If you look the last couple Beatles albums after the White Album ---- while keeping in mind Lennon's brilliance in writing fully half of the early and mid- Beatles' best melodic and/or innovative songs from '63 - '67 --- 1969/1970 was, in my opinion, the least creative Beatles period for Lennon especially (disintegration, really) possibly due to overuse of drugs affecting his work and possibly due to his not caring anymore (as he basically moved on by 1969). The last couple albums (Abbey Road and Let It Be, if you want to call the second a real Beatles album) have very few Lennon gems, while in contrast most of 1964's "A Hard Day's Night" album was written by Lennon, including "If I Fell", "I'll Be Back", "I Should Have Known Better" - songs that, despite Lennon's media-manufactured reputation as a different kind of songwriter than McCartney, are hallmark early-Beatles melodies. Also, on Rubber Soul (1965) Lennon wrote a majority of the best songs . After Rubber Soul, however, McCartney would pretty consistently write at least 50% of the best songs on any given album.
In any case, I think it's basically a media-calculated myth that Lennon wrote less melodic stuff but was more innovative than McCartney - if you look at the overall catalog of who wrote what below you have to say that the synthesis of McCartney and Lennon in the Beatles is unusual in songwriting history in that you had a truly non-lopsided songwriting partnership --- in most if not all other groups, one guy is clearly the better songwriter, but not so with Lennon-McCartney. They both had their own melodic styles to some degree, but both were phenomenal at writing simple beautiful melodies as well as complex innovative masterpieces:
Thanks for the feedback. I would have to agree with most of the 'whowrotethat' comments. No doubt, it's McCartney who penned some of the best material on the last 3 Beatles albums (White, Let It Be,
Abbey Road). Several of my favorite Beatles songs during this period are McCartney's: 'Martha My Dear', 'Oh Darling' and much of the side-2 'medley' on Abbey Road (an aside on 'Oh Darling': McCartney wanted a rough vocal, and Lennon offered, but McCartney decided to do it, stretching out his vocal chords by singing ceaselessly for days > I used to think it was Lennon singing).
However, this Beatles period ('68, '69) kind of fits my discussion of a Gem a few weeks ago about depth vs breadth (Gem = Dire Straits 'Skateaway'). McCartney needed Lennon more than the other way around. Lennon added the depth to the Beatles (where McCartney supplied the breadth), and this took them into some strange territory. But it is what made the Beatles fascinating. If the Beatles were all hits in the late 60's, they would not have connected with the counter culture like they did. Dylan, and to a lesser degree, The Who, The Stones and others would have left them in the dust. The article was right, however. Lennon was souring on the Beatles in 1969 and took it out on them (bickering) and himself (drugs). Immediately after the Beatles broke up, Lennon released 2 of his best ever albums, 'Plastic Ono Band' and 'Imagine'. He was ready to move on.
This week's comments about Lennon for the Gem video, I was referring primarily to his last 2 albums ('Double Fantasy' and the posthumous 'Milk and Honey')
My own comments, actually - glad you agree with most of it - I forgot that italics + reference usually means attribution to the reference source, while I wrote w/italics for effect only.
The 'whowrotethat' link is decent, but has some oversimplifications in the list, like attributing A Day In the Life (the main melody/body of this song was [in this case obviously] Lennon's) to both Lennon and McCartney (McCartney having written middle bridge section). I referenced that website link as I'd remembered seeing the list one time when searching for which Beatle wrote which song, and had found the site before - but as you'll see from other pages on the website, some of the guy's articles seem as though they were copy-pasted from papers for a grade school class.
I agree with you on excellence of 'Martha My Dear' (one of the best of several great ones by all three major Beatles songwriters on the White Album) and on the excellence of McCartney's
Abbey Roadmedley - the latter sounds in a sense like it's the Beatles' farewell. Regarding Lennon's early and late solo work - while I don't know all of Lennon's '70's stuff, based on what I do know, your assessment of mood/style in his first solo albums vs. his last ones is right. First time I actually got to hear much of Lennon's '70's work was on a CD at the library music center at the school where I did my Masters, I listened while I worked through some boring math problems and it kept things interesting.
Agree with you also on the depth/breadth comparison - for example, I don't think anyone but Lennon could have written the essence of the last song to the Sgt. Pepper's album, a song that makes the album not merely a great collection of songs but rather a complete masterpiece. The song 'Rain' is another innovative mid-Beatles Lennon song (though melodically simple when compared to even many of his early songs) - but then, the songs 'Rain' and 'Paperback Writer' are Lennon and McCartney respectively but in fact are actually extremely similar songs, really --- which makes one wonder if the two writers wrote the songs as contrasting styles for the same basic melody just for experimentation. They even sing the song 'Frere Jacques' in the background on Paperback Writer, perhaps a musical joke by them that these two songs are actually based on that.
Years ago, I received as a Christmas present a book called The Beatles Recording Sessions - The Official Abbey Road Studio Session Notes by a guy named Mark Lewisohn (who, I think, is considered the authority on the Beatles) -the book has day-by-day recording session notes/descriptions of what went on (it's a cool rainy-Saturday afternoon book). It has 1962-1970 session listings of songs worked on, along with which takes of which songs took place each day, and it gives a pretty thorough attribution for who wrote what. Reading this was a revelation as I didn't grow up in an era that emphasized the Beatles other than superficially, and as a result I had always heard the whole 'Lennon wrote Strawberry Fields, McCartney wrote Yesterday' typecast of them, so I was pretty surprised when I read Lewisohn's work and saw the variety of songs written by both/either Lennon and/or McCartney (with fair regard to Harrison as well of course (in reference to your latest mails) Lennon himself said that Harrison's 'Something' was the best single song on Abbey Road). Also read about how much pioneering studio engineering the Beatles, George Martin and their engineers did at - of course - none other than
Abbey Roadmedley sounding like a Beatles farewell. It certainly does sound that way, and it goes far beyond the closing lyrics (" and in the end....."). Everything from "Because" to the closing notes sounds like a goodbye, and done in an amazingly classy way.
Don't get the Anthology book.... you can borrow mine for as long as you like. I will get it to you somehow.
Yes, Jeff Beck was also inducted as a member of the Yardbirds. A number of musicians have gotten in twice, including the 3 key songwriting Beatles (with the group and as solo artists). I'm still waiting for Pete Townshend to get in as a solo artist. He deserves it. I plan on doing a Gem on the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, as I have a (hopefully) interesting take on it. Tom, the 3rd member of Cream was Jack Bruce, bassist and primary singer.
Yes, the mid-period Beatles surely rival the late-period Beatles. Revolver was the first album I really enjoyed as an album and not just a collection of songs.
Back to the White Album. I just did a quick wiki on it and clicked on the link to what I thought was the most underrated song on the album,
On the Rock Hall of Fame - isn't that the institution that won't give an award to Hall & Oates? Even if it's not one's favorite music - this seems odd.
Like Long, Long, Long --- as with
Abbey Road, George Harrison ended up being on a par with others in producing excellent songs for the last couple of albums (not counting Let It Be, again though it has excellent songs). They say timing was a lot -
I'm not sure about McCartney releasing something like the medley on his own. I think it's a lot more complicated than assuming he was creatively independent in the medley
endeavor. If that was the case, why did he never release anything as good in all his solo efforts? John,
George and Ringo were still brining out the best in him, and the guitars and backing vocals were absolutely essential to the elite album status of
George on the other hand, proved he was being creatively restrained in the Beatles when he released '
Paul did release a great solo album effort out of the gate as well, 'Ram'. It's not in the same league with the
As for Hall & Oates, I can't go there.
This brings up a great point that is one of the central ones for songs & music - what is the source of creativity? In an interview just after the Beatles, Lennon says the Beatles were a place where he just lost himself to some degree, that he knew he was a genius when he was very young, that he used to 'alpha-out' all the time when he was young, and why wasn't it recognized in school, something to that effect. I certainly don't think that the source of musical creativity is just musical competence - there are plenty of musicians in local community orchestras with better playing abilities than all of the Beatles - but they will not [and probably can't] write an Abbey Road, a Rubber Soul, a Revolver, a White Album, a Schumann song, a Beethoven, Moody Blues or Mozart piece. Why didn't McCartney while solo write a 'For No One' again, or an 'Eleanor Rigby' again? 'Another Day' from his solo time is more his Beatles style than most of his later hits though - and I don't know all of his songs to say if I'm completely right on this. Then again, why didn't Lennon write more songs like 'No Reply', 'Girl', or 'Nowhere Man'? 'Watching the Wheels' is definitely a Beatles-level Lennon song though. Maybe it was just because of what he and they chose to focus on. Maybe the Beatles were simply best being around each other with George Martin as a sort of father bringing it all together. A great approximate quote-of-a-quote from George Martin in the studio book I mentioned:
The 'alpha-out' thing Lennon mentioned happens to many --- you can just sit down at the piano, zone out and play a melody that just came to you out of nowhere. McCartney said he really wrote the song 'Martha My Dear' to his muse, 'the voice in his head telling him what words and music to write'. Also, people can write differently, when deliberately writing a song, depending on what instrument they use - McCartney said this himself about when he's trying to write a song with piano vs. guitar. I think the creativity part is spiritually linked to some degree, otherwise numerous too-mathematical musical types would be writing many great Beatles-level songs today (they're clearly not if there's any connection with what's on the radio).
It may also be a question of one's mood and how time is spent. Maybe the process of actually showing up at the studio or other places with Lennon and bouncing off song ideas is not to be underestimated.
Now that's what I call a Gem reply! Great stuff, Tim. A few thoughts:
You zeroed in on Watching the Wheels. I can tell you have a good taste in Beatles/post Beatles music after these exchanges.
I like your comment on the local community orchestas... well put.
This all started as a reply to Gem # 65. I recommend you get the Van Morrison 'Astral Weeks' album. I believe you will like it.
Thanks for the compliment! Reading your articles is great too, and whereI have knowledge I enjoy commenting where I can. I will definitely check out Astral Weeks....Van Morrison is truly a guy in the pantheon of modern songwriters. He's an internationally renowned musician's musician/writer, which is probably why the oft superficial radio failed to play a lot more than just his (hit classic) most famous songs when I was growing up - just like they pretty much never played the Beatles songs I really like the most and which I only heard much later.
Now to your points - a) agreed, George was clearly the most spiritual of the Beatles, and he seemed to have an inner peace about him that related to this - which most other famous musicians certainly didn't seem to have. Re: creativity and Beatles vs. post Beatles, I think you're right, priorities changed, which is all that needs to happen for these guys to get in a different vein of thinking and therefore songwriting.
b) I read that Lennon called Epstein the fifth Beatle - this may very well have been the case, that maybe their success on many levels owed a great deal to him. Regardless of the Beatles' individual talents, one has to say that they were at a minimum luckier than average to have such highly intelligent managers and producers working with them, people who could perhaps as easily have worked with Rodgers and Hammerstein as the Beatles.
c) I think you may be right about debuts if you include 'Ram' as a debut - and I'm sure they all felt the need to move on with other life priorities, that the Beatles was in a sense like a suspended adolescence for them in that they probably never had to wake up in the morning and think about what tasks they needed to get done - other than music it was probably pretty much taken care of for them.
d) and e) Thanks - I've gleaned your good taste in theirs and others' music from the emails as well - also I'll have to listen to more of Harrison's and the others' stuff to hear some of the things I haven't and be able to form a better opinion about their 70's work. As for the community orchestras comment - I think what I said is correct insofar as sightreading and stuff like that is concerned (virtuoso-type stuff) , but for playing and on-the-spot song creation, unique style of playing, improvisation and just enjoyable sound maybe I stretched it a little, probably not many as good as the four Beatles together - thanks for generosity in not noting that.