Wednesday, May 4, 2011
And the best Beatle is...
As all of my family and friends know, I am a HUGE Beatles fan, absolutely obsessed with them and their music. They're just timeless, and apart from *maybe* 1-3 songs, a nearly flawless (in my opinion) catalogue of incredible music. I won't go into details, since we all know how revolutionary, creative, and important they were during their career (1962-1970). But one part of my thinking regarding The Beatles I've changed a lot over the years is which was my favorite Beatle. You know the drill...whenever you're talking Beatles with another person, the inevitable question "who's your favorite?" always comes up. Almost always the answer is either John ("the cool one") or George ("the quiet/spiritual/underrated/mysterious one"). Hardly anyone picks Ringo, even though he was a great drummer and the perfect one for the band. And Paul is always ripped as being a weenie, a sap, a jerk, an egomaniac, etc. John wrote "Imagine" after The Beatles, while Paul always gets mocked by "Silly Little Love Songs," for example. I'm not going to get into their solo work here, but I do want to touch on who my favorite is...
As a teenager/early 20s guy, it was John hands-down. I was full of angst and rage and confusion, as any person is at that age, and John's life story, his biting sarcasm, his wit, and his quite often aggressive songs and lyrics really spoke to me. I knew he and Paul were one of the best songwriting partnerships EVER, and I bought into the whole "John wrote the rockers and Paul wrote the ballads" thing that's been around for years. However, as I got older into my 20s and progressed through life (marriage, kids, job) and also matured as a person (although I'm still a long way from being done in that area!), I realized some things I hadn't thought about before, or at least looked at from a more adult perspective.
I'm going to first preface this by saying it's not an attack on John Lennon...we all know what happened to him in childhood and he did end up maturing quite a lot the last 5 years of his life before he was tragically murdered in 1980. I'm only going by facts and opinions obtained from nearly 20 years of reading/researching/listening/watching anything and everything I could about these guys. But, as I've gotten older, I've realized two things: John was a real jerk to a lot of people, and while he did write scores of amazing and legendary songs, I think Paul was the better writer and musician.
On the first point, we all know the details: John was physically and verbally abusive to his first wife Cynthia, very cold and uninvolved toward his first son Julian, and cheated on Cynthia loads of times during their marriage, eventually leaving her and Julian for Yoko Ono. The settlement he gave them at the divorce was very small and he basically disappeared from their lives for the next 12 years of his life. Meanwhile, Paul had dated Jane Asher for a good 5 years before they broke up in 1968. Yes, Paul cheated on her as well, most notably with Linda, who he began to see in 1967. He broke off his engagement with Jane and by 1969 had married Linda. While John continued to drink and drug heavily, even leaving Yoko for months in 1974 for his "Lost Weekend," where he even had a Yoko-approved mistress, May Pang, Paul (and I don't know if/how much he cheated during this time) and Linda were nearly inseparable, married from '69 until her death in '98. They had a bunch of kids, lived on a Scottish farm, and he purposely included her in his band Wings so they'd always be together. According to both of them (and I don't know how true this is), they didn't spend more than a week TOTAL apart during their nearly 30 years of marriage. Additionally, it was Paul who took Cynthia and Julian Lennon under his wing, making sure they were taken care of, and visiting them and including them in his life from the moment John ditched them in '68. He even proposed marriage to Cynthia after John left her, although this was more a heartwarming gesture according to what I've read, but it still touched her...she's mentioned it in many books. Of course I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that on the way to one of these visits in his car, Paul wrote "Hey Jude" for Julian! So I don't mean to generalize, but the pattern throughout their lives was that John was a very hard guy to get close to (although the friendship he had with the other three guys, and especially Paul, was amazingly close and Paul has never said anything but nice things about him) while Paul tended to be more friendly and warm (although, again, I know he can be a real dick, I've read accounts of that, too, and yes, he *does* have a huge ego). As I've grown up, however, I identify and empathize more with Paul's approach than John's. That being said, Lennon was/is still one of my all time favorite musicians and personalities...a fascinating guy, and his death, especially at a time when he finally seemed to have grown up and cleaned up, is still a great tragedy.
Musically, however, I think Paul as a musician is seriously misunderstood. While both guys could write blistering rockers (Paul: "Helter Skelter," John: "Revolution") and ballads (Paul: "Here, There, and Everywhere," John: "Julia"), I've found the depth and breadth of Paul's compositions and influences to be much greater than John's. Again, not to take anything away from John Lennon, who is deservedly a legend, but Paul wrote so many amazing songs and incorporated so many different styles, from rock, R&B, blues, jazz, to classical, English Music Hall, Motown, that it's pretty amazing when you peel back the layers to see how the songs were constructed. I'm not turning this into a John vs. Paul thing, because John wrote the bulk of "A Day in the Life," he wrote "Come Together," "I Am the Walrus," "Tomorrow Never Knows," "A Hard Day's Night," etc and has a catalog of classics in his own right. But for my taste, I find Paul to be more accomplished a songwriter. He was also the best musician in the band...a fantastic bass player, great guitar player, he played piano, he scored the orchestras for some songs. And of course the singing (again, though, John was incredible here...it's a wash).
I know I haven't gotten as in depth as I could have here, and it's mainly opinion, but I wanted to share it anyway. Again, I love John Lennon's work in The Beatles and if Paul is Beatle #1 to me, John is either #1A or a super close #2, so this was in no means an attack on Lennon...rather, just an appreciation of Paul.
What do you think? Who's your favorite?