Posts tagged The Beatles
Monday Masters; John Lennon

There were many John Lennons. He was the witty, intellectual one from The Beatles. He was the loving and caring bringer of the message of Love and Peace. He was a yobbish scouse Teddy Boy with a penchant for vandalising phone boxes and mugging English Sailors in Hamburg Night Clubs, he was a devoted family man who took five years out of being a super star to raise his son, he neglected and finally left his first wife and child.

He was the archetypal angry young man, with a chip on his shoulder that was bigger than his feet. He had a tragic childhood, having lost through circumstance or death at least three of the most important people in his life by the time his was 20. (One of them, his mother, he'd actually lost twice) He was violent. He put Cavern DJ Bob Wooler in hospital for jokingly inferring that Lennon was having a gay relationship with Brian Epstein. He admitted to having hit the women in his early life in jealous rages. I think this makes it all the more remarkable that he spent his later years banging on about peace; he managed to change his behaviour. He did, however, maintain that angry, sarcastic streak which could be very damaging to people.

I think he felt less musical than Paul McCartney. When they first met Paul had more ability than Lennon, despite being younger. From the outside it looks as if Paul was always more confident in this regard than Lennon, and John used bluff and sarcasm to guard against his own insecurities. At times Lennon dismissed McCartney as a schmaltzy writer of "boring songs about boring people" I think we can see his true feelings in other stories, such as how Here, There and Everywhere was his favourite song on Revolver. Personally I think that the Beatles, in particular Lennon, thrived because of their limitations. As is the case with most musical innovation they invented a lot because they couldn't quite do what they were intending to copy.

It's a well recorded fact that Lennon was insecure about his singing. If you listen it's pretty obvious. To begin with, compare the vocal on early, confident Beatles tracks with the solo stuff. Beatle Mania John's voice was thick and raucous. Solo John often had a thin, almost timid voice. Don't get me wrong, I love everything he sang. In fact the singing on a track like Jealous Guy is so beautiful because it is timid and heartfelt. His rocky voice changed too. On Beatles Rock and Roll covers he sounds like he might just kill you, and tracks like Mother and Gimme Some Truth he sounds like a man declaring all his inner issues and using them to kill himself.

Throughout his recording career he did his best to change and disguise his vocal. On the solo records he used delay and reverb effects, I've heard one producer say he wouldn't sing a note in the studio until his favourite effect was dialed in. Once the Beatles started to use four track machines practically every Lennon vocal was double tracked to sound thicker, and a little later he instigated the creation of Artificial Double Tracking, simply to save time by electronically beefing up his vocal sound rather than physically recording each vocal twice.

Even before the Beatles used studio tools and tricks to change their sound we can hear how Lennon, despite being ostensibly the lead singer, frequently used George and Paul to harmonise with him for huge sections of songs. In my view this was an attempt, perhaps unconsciously, to cover up his own singing.

Luckily for us Lennon's arrogance and wish to be leader proved to be stronger than his insecurities about singing and writing. For me the fact that the biggest cultural and musical icon of the 20th Century doubted his abilities so much only makes him more fascinating and dare I say it, inspiring.

He may have died six years before I was born, but I love the man

Monday Masters; Paul McCartney

For people who don't know much about McCartney here's some xfactor stylie big facts and stats;

His song Yesterday is the most covered song in the history of recorded music.

His song Mull of Kintyre remains the biggest selling non charity song in the UK.

He has written or co-written 32 Billboard Hot 100 number 1 singles.

He has sold over 100 million singles and 100 million albums.

Make of this one what you will, he is the only artist to reach the UK number one as a soloist and as part of a duo, trio, quartet, and quintet.

So there you are, he is a successful chap. I'm well aware that for many Paul presents a certain winsome, middle of the road, even cheesy persona. Indeed John Lennon went as far as to describe one of his former partners' tunes as "granny music." I've had various (often drunken) conversations with people determined to debunk The Beatles and rebel against the received wisdom that they are the greatest band. One young man even said "people only like the Beatles because they are told too... I mean McCartney plays bass with a pick!" funnily enough the person saying this wasn't a bass player himself...

In a way I sometimes think that the success of artists like McCartney gets in the way of people appreciating the music. Likewise for every modern standard that you could argue gets over played (Hey Jude, Yesterday, Let it Be) there are wonderful songs that get overlooked.

So I want to demonstrate why McCartney has been such an important influence to me as a musician, songwriter and in life generally. I'll be focusing on three connected but also individually important areas; his talents as a Musician, Writer and Singer.

The Musician

Let's start with my friends comments about Paul's bass playing. He did indeed play bass with a pic. He also helped change the bass into an instrument that was cool to play, and one that didn't have to stick to the route notes and walking bass lines that were pretty much a requirement when he picked up the instrument.

Like the rest of The Beatles, McCartney is a self-taught and unschooled musician. His father was a semi professional musician and presumably this led to Paul's natural musicality.

The happy coincidences of having a natural gift for melody and being at the cutting edge of record production at just the moment technology allowed the bass to become a feature meant that McCartney was able to create wonderful bass lines. Things like Paperback Writer and With a Little Help from My Friends.

Of course he wasn't the only bass pioneer of the time and his respect for other musicians like James Jamerson further developed his style. When the music called for it he did stick to the route notes, another strength.

It wasn't just the bass, there are also a handful of Paul Guitar solos in The Beatles catalogue that just work perfectly such as Taxman and Another Girl. His acoustic style is pretty unique; simple but also right; see Blackbird. He also became a good pianist writing many of his best songs on the keys, including some very tricky things like Martha My Dear.

His approach is idiosyncratic, musical and always just right for the song.

The Writer

There is a popular line of thought that marks out Lennon as the genius wordsmith and McCartney as naturally gifted writer of sublime melody. Not to put too fine a point on it but this is bullshit.

It is true that Lennon wrote great lyrics and McCartney beautiful tunes, but vice versa, as anyone who listens can tell. John's How, Jealous Guy and many others are astonishingly lovely melodies. Paul wrote fabulous lyrics. Eleanor Rigby isn't an accident, neither is She's Leaving Home. He has written many excellent story songs that create a vivid sense of time and place like Penny Lane, Two of Us and When I'm Sixty Four. Perhaps it is the case that he can't claim as many insightful or "clever" lyrics as Lennon, and it could be argued that he has often veered into the mundane or plain daft (especially at points in his solo career...) but I think Paul's main strength as a lyricist is to put together phrases that can been interpreted in various ways by millions of people.

Sir Paul has often been criticised for some of the music he's released over the years. The prime target tends to be the infamous We All Stand Together commonly known as the frog chorus. There has been so much mud flung at this track, as if people think McCartney himself wrote and released it as a piece of work of equal stature to Yesterday or Hey Jude. It was the theme tune to an animated Rupert the Bear film! That's the point about him as a writer; he's turned his hand to so many styles and been pretty successful most of the time. It may be true that he never again reached the artistic peaks that he did as a member of THAT band, but many writers are celebrated for much lesser works than Paul has given the world in his solo career.

The Singer

McCartney was the best singer in The Beatles. There, I said it! Best in terms of range, technicality and indeed reliability. Doesn't mean he has to be your, or my, or anyone's favourite, but it is true.

It’s my personal view that John's voice has the ability to touch so many people because of the insecurity and vulnerability laid bare in his singing. With Paul it's confidence and brashness that push forward his vocal delivery.

A naturally gifted singer with a very wide range, McCartney is also a talented mimic. Hence his many convincing Little Richard type performances in the early days like I'm Down and She's A Woman giving him a powerful and exciting voice which matured in amazing vocals like Oh Darling and Call Me Back Again.

His powerful tenor range was also a very important part of The Beatles sound, from the delicious harmonies of Beatlemania where Paul's backing vocals often sounded more like the lead line, to soaring and graceful vocals on tracks like For No One.

In conclusion Paul's great and you won't convince me otherwise. Do I have a favourite Beatle? Do I need to? I'm happy living in a world where I can enjoy everything they did, together and apart.

To sum it all up here's a track where he plays all the instruments, including fabulous lead guitar, and delivers an astonishing vocal. Musically it's beautiful, lyrically it's simple but just perfect.