Through most of the Beatles unparalleled time at the top, there was little dispute who the band’s most talented songwriters were. John Lennon and Paul McCartney were often times at odds with each other by their own admission, but it was this relentless competition that produced some of the greatest songs ever written.
Lennon has been said to have been the bands leader early on, being the one who started the legendary band that were first know as “The Quarrymen,“ “Johnny And The Moondogs,“ “The Silver Beetles,“ “The Beetles,” until finally becoming “The Beatles.”
But starting around the times of “Sgt. Pepper“ and “The Magical Mystery Tour,” McCartney took hold of the reins. He was the glue that held the band together during very tumultuous times and became the motivational force for the Beatles to not only carry on, but to expand their horizons.
This quote by John Lennon paints a picture of McCartney’s emerging leadership role:
“I was still under a false impression. I still felt every now and then that Brian (referring to Brian Epstein – The Beatles manager) would come in and say, ‘It’s time to record,’ or, ‘Time to do this.’ And Paul started doing that: ‘Now we’re going to make a movie. Now we’re going to make a record.’ And he assumed that if he didn’t call us, nobody would ever make a record. Paul would say, well, now he felt like it – and suddenly I’d have to whip out twenty songs. He’d come in with about twenty good songs and say, ‘We’re recording.’ And I suddenly had to write a fucking stack of songs”.
During the early years when Lennon and McCartney songs would rapidly fill up each album, George Harrison was occasionally able to get in a song of his own, using the few precious minutes of record time to showcase his songwriting ability. Though there is no doubt that his contributions early on were far less substantial than those of Lennon/McCartney, one may struggle to argue that this was still the case on their final albums. In fact, I contend that George was not born with the natural songwriting skills that Lennon/McCartney had. But by being constantly exposed to the songwriting processes of a John Lennon and Paul McCartney, he not only learned from them, his songwriting became arguably on par with them (this will be a subject in a future blog). The name of George Harrison’s post-Beatles band “Dark Horse,” ironically serves as the perfect description of his years as a Beatle.
The Beatles were loaded with songwriting talent – a trio that would raise the standards for how a pop/rock album song should be written. With that being said, they didn’t need another songwriter. All they needed was a Ringo – a drummer who could keep a steady beat and offer some additional personality and charm to a band that already had everything.
Despite this, as a songwriter Ringo Starr did contribute a total 2 ¼ songs to the 13 Beatles studio albums (“Don’t Pass Me By,” “Octopus’ Garden,” and “Flying,” which is the only song credited to all four Beatles)
I must mention a noteworthy bit of information to consider about the Lennon/McCartney songwriting “team.” The fact is that they hardly ever collaborated. The instead made an agreement that any song written by either of them would be credited as being written by both Lennon and McCartney.
Despite the lack of specificity in those songwriting credits, interviews with the Beatles over the years helped give a sense of who really did write what. A general rule of thumb is whoever sang lead vocals on the song is the one who wrote it. This works with almost all songs with such exceptions like “In My Life”. Both Lennon and McCartney claim to have written this one, though most believe it to be a Lennon song since he is singing the lead.
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to break down all 13 studio albums in order to rate the songwriting contributions of each Beatle on each album. I’ll also be rating each song from top to bottom along with a overall ranking for the each album. I will then give my opinion on which songwriter was the one who made the greatest contribution to the album. I’ll start with “Please Please Me“, and end with “Let It Be”, analyzing one album per week chronologically. Notes about the albums and specific songs will also be included in my reasoning.
Expect analysis for The Beatles first album “Please Please Me” very soon.