Monday, April 07, 2008

Lennon vs. McCartney (Who's the Better Songwriter?)

McCartney was more of a natural musical genius, better able to play with harmony and genres than Lennon. But Lennon had better pop-song chops, with a gift for writing unique but catchy melodies.

Their vocal talents follow the same pattern. John is a better singer from a strictly organic point of view, whereas Paul is technically superior. Their strengths (Lennon the true rocker and poet, McCartney's incredible range of sound and style) cancel out their weaknesses (Lennon's lazy three note simplicity, McCartney's old fashioned, surgery ballad style).

But let's talk lyrics. Paul's lyrics have a much bigger range of message and subject matter than John's do. Paul easily moves from various points of view, whereas Lennon is almost always in the first person. And when he does third person, or the rare second, it's usually nonsensical, psychedelic or "In His Own Write"-type prose.

John often criticized Paul's lyrics as being "about characters" whereas his songs were about "John". But some of Paul's "characters" were super. "Eleanor Rigby", the broken family in "She's Leaving Home", "The Fool on the Hill", "Maxwell", "Desmond and Molly Jones" and "Lovely Rita". All great songs, and major ingredients of the Beatles' overall imagery and tone.

And besides, contrary to Lennon's claim of having a more autobiographical style, he had plenty of characters, too. "Mean Mr. Mustard", "Lucy" "Dr. Robert", "Nowhere Man", and "Bungalow Bill".

John's characters might be more interesting, but Paul's are more human. It's true that most of my favorite Beatles' songs are by Lennon ("Come Together", "Help!", "Strawberry Fields"), but Paul also wrote what may be the best lyrics of any Beatles' love song, "For No One".

Paul had more range lyrically and better insights to the human heart. Lennon wore his heart on his sleeve, which was lucky for us, since he was one of the most fascinating people of the 20th Century.

Paul's talents are a lyricist need to be reevaluated. It used to be fashionable to criticize Ringo's drumming, but people are coming around and realizing he was good. Damn good. A solid recognizable style, and fills that fit in perfectly with the songs ("A Day in Life" has some of the best drumming of any pop song).

So let's look at Paul again. It wasn't all "Pizza and Fairly Tales" as John once described him. There's a very introspective, talented wordsmith there who had the brains to be vague and not wrap up every story in a neat little package. Too bad he hasn't written anything worthwhile in 15 years. But that's another story.


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