do the vamp on bass if he had to.

Julia

This powerful solo piece is achieved by a blend of two guitars using the finger-picking technique he learnt in India, and it's an almost ragtime style that really works for it. And, at least for my hands, it's not easy to do especially if you want to sing along to it. The lyrics speak for themselves, powerful and simple and you get the bonus extra bars you expect here and there to go with them.

Birthday

This was another collaboration but mainly a Paul song. Good strong guitar work too.

Yer Blues

There's been a bit of discussion lately on the parodic intent behind this song. A good number of aspects are what you'd expect of a standard blues and I believe he was sincerely singing how he felt, but also felt a need to distance it from a true blues. It's still a very powerful performance and like I'm So Tired , shows the new Lennon beginning to appear, a less chummy and more individual Lennon.

Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey

The most frantic rocker of the album yet, and I just love the guitars in it. Typically Lennon makes a jokey song out of his paranoia around his new relationship and how his mates were not dealing with it. John really shreds on it as well, so there's still a bit of an edge to it.

Sexy Sadie

This interesting song is of course about Lennon's previous obsession, meditation and the Maharishi. The chord progression circles around itself like passive-aggressive anger and those bridges build up to anti-climaxes, letdowns. As Pollack says, it's an odd mixture of styles, Paul's piano, Johns clutch of instruments, and sarcastic lead from George. An important aspect is how John chose to sing it using falsetto in places where he didn't have to shout, an effect he began to use in later work, rather than his normal dynamic of soft-loud.

Helter Skelter

Notable for John's jamming on probably the VI which has a distinctive guttural plonky sound and some far-out saxophone. Ironic that he didn't' contribute to probably the most chilling maniacal guitars they ever recorded.

Revolution 1

Another Beatle first, John finally talks politics in a song, a pro-Beatles manifesto akin to Paul's more coded version in Back In The U.S.S.R, but in Johns inimical way. I called it almost a strip-tease song, and it is surprisingly coy for all its hipster pronouncements. John would be far more explicit later on. I like the heavy overdubbed rhythm guitar John overdubbed on it as much as his acoustic playing.

Cry Baby Cry

Sequenced as a calm before the storm, this is another cryptic lyric where John posits fictional characters in a nursery-rhyme land. John plays flanged acoustic and the keyboards on another song that circles around itself like Sexy Sadie , and his vocal, less obviously sardonic, is nevertheless up to something. Perhaps that's the point of putting Paul's little cryptic coda on the end of it, as a little comment.

Revolution 9

This collage defies a normal description but John put a lot of work into it and it does have a structure, which definitely appeals more to an intellectual approach than an emotive one. A sad irony of the disintegration of The Partnership is that McCartney had no input into this, and yet still complains that he was the avant garde one.

Good Night

Finally, John let Ringo sing this sweet lullaby, a more proper one than the sardonic puzzle of Cry Baby Cry . There's a bit much harp in Martin's score for my liking but the rest of it is spot on.

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Let It Be

This shambles of an album only came about as a movie obligation and it was agony for all concerned. Because they had signed up for a "natural" process, the songwriting and song-forming had to be done the hard way and it just added to the grind, and in the end produced a sub-par result except for a gem or two. I've included Across The Universe here because otherwise it doesn't fit anywhere else, and we have a few versions of it now attached to the album anyway.

What the movie does give is a good chunk of the rooftop concert (frustratingly not all of it), and a chance to see Lennon and Harrison in action demonstrating their interplay at an advanced stage.

Two Of Us

Largely acoustic and vocal contributions from John.

Dig A Pony

Lyrically reminiscent of All You Need Is Love , a list of things you can do that doesn't matter because love, baby. The riff is wobbly but still fun and a gallant attempt at a bit of harmony singing.

I Me Mine

By the time this song was even finished, the Beatles were effectively dead, John having already left.

Dig It

The fragment is probably better than the various bootleg versions.

I've Got A Feeling

Ironically a proper collaboration, both contributing song fragments and singing the respective vocal parts.

One After 909

A very early Lennon rocker, I rather like this version.

Across The Universe

Possibly the best Lennon poem set to music. A beautiful combination of flanged acoustic and tambura regardless of which version you listen to (I reluctantly prefer the LIB version because it's the simplest), and a haunting vocal.

Abbey Road

The proper last album, although it may not have been if not for a bad car accident that put John and Yoko out of action for some months. By the time he was able to contribute, I think the rot had truly set in. The songs are much better and better produced, but again John has retreated, this time for good because he's writing for himself now. His songwriting contributions are few, and he's playing much more piano as an active contribution. Ironically Paul Ringo and George were forced by the accident to initially collaborate more and this probably helped George's songs as a result.

Come Together

The band collaborated to create the sound of this one, and Lennon again invents a character to sing around. I really wish he hadn't said "shoot me" in the instrumental breaks, it's ruined the song for me. John was preferring the more cro-magnon type of rocker by this stage and this is a particularly obstinate one, waving its freak flag high and generally wallowing in late '60s groove.

Something

John played guitar and piano it says here, pretty much rhythm piano too.

Oh! Darling

John plays piano and sings harmonies, although he wanted to sing the lead himself.

Octopus's Garden

Lennon is listed as playing guitar on the basic track but otherwise his input was minimal.

I Want You (She's So Heavy)

This song is overlooked as a band collaboration but there's no doubt the others put a lot of good work into it. The benefit of an 8-track really shows in the much clearer interplay between George and John, and once again John puts in a great vocal, of urgent sexuality and the fear of madness. Notice how he sings that bluesy falsetto first and later lets rip, a calculated build-up. John conjured up that enormous coda with white noise and a brutal, cut-off ending, after another major edit of two performances, shades of Strawberry Fields Forever !

Because

The last of the great 3-part harmony work. Another glimpse of Eden by John, and evidence of how much his work was beginning to shift by composing on piano instead of guitar.

Most of the Huge Medley has little input from John except for three pieces:

Mean Mr. Mustard and Polythene Pam which run into each other conveniently, both 3rd-person vignettes by John who had some incomplete songs to throw in, and as much as I like them, are clear evidence of John's almost complete disinterest in the process by now.

The End

It's important as the last hurrah and a nice round of solos from everyone.

Assorted Singles

Get Back

Remarkable chiefly for John getting to do the lead riffs throughout.

Don't Let Me Down

The strongest declaration of love while still a Beatle, it still has that edge of paranoia in the choruses even while singing his woman's praises.

The Ballad Of John And Yoko

An unusual Partnership-only creation where they played all the instruments themselves. By now John is documenting himself openly and turning his life into an art installation.

You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)

The very last hurrah and joke. Until this track, and possibly the Christmas records, and Lewisohn's insistence that John could never do a sane count-in, you might never know that John (and Paul and George and Ringo), had a love for the Goons and doing silly voices/characters. Here they're like kids in a world not far removed from In His Own Write , a mantra worthy of Lear throughout different parodies. Makes no difference, that's all.

And then John walked away, forever.

Conclusions

It's been a difficult task to look at John's work this way. So much of it is looking at his general direction and apparent intentions and being quite unable to fully document his actual contributions without repeating a lot of obvious information about well-known songs. I ended up avoiding most of the musical jargon I intended to use, but there is no escape, I'll do that for George. Most of what you hear from John is his voice and the thickness of the songs he plays guitar or piano on with the occasional bout of harmonica or other instruments. And we do keep coming back to that voice, so full of his character and emotion and outright charisma, and the stunning effect it still has on even those of us who've been listening to it for 50 years now. It may be impossible to get that essential transmission across to future generations who will be snowed under with distorting myth and the distance of time.

The very glamour of that voice and those words have literally conjured up a being who is easily mistaken for the real person, who was far more of a contradiction and a confusion than his artistic product. We can imagine things might have been different had he lived longer, and we would certainly have heard more about his contradictions later (or perhaps he would have outlived those who would have contradicted him), but I can't deny that there was enough there already to say there was a real person who was not that Beatle John or even that Plastic Ono John you can construct from the legend. The ironies are many that it is John who suffers this uncalled-for martyrdom more than George, or Paul or Ringo ever will. It's the glamour, it's the vibe.

John's development in the Beatles was not a technique or a style, it was the more intangible thing of changing his outlook, how he connected who he was with what he was doing. That was the essential difference for him between writing rockers and ballads and writing his own poetic music. And that is borne out by the continuing development afterwards at least for a few years until he changed direction again. Paul could still churn out songs and tour with a new band, but for John it wasn't a simple matter of doing that, just doing that was meaningless, he'd already done it, it had to be connected with something.

But all the possible narratives break down and we're stuck with a legend instead. Just the bang and the clatter as an angel hits the ground.

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23 April 2015
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Scholarly of course……..But all those thanks were for the insight

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@ewe2 said in part 
<snip> he's easier for me to approach as an average guitarist and I might need the practice for George later (sorry Silly Girl, patience). <BIG SLICE>

That's okay! I don't mind the wait. Anticipation will make it all the sweeter. a-hard-days-night-george-9

<HUGE CHOP> 
Thanks for your continued good response to these monographs, we mad Beatle peoples need to witter on about our obsession, or we'd explode. :D <trim> 

WE MOST CERTAINLY DO!!!!!!!! beatlemaniacs_02_gif

And this is, in part, why I find your monographs so incredibly satisfying, because reading them can alleviate some of the pressure of that need-to-witter. It's sort of the empathy of shared Beatlemania that makes the mania easier to contain. In plain English, things I always want to say have been in part said here, which means I don't have to say it, which relieves the need-to-witter. 

It's hard to explain, but "We're all mad here. You're mad; I'm mad", so you understand, right? a-hard-days-night-george-9

And before I forget... I think you're getting even better at these things. Each one seems to be better than the last (and I thought the last was pretty damn good). I'm sure your George one will be incredibly... incredible. 

Apples!!!! apple01apple02heartapple01apple02heartapple01apple02heartapple01apple02heartapple01apple02heart 

Johnny's pleased with yea-hard-days-night-john-1

(Yes, PWT. PW very T.) 

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It verges from the sublime to the ridiculote

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Great great stuff up there, @ewe2 

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ewe2 said
 It's not an uncommon thing in the musical world for untrained musicians to be suspicious of musical training. The feeling is that once trained, one will forever see things through that training and lose the freedom to experiment.

Guilty as charged here. And once more, great job @ewe2, thank you.

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Forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit” (“Perhaps one day it will be a pleasure to look back on even this”; Virgil, The Aeneid, Book 1, line 203, where Aeneas says this to his men after the shipwreck that put them on the shores of Africa)

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Oudis whispered through the blinding darkness  

ewe2 said
 It's not an uncommon thing in the musical world for untrained musicians to be suspicious of musical training. The feeling is that once trained, one will forever see things through that training and lose the freedom to experiment.

Guilty as charged here. And once more, great job ewe2, thank you.

I'm not really trained either  :D I learned some music theory on the piano (how to read notes, keys, and basic time signatures) and did a few scales, but haven't read notes since I started playing guitar; I'm pretty rubbish at it anyway. So I'll join @Oudis in that club. a-hard-days-night-george-9

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I'll just say again how tough this one was to write, it doesn't have much rigour to it. Lennon did an amazing amount with very little, it's rather shaming for musicians to look at his work and go god he had these few tricks and was able to be totally original with the same few tricks. So after saying he had a bluesy style of melody and liked chromatic and scalar runs in his chord progressions, that's pretty much it, except for the terrific naturalistic lyrics and his incredible voice. I felt like I was stretching something very simple over a long long essay, so I apologize if it came across a little samey. I did want to attempt to put his recorded contributions all in one place so it can be seen easily. If he wasn't writing, he was at least very involved in most songs except for George's and increasingly Paul's.

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A bit off-topic but here I go anyways, knowing that many will mock me: I find myself in the strange position of having to defend ignorance over knowledge, but in my experience studying music is in fact a way to internalize “rules” that later will limit your ability to come up with good tunes; The Beatles are the perfect example. People who know a lot about music theory are great musicians, e.g. make great arrangements, but seldom are great songwriters. Of course, you only have to listen to any song by Sting to know that is not a rule. Call these the arguments of an ignorant fellow if you wish.

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Forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit” (“Perhaps one day it will be a pleasure to look back on even this”; Virgil, The Aeneid, Book 1, line 203, where Aeneas says this to his men after the shipwreck that put them on the shores of Africa)

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Oudis said
A bit off-topic but here I go anyways, knowing that many will mock me: I find myself in the strange position of having to defend ignorance over knowledge, but in my experience studying music is in fact a way to internalize “rules” that later will limit your ability to come up with good tunes; The Beatles are the perfect example. People who know a lot about music theory are great musicians, e.g. make great arrangements, but seldom are great songwriters. Of course, you only have to listen to any song by Sting to know that is not a rule. Call these the arguments of an ignorant fellow if you wish.

I believe this myself also. I have studied basic music theory but I have not delved deep into it for those same reasons. I still cant read music just tablature and I feel that if I try to write songs based around music theory it becomes more artificial and less artistic. But that's just me.

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24 April 2015
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Yes, some people like Sting are annoying like that. The great break the rules or at least bend them in such a way that they work for them instead of against them. And if you don't know that you're not supposed to harmonise in a particular way or that going from major to minor is verboten, then you're going to create something new. The Beatles had their own internalized logic though, one that told them to follow the melody regardless of the results, or the rhythm, or the length of the lyrics. John did all of that (to hook this back to the topic), within narrower confines than even Paul.

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25 April 2015
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After a few hours I thought I’d elaborate a bit. I’m not really defending ignorance for songwriters; we do study, it’s just that we study different things and by ourselves. We analyze songs, their structure, how their melodies modulate, the changes from minor to major chords, the riffs, how the lyrics match the tunes. I think that most songwriters learn their trade this way. It’s totally different from learning to be a soloist, for instance, or learning how to make arrangements. A combination or songwriters and trained musicians is the way to go if you want to record great music; a combination just like that of Paul and John with George Martin.

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Forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit” (“Perhaps one day it will be a pleasure to look back on even this”; Virgil, The Aeneid, Book 1, line 203, where Aeneas says this to his men after the shipwreck that put them on the shores of Africa)

30 April 2015
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Stravinsky had a lot of knowledge and made a lot of great art... I think it's not a matter of knowledge/ignorance ... it's a matter of creativity ( plus intuition and good taste, of course ), if you are a creative person you'll do creative stuff... And Lennon was a very creative person from his childhood making his own comics and paintings a poems...

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"I Need You by George Harrison"

30 April 2015
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UnidentifiedFiendishThingy said

Oudis said
A bit off-topic but here I go anyways, knowing that many will mock me: I find myself in the strange position of having to defend ignorance over knowledge, but in my experience studying music is in fact a way to internalize “rules” that later will limit your ability to come up with good tunes; The Beatles are the perfect example. People who know a lot about music theory are great musicians, e.g. make great arrangements, but seldom are great songwriters. Of course, you only have to listen to any song by Sting to know that is not a rule. Call these the arguments of an ignorant fellow if you wish.

I believe this myself also. I have studied basic music theory but I have not delved deep into it for those same reasons. I still cant read music just tablature and I feel that if I try to write songs based around music theory it becomes more artificial and less artistic. But that's just me.

Trying to write music *based* upon a rule is what the twentieth century avant guarde did. Of course they also thought that old rules are outdated so they invented some new rules beforehand. As a result, we have some brilliantly structured pieces of music that sound like a flayed cat dipped in vinegar only in half. (Don't really know how that sounds but I bet it sounds horribly traumatising. Also, I bet John Cage would try and include that in his mus-- sound experiment. You know John Cage, the one Lennon partly mocked with his "original minute of silence. 😛 )

They're not all that bad, but seriously, Revolution 9 is one of the best of them, and it scared me since I had my ears to the air. *shivers*

Internalising rules is one thing, but the key is to walk behind them and see why they work. That's actually how the classical rules ever came to be - Leoninus and Perotinus and a bunch of other guys made the effort to analyze all of it and come up with conclusions. Some six hundred years ago or such. And they are still going!

Not a thing that many trained musicians do, however. And I've known a lot of them through the most part of my life.

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8 December 2015
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I just read through this entire thing again, cause y'know, today, and once again I am wowed. That conclusion was heart-breaking-ly gorgeous. 

@ewe2 orated magnificently 

<CHOP CHOP> 

Conclusions

It's been a difficult task to look at John's work this way. So much of it is looking at his general direction and apparent intentions and being quite unable to fully document his actual contributions without repeating a lot of obvious information about well-known songs. I ended up avoiding most of the musical jargon I intended to use, but there is no escape, I'll do that for George. Most of what you hear from John is his voice and the thickness of the songs he plays guitar or piano on with the occasional bout of harmonica or other instruments. And we do keep coming back to that voice, so full of his character and emotion and outright charisma, and the stunning effect it still has on even those of us who've been listening to it for 50 years now. It may be impossible to get that essential transmission across to future generations who will be snowed under with distorting myth and the distance of time.

The very glamour of that voice and those words have literally conjured up a being who is easily mistaken for the real person, who was far more of a contradiction and a confusion than his artistic product. We can imagine things might have been different had he lived longer, and we would certainly have heard more about his contradictions later (or perhaps he would have outlived those who would have contradicted him), but I can't deny that there was enough there already to say there was a real person who was not that Beatle John or even that Plastic Ono John you can construct from the legend. The ironies are many that it is John who suffers this uncalled-for martyrdom more than George, or Paul or Ringo ever will. It's the glamour, it's the vibe.

John's development in the Beatles was not a technique or a style, it was the more intangible thing of changing his outlook, how he connected who he was with what he was doing. That was the essential difference for him between writing rockers and ballads and writing his own poetic music. And that is borne out by the continuing development afterwards at least for a few years until he changed direction again. Paul could still churn out songs and tour with a new band, but for John it wasn't a simple matter of doing that, just doing that was meaningless, he'd already done it, it had to be connected with something.

But all the possible narratives break down and we're stuck with a legend instead. Just the bang and the clatter as an angel hits the ground.

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It verges from the sublime to the ridiculote

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8 December 2015
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Thanks @Beatlebug, I'm still second-guessing this particular essay, wondering whether I'm getting to the nub of things, or phrasing things better. He was an original, and you can't say better or rarer than that.

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