Every Beatles appreciator must pick his favorite member. It’s a rite of passage. Even if you eventually grow burned out on the Beatles or lose esteem for them (as I did), you will still always have your favorite.
The issue every Paul McCartney fan has is that he secretly knows John Lennon was a better songwriter. Paul was more endearing, sure, but John pushed the boundaries further. Paul had better consistency, but John had the best individual songs. John never wrote a mediocre song—his were always fantastic or terrible. Granted, the Beatles had very few terrible songs, but if one were to make a list of Beatles songs ranked in order of greatness, John would populate the top and bottom of the list. He did “Strawberry Fields Forever”, but he also wrote “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill”. But even awful songs like “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” or “Good Night” have a certain unique flavor one wishes he could appreciate.
The Paul fan doesn’t want to admit that John wrote better music. He will write it off as primarily the work of George Martin. Yet chord progressions are chord progressions regardless of production. And true, John had the absolute worst lyrics of the group (something nobody ever seems to notice). And true, Paul’s compositions were far more diverse in style. And true, Paul could play a wide variety of instruments and play them better than the other members. But John’s songs stand out in a way Paul’s don’t. The two’s works complement each other, since you need some subtle crooner songs to fill an album. But one must still pick his favorite Beatle, and Paul fans can never get over their feeling of dishonesty.
This is because John Lennon is the Orson Welles of rock music. He peaked early and blew his load, and he could never get it back up again. He had about one year of genius and then slowly began his decline. His solo work was largely awful. Not just in the saccharine production, but also because the chords and melody sound so pre-written. Most of his enjoyable solo work was written while he was in the Beatles. After all, music is as much a product of context and momentum as it is a product of skill and inherent talent. Meanwhile, Paul was writing some of the best music of his career in the 1970s, even though he took a few years to get the ball rolling. During this time Paul’s talent as an instrumentalist began to become very manifest—something nobody can say about any other Beatle.
Paul’s songs always had a certain charm and faux-personability that was missing from John’s compositions, and I don’t think many people have ever been able to articulate that. You feel closer to him than you do to John, even though John was had an annoying habit of bleeding all over the page. Paul was also the most psychedelic, writing “Wild Honey Pie” and “Fixing a Hole”. But he also knew his roots, as shown in his jazz-pop songs. In many ways, he was the most experimental. He never captured the listener’s attention like John does, but he could write the broadest.
And that’s what tortures the Paul fan. We so want to believe that Paul was the best, but we know that it isn’t true. Paul is our favorite, Paul was able to stretch the magic long-term, Paul was a revolutionary a step above most of his peers, but we cave in on ourselves when we hear “A Day In The Life”. We want to blame George Martin, but the same standard would also have to be applied to Paul’s compositions.
And of course, we all overlook George Harrison, but his dozen or so contributions to the band plus All Things Must Pass show a flower that was never allowed to bloom. I would say that he was more talented than John and Paul, but with such a small selection to choose from, I’m not sure that is a fair judgment. And All Things Must Pass has several songs that are less than enjoyable.
So what’s the solution I’ve found? Admit that Mick and Keith were better than all three of them.