I’m prompted to write this because of the death of George Harrison, but its been on my mind for years, actually. Of course, today is a very sad day. He will be missed. I’ve been a Beatles freak since I was a little kid, long after they had broken up I still knew they were the greatest band ever. No pop group has ever had such a profound effect no only on music, pop culture, movies, fashion and literature, but on much deeper things like the peace movement, philosophy and religion. I think George was always in the forefront. He did it in a very humble and self-effacing way. He held the first ever ‘star-studded benefit’, and did it in a way not to glamourize himself, but to play up the cause.
A very underated musician, composer and humanitarian, always overshadowed by Lennon and McCartney. Perhaps in death he will finally get the recognition he deserves as a very influencial spiritual leader who lived what he preached, and didn’t do it in a ostentatious or flashy way. I was struck by the lack of a mood of sadness or respect on the morning news shows. I’m a huge Beatles fan, but I was always a little put off by the media’s adoration of Lennon, perhaps the least worthy Beatle for all the attention he got. Harrison was much more subdued in the way he pursued peace and understanding throughout the world, and though he might have had a greater effect practically, he got the least credit.
Which brings me to my point:
Let me preface this by saying I’m an enormous Beatles fan and alway have been since I can remember. Beatles were always played in our house when I was a kid, the first LP I ever bought was ‘Band on the Run’, my first goofy little garage band played nothing but Wings and Beatles songs, I have absolutely every Beatles LP/CD/compilation and I think just about every solo release (except some of Ringo’s dumber stuff). I’ve read or own all the major biographies and still have their posters all around my apartment (they are framed now tho haha). I’m not writing this just to tear down John, but because I think enough time has passed to realisticly evaluate their various roles. And George always got the short end of the media stick.
But my beef is the mistaken belief that Lennon was the driving force behind the Beatles, that he was the most avant-garde, that he was the most intellectual, the hippest and most politically enlightened, the most talented or the most influentual.
When I first read Albert Goldman’s _The Lives of John Lennon_ I hated it, I thought it was a muckraking piece of trash exploiting a fallen martyr by tearing his memory down. Then I read May Pang’s book, Cynthia Lennon’s book, several Harry Nilsson biographies, the definitive Harrison bio (Dark Horse), and _The Love You Make_ (with a grain of salt on that one) and others and started to take a more dispassionate look at Lennon.
Turns out he was probably the worst choice for a hero in the band. He was selfish and violent, jealous and petty, a virtual puppet to Ono and contrary to his “house-husband” legend, he was a virtual non-functioning junkie five of the last six years of his life. He ignored both his sons and squandered his talent. Virtually all his revolutionary “acts” in the 70’s were just publicity stunts to try and jump-start Yoko’s career (she had the impression that John had had his turn, now the world would discover her genius, best enjoyed on side 2 of “Live in Toronto”. True Beatles maniacs will know what I mean.) After he failed to boost her to stardom, then made a successful go of it without her (_Walls and Bridges_, with a #1 hit) she shut him down completely.
Other Lennon misconceptions:
As for his being the most experimental, (a legend spawned by the annoying ‘Revolution #9, perhaps the reason the ‘delete’ button was put on CD players), Paul was doing tape loops and George even put out a solo LP of experimental stuff (Wonderwall) while the Beatles were still together before Lennon’s tape masturbation began. George had his fifth song, “Not Guilty” (John had 13, Paul 12) on The Beatles bumped so that ponderous piece of trash (Rev #9) could be included.
As to his being the activist of the band, it was Paul who ran with the young political Turks in the 60’s, while John lived a staid life as a married man in the suburbs. Paul wrote the first Beatles politically aware songs, not Lennon.
And lastly, that Lennon was the driving force or the most creative of the Beatles. Lennon of course had great songs, and at least initially was half of one of the great writing teams of the century, but Paul wrote most of the true classics singlehandedly (“Yesterday”, “Let It Be”, “Hey Jude”.) _Sgt. Pepper_ and _Abbey Road_ were almost single-handed McCartney (and Martin of course) creations.
Lennon biggies like “Strawberry Fields” and “I Am the Walrus” were great as Beatles songs and in that context, but translate poorly when covered by other artists. His solo career was marked by “Imagine”, and that’s about it. I recently broke out “Mind Games”, “Imagine”, “Walls and Bridges” and some of the stuff is just dreck by any standards, let alone Beatles standards.
George’s solo stuff was much more introspective and personal, IMHO.
Again, let me say that I love the Beatles, or I wouldn’t care about all this trivia.
I base some of my assertions on the Anthology videos, book and CDs, as well as several other books, but mostly from Mark Levinson’s “The Beatles Recording Sessions”, a day by day log of what they did in the studio, who recorded what, etc every day they ever spent in the studio, even for interviews and fooling around. (big-time beatles fans would love this book. it tells really cool inside stuff like how “her majesty” got stuck on the end of abbey road, exactly how “strawberry fields” was pieced together, the fact that McCartney plays lead solos on “Back in the USSR” and George’s “Taxman” I’ve read and referred to it for info over and over.)
McCartney played all of the instruments, including drums on many of his tunes. Lennon didn’t even want to do Abbey Road and most of his songs are just bits and pieces clipped together by Martin and McCartney, if you notice (except for the bombastic “She’s So Heavy” and “Come Together”). Lennon so disliked the concept of Sgt Pepper he refused to contribute a song that fit the concept. This album marked the beginning of Lennon’s withdrawal from the group as an active force. In the early days he was the undeniable leader. Let it Be movie and Magical Mystery Tour were also mostly Paul’s idea and creations (for better or worse)
Another assertion I’d like to knock down is that John was the “rocking” Beatle while Paul wrote sappy love songs.
Listen to “Helen Wheels”, “Rock Show”, “Hi-Hi-Hi”, “Junior’s Farm”, “Soily”, “Jet”, “Getting Closer”, “So Glad to See You” (there are dozens more lesser known hard rocking McCartney solo tunes). Plus all of those were top ten singles.
I defy you to name ONE solo Lennon tune that really rocks (maybe “You Don’t Know What You Got” from _Walls and Bridges_ or “Cold Turkey”). Lennon had little rocking solo stuff, and no rock solo hits, so I really can’t see him as the most “rock” Beatle.
As a Beatle, Paul was the main composer of “I’m Down”, “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “I Saw Her Standing There” with little Lennon input. Paul wrote “Birthday, “Helter Skelter”, “Back in the USSR”, “Get Back”, “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window”, “Sgt Pepper”, dozens of other rockers, all _after_ they had stopped actively collaborating. Those were all written by Paul alone. He’s got a pretty good claim as the most “rock” Beatle.
Lennon’s only “heavy” LP, “Plastic Ono Band” is very rough and raw, –the only tune of lasting value an all acoustic ballad “Working Class Hero”. Mostly the rockers on that LP consist of primal screaming on songs like “Well Well Well”. Go back and check it out, its pretty unlistenable now.
Anyway, of course all this is open to interpretation and subjective argument. Any Beatles nuts out there want to counter?