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Venus Or Mars
Which Ex-Beatle Had The Better Solo Career?

Venus Or Mars
Which Ex-Beatle Had The Better Solo Career?

John Lennon
Paul McCartney
The songwriting duo of Lennon & McCartney will long be remembered as one of the most prolific, if not the best, of all time.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney took to writing songs at an early age. When The Beatles first began performing, the band followed the popular trend of the time and performed cover songs of famous rock 'n' roll greats, from Buddy Holly to the Chuck Berry. Eventually, however, the fledgling band from Liverpool realised that the songs they played were anything but unique. Every band seemed to be performing the same material, so the young John Lennon and Paul McCartney took it upon themselves to create original material to distinguish The Beatles from all the other bands playing at the time.

Their careers as songwriters is legendary, and the music that they created is now, ironically I suppose, covered by more artists than any material written by any other songwriter or group of songwriters to this day.

Perhaps it's an unfair question to ask which of the two Beatles was better at writing top hits. John tended to be much more introspective than Paul when it came to writing songs, and while Paul always seemed to have an optimistic tone to his lyrics, John could be downright dark and moody. Still, while with The Beatles, both John and Paul engaged in an ongoing interplay of talents, and one must have certainly affected the other. That kind of tension is often the very source of creativity.

After The Beatles split up, each pursued a successful solo career, and perhaps some evaluation of their post-Beatles accomplishments might resolve the classic argument regarding which of the two ex-Beatles produced better music when away from the other.

Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney is and always has been the consummate musician. His talents range far and wide, and he has produced not only popular music but movie soundtacks and orchestral music as well. He has always had a flair for dabbling with experimental music, something we discovered from his very first album, McCartney (1970). Songs such as "Junk" and "Singalong Junk" seemed to be fillers for an album that was otherwise fueled towards success by a single song: "Maybe I'm Amazed."

Further experimentation can be found in his preoccupation with electronic music. The stuff of McCartney found its way, ten years after the release of the first album, into McCartney II (1980), which included such tracks as "Frozen Jap" and "Boogey Wobble." Eventually, he took the electronic medium to the extreme and packaged his experimental work under the rubric of The Fireman.

I think it's safe to say that most Beatles' fans, nurtured on the likes of "Yesterday" and "When I'm Sixty-Four," found Paul's penchant for pushing the boundaries of music somewhat perplexing. If he was nothing else, Paul was the consummate writer of love ballads — songs like "And I Love Her" and "The Long And Winding Road" — songs that tugged at your heart strings.

Much of Paul's solo years reaffirmed his ability to write great love songs, but nothing that surpassed his work as a Beatle. Nevertheless, his great love for his wife, Linda Eastman McCartney, inspired many popular love ballads throughout his solo years. In fact, his second solo album, Ram (1971), was credited to Paul and Linda McCartney, the only album in his career to be so designated as a collaboration between the two. And while Ram included the somewhat disparate "Monkberry Moon Delight," it also included "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey," a song I have always admired as somewhat experimental but somehow captivating and downright inspiring.

Paul knew what worked and what his audience expected. So, he continued to provide the world with "Silly Love Songs" over the years: "My Love" from Red Rose Speedway (1973), "Venus and Mars" from Venus And Mars (1975), "Beautiful Night" from Flaming Pie (1997), "No Other Baby" from Run Devil Run (1999), "You Tell Me" from Memory Almost Full (2007), and even the songs "New" and "Alligator," both inspired by his new bride, Nancy, from his most recent album, New (2013).

John Lennon

Unlike Paul McCartney, when John Lennon turned to a solo career, he immediately created two masterpieces in the history of popular music. Both John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (1970) and Imagine (1971) seem far superior to anything produced by Paul.

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band reeks with angst and despair, but the songs are straight from the heart — John simply letting it go, and it works. The album is clearly autobiographical, and although some may find it narcissistic, it reveals the heart and soul of the man who was clearly feeling a sense of loss after the break-up of the band he started all those years ago.

John Lennon came of age in this album. He cast aside his costumes as a Beatle, and became the angry and despairing modern citizen of a world gone wrong. Beatles' fans, who were looking to make some sense of the shattering reality that The Beatles were no more, were given the answers they probably least expected or hoped for. Things fall apart, but you have to "hold on" and more importantly, "you just have to carry on" regardless.

Imagine is a much quieter album than John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. Imagine offers a kind of outreach to the world, and heralds John's evolution as a spokesperson for change in that world. The album is not without some anger lingering from his first album. Songs like "How Do You Sleep," a direct attack aimed at Paul, and "Gimme Some Truth," a song about being fed up with the crap we tend to feed one another in the name of wisdom, rekindle John's tendency to attack rather than understand or compromise. Still, Imagine anticipates something quite different for John Lennon. His love for Yoko Ono seemed to have brought out a gentleness in John and a deeper love for all humanity.

Unfortunately, after these first two albums, John went into a tailspin creatively and personally. His next four albums, Some Time in New York City (1972), Mind Games (1973), Walls and Bridges (1974), and Rock 'n' Roll (1975) were of little consequence and were met with a lukewarm reception by even his most ardent fans. Then after 1975, John literally disappeared from the music scene until 1980, when he released Double Fantasy, the final studio album to be released in his lifetime. Later that year, he was shot and killed outside the Dakota Hotel, as he arrived home from the recording studio.

The Debate Continues

If the debate between John Lennon and Paul McCartney is about who had the more successful career, then Paul wins hands down. Paul produced more albums and toured with his band, Wings, on a regular basis. Paul gathered legions of fans along the way, while John seemed more inclined to be involved in political postures, epitomized by his famous Bed-In movement for peace. Through the 70s and into the 80s, Paul was a "pop star." John, on the other hand, seemed "odd" and somewhat egocentric, until he eventually became reclusive. When John finally returned to the world stage, his life was cut short before anyone could know what the future held for him.

If the debate between John and Paul is about who was more inspired by the power of music as it affects people and their beliefs, then most people would give the nod to John. Unlike Paul, who tended to avoid the tough political questions haunting the world in the 70s and 80s, John met those issues head-on, and some would say that his fervour for changing the world was what eventually overcame him and sent him into a dark place for several years.

The choice between the two is not a simple one, and maybe in the end, it's not a choice that needs to be made. We were lucky to have lived some of our lives through John's eyes, and we are equally lucky to still be able to enjoy the sentimental drift of Paul's music. Both men had the gift of being able to stir one's passions, even if those passions ran in different directions.

Read More ...

There's an interesting little book that examines the question of which ex-Beatle had a better career. John Cherry writes that Paul McCartney was the most successful Beatle and solo Beatle artist and evaluates the two both as Beatles and as solo artists.

Better Than Lennon, The Music and Talent of Paul McCartney is available from Amazon.

© The Beatles On Abbey Road. All Rights Reserved.
Posted November 24, 2013.



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