Difference between Paul and John
For over 50-years, rock ‘n roll writers, fanatics and casual listeners have been debating whether Paul McCartney or John Lennon is the better Beatle, better songwriter, or better musician. Though the appraisals of experts, their judgements can be no more than subjective opinion—and still, no one can deny major differences existed. Although neither John nor Paul ever claimed to be the better man, they both proudly recognized those differences, engaging in what Paul referred to as “a very friendly competition” because they “were both going to share in the rewards anyway.”
The Wordsmith and the Melody Man
An arguably unsophisticated overgeneralization, some critics liked to say John was the wordsmith while Paul was the melody man. Early into their careers, the men bought into this description, convincing themselves that there was truth to it. John thought he had “an easier time with lyrics,” and in a Playboy interview in 1980, he said, “There was a period when I thought I didn’t write melodies, that Paul wrote those and I just wrote straight, shouting rock ‘n roll.” But as the years progressed, Paul and John found their own confidences in both niches—lyrically and melodically. And John went on to say he knew he was truly “writing melody with the best of them.”
Although many people like to think Paul and John were at each other’s throats, competing for some nonexistent title of best Beatle—the two actually worked very well together, sharing melodies and collaborating lyrically in what is often called the greatest songwriting partnership of all time. Sweet and salty, they complemented each other musically, personally and professionally.
The Moral of the Story
The difference between Paul McCartney and John Lennon does not lie in whether or not one was a wordsmith or the other a melody man. The real difference lies in their unique crafts—the ways in which they told a story. Paul’s songs are cheerful, merry and heartening, and he wrote them like an author of fiction. Songs like “Eleanor Rigby” and “She’s Leaving Home,” Paul created casts of characters and spun them out into their own dramatic, trippy settings.
John was also notably talented at composing stories to sing, but he was far more interested in morality than Paul, addressing society’s greater ethical concerns. Where Paul’s characters seemed real enough to live, John created characters that were practically other worldly, expressing his beliefs through songs such as, “I Am the Walrus” and “Nowhere Man.” For the most part though, John didn’t have to use characters, employing them through which to push his voice. Instead, John spoke to his listeners openly and directly.
“And in the End…”
After Abbey Road, the 20th century’s greatest beloved band became nothing more than a job for one of its most influential members. So as Paul passionately pushed forward, John began to back off—one factor amongst others leading to the band’s 1970 breakup. Afterwards, music critics hoped their solo careers would reveal who was the better musician. But in reality, the ten-year post breakup period revealed both songwriters to be completely ingenious and original in their own different ways.
In terms of longevity, Paul has overall been a more prolific and consistent songwriter—even while controlling for John’s assassination. From 1976 on, a solo Paul has proved to be timeless with or without the moral oversight of John. Playing his pop anthems, Paul has been selling every ticket and filling every seat in arenas constructed for thousands. His songwriting has always appealed to the popular masses as his melodies are so classic and catchy, and thus, accessible to nearly any and every person regardless of their preferred tastes.
On the other hand, John’s melodies are complex, including more notes than the standard four chord progression that comprises the majority of pop music. But the songs of John’s solo career, such as “Give Peace a Chance,” and “Imagine,” are generational anthems, supporting and contributing to everything that was the 1960s and early 1970s.
So while Paul wrote the pop anthems, establishing the very pop music formula still used today, John helped propel social justice, composing the soundtrack of a great public movement. Until the day of his death—and even after, as two albums were released posthumous—John gave his fans an outlet for their frustrations with society and government.
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CAROLAN, ANDREW. "Battle of the Legends." College Times. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 June 2016.
Russell, Hall. "Battle of the Fans: Who Wrote the Best Beatles Songs?" Gibson. N.p., 23 June 2015. Web. 10 June 2016.
"Must It Be Lennon or McCartney?" The Telegraph. N.p., 10 Jan. 1998. Web. 10 June 2016.