Wednesday, 4 January 2012

10 Preconceptions About The Beatles (pt 2)

In my last post I listed a few preconceptions I had when I started this blog two years ago. Let's see if I was right...

1) The Arctic Monkeys are better songwriters than the Beatles

WRONG – Arctic Monkeys were another young British band with regional accents and cheeky sense of humour whose sudden rise to fame looked like something akin to Beatlemania. The big difference was that, in Alex Turner, they had a lyricist with the wit and sharp eye of a young Dylan and they burst onto the scene with a fully realised sound/style. When they survived the hypestorm almost completely unscathed and delivered an assured and mature second album without pausing for breath (along with another albums worth of quality B sides and EPs) it looked like they were unstoppable.

But 2009 changed all that. Album number 3 was largely dour, turgid and overly influenced by producer Josh Homme and I had started listening to the Beatles. Arctic Monkeys are a great band, far better lyrically than The Beatles and quicker to mature in the studio, but they need to turn in another 8 or 9 incredible albums that continue to develop and stretch to claim the crown, and sadly that doesn't seem likely to happen.

2) Judging the Beatles for trite lyrics is merely a result of unfairly comparing song lyrics to printed poetry

WRONG - Compare any song lyrics to poetry by putting them side by side on a page or even read them aloud and the lyrics are guaranteed to come of worse. BUT. Many of the Beatles lyrics are undoubtedly poor, even when compared to other pop song lyrics. The truly awful outnumber the excellent, and the average and mediocre outnumber both. There's hundreds of better lyricists out there - Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Nik Kershaw, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen – the list goes on and on and on...

3) George Harrison could have been as good a songwriter as Lennon and McCartney (and was later) but wasn't given a fair chance

WRONG - This assumption came from two things, Harrison knocking the ball out of the park on Abbey Road with Here Comes The Sun and Something and the fact that his first post Beatles album was a critically acclaimed TRIPLE album! While Harrison compared his time in the Beatles to a 7 year bout of constipation (which I guess would make All Things Must Pass a giant diarrhoeic bowel movement) the general perception is that ATMP was a mix of classics and filler (think Use Your Illusion). I don't have an opinion as the album is still on my 'to do' list, but even if it was a 24 carat disc, the next album of originals didn't arrive till 3 years later and Harrison only managed 7 more solo albums in the next 27 years.

We could indulge in 'What If' scenarios (that's what comments sections are made for!),

Lennon/McCartney/Harrison? – too many chiefs in the kitchen
Lennon/Harrison? – too similar, an overdose of dark cynicism that would make Roger Waters sound like The Wiggles
McCartney/Harrison? – might have worked. But would we have lost out on Lennon/McCartney songs? And surely Paul would have driven George crazy? (see Let It Be for further details)

but whatever may have been, George was never in John and Paul's league. Harrison's songwriting career didn't start till Dec 63 with Don't Bother Me and then nothing happened for another 18 months. Lennon and McCartney just had too big a head start. I think it's comparable to Dylan, Springsteen and Bon Jovi. Each are good writers in their own right and genre, but if Bon Jovi had been in Springsteen's band or Springsteen in Dylan's they would never have been able to compete and would never have developed. (OK, maybe that's a poor example!)

4) John Lennon gave up songwriting to be a house husband and was just coming into his prime when he was killed

WRONG - I'm not even going to get into the whole 'was Lennon really baking bread and reading bedtime stories or just having a Brian Wilson-style drug-fuelled hibernation?' debate. It's sufficient to say Lennon's solo career was hampered by the same laziness and apathy that plagued his work with the Beatles and his resurgence, while very welcome, produced yet another mix of promising songs and Yoko's experimental crap swimming in bland, middle of the road production. The posthumous leftovers Milk And Honey only promised more of the same.

What do you think? Am I right now?
I'll look at the remaining 6 assumptions next time.


  1. >>>"Harrison's songwriting career didn't start till Dec 63 with 'Leave Me Alone'..."

    You're talking about "Don't Bother Me," right?

  2. Yes Rich - he had a co-credit before that (I think it was "In Spite Of All The Danger") but he only 'wrote' the guitar solo on a McCartney tune

  3. Harrison had co-credit with McCartney on "In Spite of All the Danger," and he had co-credit with Lennon on the instrumental, "Cry for A Shadow." But "Don't Bother Me" (the title isn't "Leave Me Alone") was his first solo songwriting credit. He later said he didn't think much of that song, but I've always liked it.

    Also, when you finally give "All Things Must Pass" a critical listen, you'll find that although there are three LPs in the original set, it's really only a TWO-record set. The third LP is called "Apple Jam," and it consists of tuneless, lethargic improvisations by the musicians who played on the other two discs. With the talent involved, you'd expect it to be great, but it's a real bore, and the disc contains no real SONGS (unless you include "It's Johnny's Birthday," which I don't). Don't get me wrong; it's still a 2-LP set, which none of the other Beatles did for their first post-Beatles solo releases, but that third disc doesn't contain any material Harrison had been stockpiling during his Beatles days.

  4. Thanks for the correction Rich - and sorry I was too dim to pick it up the first place! I didn't know about the Apple Jam - that certainly would count as filler!

    BTW - I like Don't Bother Me too - I was probably a bit too hard on it

  5. Sorry to be a stickler, but it's Roger Waters, not Walters.

  6. No problem Geordie - stickle away! I typed this up when I was tired - hence getting the Harrison song title wrong. You're welcome to correct me any time - typos and mistakes don't serve anyone.

    And a happy new year! Nice to have you back!

  7. Lyrics - I think like a lot of us with our songwriting, The Beatles seem to get so far with lyrics and think "it'll do". My favourite lyricists are probably Paul Simon and Bob Dylan, and I too like the others that you mentioned.

    Paul Simon takes a long time to work on material, and he is incredibly technical with that side. The same goes for Bob Dylan, who I think probably spends longer on the lyrics than he does the music, but that's just an assumption.

    The problem with artists such as The Beatles is that they were working so quickly and putting so much material out while touring constantly that there is always the possibility of the "Prince syndrome" (where Prince works on that much material that he lets anything go, occasionally having some absolute brilliance such as The Most Beautiful Girl In The World followed by something that most of us would rather leave on the cutting room floor). I think that had the Beatles have done something more relaxed touring wise they may have had more time to spend on songs. Most of us take for granted that we have all that time to spend on writing, but they had to fit that and recording in the day or two that got away from gigging (sometimes performing two to three performances per day in some instances). That is conjecture I know, but well, sometimes it's fun to do the what if.

    Happy new year Matt.

  8. Good points Marv - I'm sure you're right re prince syndrome and touring