Lennon Or McCartney?

This used to be the question that was asked….”Who do you like better, Lennon or McCartney?”  I think it was meant to determine how cool you were.  Since Paul was considered the cute/commercial one, and John was thought of as the poet/cerebral one, the “John” answer was supposed to be cooler.  You might get even more points for answering “George” or “Ringo”.

That assessment has changed over the years.  We know they were both excellent musicians and vocalists, so let’s compare Lennon & McCartney as songwriters for The Beatles.

From the beginning of their fame (1963 in England, and 1964 in America), John and Paul were quickly recognized as a great songwriting team.  Often, they would sit across from each other with acoustic guitars and work out songs together.  McCartney said they never had a writing session that wasn’t successful.

As early as 1964, fans began to see that there were “Paul songs” and “John songs”.  Normally, the main songwriter would also sing the lead vocal.

Let’s look at the “Lennon or McCartney” question a bit differently.  Which one…Lennon or McCartney…wrote the biggest hits and best known songs for The Beatles?  Here’s a list of their #1 hits in the U.S., showing the main songwriter(s).

  1. I Want To Hold Your Hand…both
  2. She Loves You…both
  3. Can’t Buy Me Love…Paul
  4. Love Me Do…both
  5. A Hard Day’s Night…John
  6. I Feel Fine…John
  7. Eight Days A Week…both
  8. Ticket To Ride…John
  9. Help…John
  10. Yesterday…Paul
  11. We Can Work It Out…both
  12. Paperback Writer…Paul
  13. Penny Lane…Paul
  14. All You Need Is Love…John
  15. Hello Goodbye…Paul
  16. Hey Jude…Paul
  17. Get Back…Paul
  18. Come Together…John
  19. Let It Be…Paul
  20. The Long And Winding Road…Paul

For those keeping score, that’s 9 for Paul, 6 for John, and 5 together.

It also shows the progression.  John was stronger in the early years.  John had 4 of the first ten #1’s, Paul had 2 and together they wrote 4.   By 1966, things changed.   Paul had 7 of the last ten #1’s, John had 2, and they had 1 together.

Of course, even though John & Paul admitted they were competitive, such as trying to get the A-sides of singles, they also readily helped each other with lyrics and song structures in order to make each recording the best possible version.

To compare their output, here are two lists of songs that can mostly be attributed to the individual Beatles as the main songwriter.

Beatles songs by John:

  1. You Can’t Do That
  2. This Boy
  3. A Hard Day’s Night
  4. If I Fell
  5. I Feel Fine
  6. Yes It Is
  7. Help!
  8. You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away
  9. Ticket To Ride
  10. Girl
  11. Norwegian Wood
  12. Nowhere Man
  13. In My Life
  14. Rain
  15. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
  16. Strawberry Fields Forever
  17. A Day In The Life (John’s song, Paul’s “bridge”)
  18. I Am The Walrus
  19. All You Need Is Love
  20. Revolution
  21. Julia
  22. Don’t Let Me Down
  23. Across The Universe
  24. Come Together
  25. Because

Beatles songs by Paul:

  1. I Saw Her Standing There
  2. All My Loving
  3. Can’t Buy Me Love
  4. And I Love Her
  5. I’ll Follow The Sun
  6. Yesterday
  7. We Can Work It Out (Paul’s song, John’s “bridge”)
  8. Michelle
  9. Paperback Writer
  10. Eleanor Rigby
  11. For No One
  12. Here There And Everywhere
  13. Penny Lane
  14. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
  15. When I’m Sixty-Four
  16. The Fool On The Hill
  17. Lady Madonna
  18. Hey Jude
  19. Back In The U.S.S.R.
  20. Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da
  21. Blackbird
  22. I Will
  23. Get Back
  24. The Long And Winding Road
  25. Let It Be

If you spend a little time with the lists, you can determine which group of songs is stronger to you.  Of course Beatles fans like most of the songs from both lists.  I wouldn’t want to be without any of them.

It’s generally agreed that John was the better lyricist, and Paul the better melody writer.  The above examples show just how strong they each were at both words & music.

Music critics tend to look to the lyrics of songs as they search for meanings upon which to write reviews.  John’s songs often had thought provoking lyrics and clever word play.  He was generally more popular with critics.

For the public, melodies come first, and the meanings of songs come later as the lyrics become familiar.   Paul was generally more popular with the public, because of his memorable melodies.  Even John knew that.  He said he never expected to be walking down the street and hear someone whistling “I Am The Walrus”.

As for their solo success from 1970 through 1980, Paul was the best-selling singles artist of the 1970’s.  He edged out Elton John.  He also had five #1 albums (7 platinum).  John Lennon wasn’t nearly as active (he took about 4 years off when Sean was born), but had three #1 (platinum) albums, and his best song did come from his solo career…”Imagine”.  Paul’s best song came from his time with The Beatles, but is it “Yesterday”, “Eleanor Rigby”, “Hey Jude”, or “Let It Be”?

The most important reason The Beatles were far and away the most popular group ever, is because John Lennon and Paul McCartney were in it together.

Lennon or McCartney?  The coolest answer is…both.

2 Replies to “Lennon Or McCartney?”

  1. McCartney’s best lyrics, ironically, are head and shoulders above Lennon’s best lyrics. He just didn’t always seem compelled to try that hard post-Beatles. Lennon’s best melodies don’t even approach McCartney’s weakest melodies. McCartney is clearly the better songwriter. Lennon is just popular with critics for being “cool.”

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