- What John Lennon Thinks of Donald Trump - November 14, 2016
- The Meaning of Fun: The Paul is Dead Rumor - February 3, 2016
- BEATLES-STREEP-SHEA SHOCKER: IT’S NOT HER!!!! - August 13, 2015
DEVIN McKINNEY • Here, via Rockcritics.com, is a New York Times podcast from September, half of which is devoted to a talk between music critic Ben Ratliff and pop-crit originator Nik Cohn on the remastered version of the White Album (which Ratliff deliciously informs us is currently #16 on the LP charts, “right below Lady Gaga”). Cohn, who was the Times‘s London correspondent on pop matters circa 1968-70, trashed the Beatles’ masterpiece in their pages (see the December 15, 1968, headline bannering this post); now he has softened somewhat, admitting subtleties and qualities precluded at the time by his proto-punk stance. Ratliff, a mere tit-sucker in ’68, does the second-generation thing resonant with many of us, about how he grew up with the album in the house, apprehending adult doom through child’s ears.
Cohn is one of my favorite writers, not only for his pop stuff (I Am Still the Greatest Says Johnny Angelo, Rock from the Beginning, “Tribal Rights of the New Saturday Night”) but his other stuff (The Heart of the World, Yes We Have No: Travels in the Other England); I’d love to think he loves the album I love more than I love any other album I love. But even though it sounds better to him now than it did then, he is drawn back to words like “flabby” and “smug,” and still finds the White Album a far distant second to its late ’68 rival, Beggars Banquet. Well, Nabokov hated Dostoevsky, too.
But Cohn is fun to listen to, sounding with his undiluted accent like his cheeks are stuffed with eel pie and Newcastle Brown Ale, and he comes up with at least one aperçu that is not only quotable but grimly valid: “‘Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on — bra,’ is not credible to me.”
Listening to this podcast helped me understand the point of view of critics like Nik Cohn. But it also helped me understand my own point of view towards the White Album, which happens to be nearly identical with Ben Ratliff’s. I am about one year younger than Ratliff, and had a similar experience to his. Though the White Album was not “played in the house” from a young age (my parents had Beatles ’65 and Sgt. Pepper’s), I did have the White Album since around the time I was 11 or 12 (bought with my allowance money), and I listened to it constantly. To me, to listen to the White Album was to enter the diverse community of its images. I still remember a day I was home sick from school, and I listened to all four sides of the album straight through, while reading all the lyrics as they were sung, on the unfolded poster before me on the bed. As an 11-year-old boy in a spiritually impoverished New York suburb at the beginning of the 1980s, the creativity, the surprises, and the mystery of the album could only draw me in and hypnotize me. It couldn’t possibly strike me as arty middle-class pretension.
Nik Cohn’s reaction to the White Album did remind me, however, of how I reacted to trends in pop music a few years later. As virtually every mainstream band succumbed to 80s production values, I felt the whole world of rock music was not only falling away from me, but falling away from its own past, and from taste itself. And it wasn’t just the grooveless sounds of electronic instruments; it was the cheap emotionalism and operatic pretensions of much of the music. Just as Cohn had no patience for the White Album’s “middle-class” conceits, I experienced 80s music as self-important and wimpy.
Cohn may still find Obla-di-obla-da “not credible,” but I always did, and still do. I know that Paul McCartney believed it when he wrote it, and even if I sometimes prefer to skip past the song, I genuinely hear Paul’s belief in his words and the music that carries them. And his accidental inversion in the lyrics—along with “Cry Baby Cry,” later in the album—give me a more compelling message that adult relationships are not always what they seem than any other pop songs I can think of.
Likewise am I convinced that John Lennon meant it when he sang “the sun is up, the sky is blue, it’s beautiful and so are you” (also criticized by Cohn), not just because I happen to know the story of why he wrote it, but because I feel it in the track. And the fact that this song is followed immediately by “Glass Onion” (the gentle, fading guitar picking followed by the deep and abrupt CLUMP…CLUMP of the bass and drums) shows that Lennon could invoke genuine naïveté and nastily deride it, too.
If you want not-credible, how about Don Henley singing “I can tell you my love for you will still be strong,” or Mister Mister singing “Take these broken wings and learn to fly again, learn to live so free.” Does anyone think that when Simple Minds sang “don’t you forget about me,” they really hoped that someone wouldn’t forget about them? I don’t. I don’t even believe that the Bangles wanted to walk like Egyptians.
One interesting aside: I was excited to discover that Cohn’s medieval-historian father, whom he mentioned in the conversation, was Norman Cohn, who wrote a book called The Pursuit of the Millennium, a study of millenarian religious cults in medieval Europe. I read this book in my freshman year of college, for a course called “End of the World Movements.” It’s a book about groups of people who lost their feeling of credulity towards the culture of the Papacy.
Paul’s granny songs bring down every Beatles’ masterpiece. “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” in Abbey Road, “When I’m Sixty-Four” in Sgt. Pepper, “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da” “Honey Pie” AND “Rocky Raccoon” in the White Album…
“Paul’s granny songs bring down every Beatles’ masterpiece. “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” in Abbey Road, “When I’m Sixty-Four” in Sgt. Pepper, “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da” “Honey Pie” AND “Rocky Raccoon” in the White Album…
Not to mention “Your Mother Would Know”
I don’t care how late to this party I am, I’m gonna say this…
I happen to LOVE Paul’s much maligned granny songs which DID NOT bring down every Beatles’ masterpiece, far from it!
On this, I know I’m in the minority opinion, but I feel his “granny” songs added a storybook imagery, which I found charming and endearing. Maybe because I was still a kid who hadn’t reached my teens, and wasn’t “angsting” yet about “being cool and hip”, when I heard most of those tunes, and I believe I’m older than a lot of you on this blog. I liked all the songs mentioned, which some, (like ‘When I’m 64, Rocky Racoon, Obladi-Oblada, Maxwell Silver Hammer’,have become bona fide Beatles’ classics, at least in my neck of the woods, when they played it on the radio. Of course, I live in fly over country in a very red state and we’ve never been “hip” no matter how hard we may have tried.
‘When I’m 64’, Rocky Racoon, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, Maxwell Silver Hammer, Your Mother Should Know, Honey Pie, are the best in that order, IMHO. My two cents for what it’s worth.
Well, I’m a liberal Canadian and I agree with youon how great the songs you mention, are. I bet if Lennon hadn’t put them down, nobody would be putting them down now. Sheeple and fanboys who don’t understand that diversity of theirmusic was their strength.
Show me where Lennon put these songs down. That’s a myth. The only one he didn’t care for was Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, mostly because Paul spent days upon days working on it in the studio. John played the guitar bit in Honey Pie. Tired of John being blamed for Paul’s image.
George and Ringo hated Maxwell’s Silver Hammer as well. The scene in Get Back where Paul is running everyone through the song is embarrassing. I can see why they had a problem with it. And for some reason, Paul seems to have really doubled down obsessively when it came to recording these kind of songs. The same thing happened with Ob La Di Ob La Da during The White Album sessions. What started out fun became grueling and tortuous to everyone else due to Paul’s relentlessness. John once remarked that what he remembered most about particular songs was the recording behind them. So I’m sure a lot of his negativity towards Paul’s “granny songs” came from recalling what an ordeal they were to make.
Matt, I think this is accurate. McCartney’s apparent inability to let go of reworking those songs seems like a huge part of why Lennon and Harrison resented them.
I think the bit about too many takes turning the others against a song is true of Obladi Oblada. There are tales of at least John happily singing and playing it in India.
As for Maxwell, I can see where the others might have disliked it from the start, but I can’t really tell that from the Get Back doc, perhaps because I dislike it myself. (I love Honey Pie, Baby’s Request and You Gave Me the Answer, so it’s not a granny thing :0) That said, compared to several other songs, they didn’t spend such an extraordinary amount of time on Maxwell. I don’t get why they didn’t band together and reject it if they all felt the same way.
John in 1980 Playboy interview re. MSH:
“[Paul] did everything to make it into a single, and it never was and it never could have been.”
Wow – imagine an alternate universe in which the Eastmans manage to worm their way into Beatlemanagement and the post-Abbey Road single is Maxwell’s Silver Hammer b/w Octopus’s Garden.
“I don’t get why they didn’t band together and reject it if they all felt the same way.”
@Laura. That’s a good question. They seem to have done just that with ‘Teddy Boy.’ Maybe Paul just didn’t push for it as hard as Maxwell though.
They seemed to enjoy Maxwell’s Silver Hammer it in Get Back. So I’m not sure what was embarrassing about it?
And Obladi Oblada is the 3rd most streamed song off the White Album , after Blackbird and While My Guitar Gently Weeps. So I guess lots of people LIKE Obladi Oblada. It went to #1 on the charts in multiple countries in 1968-69 and was generally positively reviewed in contemporary reviews of the White Album.
Paul and John even won an Ivor Novello award for it.
@Laura – I suppose they really weren’t in a position to reject anything at that point. They didn’t have enough songs.
I agree with Matt that John and George hated Maxwell’s Silver Hammer and were embarrassed by it. Paul cramping their style again. But I think there was a lot going on, and that from John’s perspective, Paul was writing songs that were (1) wrong for the group, and definitely not cool enough, and (2) that excluded him from the creative process.
One thing that film showed very clearly I think was that Paul had outgrown the Beatles, even if he hadn’t realised it then, or if he had realised it but was in denial about it. Paul, more than any of them, needed the artistic freedom to go off in different directions with his music, and the writing had probably been on the wall since Yesterday, which was why it upset John so much. It must have really hurt his pride, even if it wasn’t really his type of music.
@Elizabeth, I don’t know that Paul outgrew the Beatles. If that were true, we could expect him to produce something that was on par or even topped the Beatles. Most would agree that never happened.
@MG Just to add on it was John who came up with the piano bit and speeding up the song on Oblahdi Ohblahda which helped make the song memorable. So even if John was frustrated he made a pretty big contribution to making the song what it was.
I’d only recently read Paul’s much later summation of it from the Antholgy book, which made me grin: “They got annoyed because it took three days to record ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.’ Big deal.”
@Elizabeth: “ I suppose they really weren’t in a position to reject anything at that point. They didn’t have enough songs.” Nah – George had songs and John had at least Child of Nature.
I don’t hate Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, largely, I think, because Paul’s efforts worked: That track is exquisitely well performed and produced, like everything on Abbey Road.
That said, I don’t know why he was pushing that song when he had Back Seat of My Car in his pocket. Why did he wait until Ram to put that on an album?
@Matt, it’s like a form of PTSD. Repulsion by association.
@Elizabeth Although it was George Harrison who went on to reportedly have the best selling and arguably best critically regarded Solo album of all four Beatles so maybe it was George who had outgrown Paul and John. It’s also George’s song that has the most streams. Far more then Yesterday even.
Overall his solo career was not as successful as Paul’s or even John’s. His big 80s hit wasn’t even his own song, it was a cover(Got My Mind Set On You). And I don’t believe she meant outgrew in the sense of hit making anyway.
Thank you B. Perry, very eloquently put.
Just for the record, I am, and pretty much always have been, a liberal progressive living in a red state.
I agree. If they wouldn’t constantly ape his words about it being “granny music” it might be more believable. Music is largely subjective, you like what you like, but if the main reason they can come up with it is the constant repetition of a descriptive phrase credited to John Lennon when he was at his in his most Paul negative era, it seems much more like trying to fit with the cool kids and less independent opinion about the actual quality of the music.
Guess what? The Beatles are “granny music” now, even older now than the styles Paul was writing back then.
The Beatles songs benefited from using music hall styles. Its influence meant they consciously or subconsciously incorporated its elements into many of their songs, including rock songs. Not always obvious on the surface but it set them apart from other bands. McCartney knew what he was doing.
Not sure what a person’s political affiliation has to do with any of this, but can someone please site for me the actual quote of John’s where he called Paul’s songs “granny music”. That epithet is credited to him a lot by fans, so it can’t be that hard to find if it exists. I can’t seem to find it myself. Just like I can’t find where John said about Ringo, “He’s not even the best drummer in the Beatles” because some comedian in the ’80s was the one who said it. Thank you.
Michelle, I found this conversation on the Steve Hoffman forum. The person on this thread cites a “Melody Maker” interview from December 1969, which I can’t find online, but also references a quote from Geoff Emerick’s book Here, There, and Everywhere in which Lennon referred to “Ob La Di, Ob La Da” by that term.
Ultimate Classic Rock also quotes the line from Emerick’s book: “Geoff Emerick said Lennon ‘openly and vocally detested’ the song, deeming it ‘more of Paul’s granny-music shit.'”
Here’s part one of the Melody Maker:
Can [John] ever conceive of a time when he wouldn’t want his songs to be on the same album as Paul’s or George’s?
“I can see it happening. The Beatles can go on appealing to a wide audience as long as they make albums like Abbey Road, which have nice little folk songs like ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ for the grannies to dig… “
I’m not seeing the insult there myself?
… and some grannies have good taste.
The sarcasm of John’s comment appears to have been missed. If he thought grannies had good taste then he would …oh, nevermind.
Yeah, how is that an insult? He said it appeals to a wide audience.
Besides being said to have said it, (Geoff Emerick whom you recently used as a source yourself) he did say it was “little folk songs the grannies would dig”(which actually casts an even wider net of criticism towards Paul’s songs, not just old time inspired but even folk inspired) and he was putting it it in a negative context, exp at that time when ageism was a pretty big thing among “the youths.” (Pre split, Jan 1970, Rolling Stone, in the context of John agreeing he can believe the Beatles will never make another album, interesting that was just “eh whatever” but when Paul said essentially the same thing 4 months later it was ” the Beatles have broken up!!” all over the headlines.) In that article, again this is even pre split, he’s blaming Paul and Brian for making them put on suits, for accepting the MBE, painting Paul as a square, etc.
The point is it’s what people believe John said, whether he used the exact phrase or not, and they consistently repeat it for that reason, because they believe John said it. No one was calling it that until they believed John said it.
@Michelle. John did a lot to undermine Paul’s reputation. Perhaps you should just accept it. Everywhere on Beatles’ sites, blogs, YouTube etc. fans are always quoting John. John said, John hated, etc. What’s worse, are the idiots who decide to apply the granny shit label to any song of Paul’s they happen to dislike. In John’s favour, had he lived I think he would be upset and embarrassed at the way he is quoted. He once famously said that only he could criticize Paul but not others.
“Paul was one of the most innovative bass players … half of the stuff going on now is directly ripped off from his Beatles period.”
“[Paul] is a great musician who plays the bass like few other people can play it.”
“I was saying to somebody the other day, “There’s only two artists I’ve ever worked with for more than a one night stand, as it were. That’s Paul McCartney, and Yoko Ono.” And I think that’s a pretty damned good choice!”
Quotes from John.
@Nancy, @Matt, @Laura. Paul got pretty pissed off and angry with these allegations. He reminded them that hours and hours of takes were spent on their songs, especially George’s, but accepted it was part of his role in the band. Whatever he felt about them, he didn’t gripe to the public either. That was his professionalism, which the others lacked. Unfortunately for Paul, these hours were not captured on camera. Their attitudes towards spending a lot of time on one so so song in 1966 would have changed markedly by 1968/69 when stress and intolerance became a big factor. Drugs too alter the sensory circuitry in the brain in the perception of time and space. What may seem like three hours may actually only be one hour. Given the hostility at the time, I do wonder though if Paul was deliberately being perverse with Maxwell’s Silver Hammer because he was fed up with trying to lead, even goading them to step up. Why didn’t the others just veto it for goodness sakes? I don’t buy into the excuse that they were oh so tired and that Paul was too forceful to stand up to. Paul had control difficulties obviously, and personal and drug problems, but in going public with their grievances, I blame John, George and Ringo entirely for the fracture within the Beatles fandom and the side-taking we’ve seen for the last 50 years.
Excellent comment. (It’s hard on the phone this’ll probably be riddled with typos)
Hello, 102 takes of Not Guilty (Harrisongs). For example. The song which is I believe the most takes of any song they ever attempted. And it was a song lyric with George being kind of pissy at them and they still did it 102 times.
I think it was mainly Paul was an easy target because he was the most obvious about loving the band, liking being a Beatle even if certain things he didn’t like(he’s the one who supposedly broke down crying about how people didn’t treat him like himself anymore, sometimes even his own family, they treated him like someone famous), while John and George both had, for different reasons, torn feelings about the band and fame(George because the amount of attention and type of attention really seems to have been difficult for his temperament, John because he couldn’t be happy with the type found the fame and attention with, I don’t think fame bothered him, but he decided it wasn’t “deep” enough so he wanted to be famous for something else). Paul was also the one most likely to be doing what they wanted for themselves. He pushed to get his songs done his way, his ideas had ideas, he had a lot of energy to go after what he wanted. So the annoying things(and the 4 of them were ALL annoying in their own ways) were exaggerated. Did they work alot on a song or two sure? But they did so for their songs too.
A lot of time psychologically that mindset occurs when they have something you want in your own life. Or other things in your life may be a problem but you can’t face those so you put it all on the like a scapegoat because they have some habit that annoys you. It’s not unlike what John himself said once when describing how it happened “it’s because of you, you’ve got the tambourine all wrong, that my life is a mess” or something like that. They only had each other, so they were the easiest targets. And in Paul’s case because he tried to keep it together and apparently did a fairly convincing job even though he seems to have spent much of those last couple years on the verge of, or having, a breakdown, he was the biggest and easiest target. Like that guy at the How Do You Sleep? session said, it was like Paul was some sort of authority figure to them they were trying to take down. But that in certain ways was because they put him there.
And it’s also a bit disingenuous because all they had to do was say no. They don’t like Maxwell’s? Veto it. Nothing was stopping them except their own laziness, which is precisely what put Paul in that position in the first place. Instead they were underhanded and sneaky with Klein. That’s the thing really that last year or so they weren’t really following John, they were largely following Klein because John was.
I mean Paul has in the last few years given interviews or made comments or written in his book things that could also be perceived as undermining the other Beatles. Some recent examples include saying Too many people was in response to how mean John was by writing How do you sleep?- even though he wrote Too many people first. Giving the impression that he wrote A day in the life. Blaming John for the Beatles break up and ignoring the many other factors involved. Claiming John wasnt into literature while he was. Claiming that George was not a good writer until the end of the Beatles. Etc etc. And regardless of his intentions he has made comments that have led to click bait fodder. So I hardly think Paul is absent of ego, insecurity, selective memory and narrative rewriting. I’d argue that with the exception of Ringo ALL the Beatles had fragile egos.
Ringo is the only Beatle who to my knowledge has stayed out of public bashing or giving the media click bait fodder in regards to his fellow Beatles.
At the end of the day- whether the other Beatles disliked a song because it was “granny music” or because of how long it took to record, does it really matter? Are they not allow to not like a song? George didn’t like Now and Then which John wrote before he died- and we know that because Paul was the one that revealed George didn’t like it publicly.
I’m sure there were songs Paul didn’t like- didn’t he walk out on the She said She said recording because he got into a disagreement with John over the song?
I personally don’t get the big deal. Paul John George and Ringos legacies as the GOAT musicians is still strong individually and as a band and probably will remain strong.
@LeighAnn, Paul’s statement that John wasn’t into literature like he was rubbed me the wrong way as well. He likes to say that it was art and literature that set the Beatles apart from other bands in the early days. Does he think, then, that it was himself that set the Beatles apart?
Yep, it felt similar to when Paul would get stuck on the fact that he was just if not more artistic then John as though it was a competition.
Like if people assume that John was jealous and had a chip on his shoulder about Paul it’s stupid not to realise that Paul has just as much a chip on his shoulder over John. I’ll never forget reading in the GQ piece Paul did to promote Egypt Station the interviewer noting that Paul randomly brought up the John broke up the Beatles story even though the interviewer had not asked one question or made one comment in relation to that and then had to try to steer Paul off of the topic- which led him to get the group mutual masturbation story out of Paul, nicely done lol.*
And to be fair I think it had less to do with how John and Paul felt about each other as friends and people when they were together and more the outside influence of other peoples opinions and the pressure they both felt to live up to public expectation and to prove they didn’t need each other or the Beatles.
I think Paul sometimes still lets opinions of him from the past, that most of the public don’t even have anymore, eat at him in the present and still occasionally feels the need to prove something about himself. Honestly they all needed to be more like Ringo.
*Its actually one of my favourite Paul interviews. Also tibit this is where Paul said though it’s something John could have done that he doesn’t ever recall John declaring himself Jesus Christ in a business meeting and he mentions a bit about how urban legends get built about “when I met the Beatles…” or “the time the Beatles did …” to the point where he feels he asks himself if it actually happened. It made me realise it must be in a little way exhausting to be Paul and have to correct or continue the Beatles record alone as Ringo doesn’t partake in the limelight as much and he doesn’t have John and George as backup to say “F off that never happened”.
@Michelle, your interpretation of Paul’s comment is quite a reach – he said their interest in art AND literature set them apart. Paul was interested in art while John went to art school, and John read a lot on his own while Paul focused on English lit in school. (It was his only A level and clearly a subject that turned him on.)
@Elizabeth. Do you actually have any evidence that Paul was cramping John and George’s songs? In what way? Naming songs would be helpful. Throughout their whole career I mean, not during the filmed three weeks in January 1969, where undoubtedly Paul felt pressurized to meet deadlines. There were four personalities in this band. Whatever his faults, I believe it’s wrong to constantly demonize Paul as the ogre of the band.
About Yesterday. When Paul brought the song into the studio he fully intended for it to be performed by the whole band. It was George Martin who suggested it would suit strings and best performed solo. If Lennon had any beef with it, he should have taken it up with Martin.
By his own admission, Paul said he felt intimidated and irritated by John and Yoko in the studio by feeling pressurized to write political songs or to be ‘deep and meaningful’ in some way. I think he felt stripped of his spontaneity. Don’t you think that Paul was being equally cramped? It explains Paul’s radical departure in creating McCartney and Ram – songs about love, family and country life. It was his rebellion, met with great derision of course from the others. (Bet they’d have egg on their faces these days). Funny that Yoko not only influenced John’s songwriting style, but through default, Paul’s also.
The execrable Piggies was pretty embarrassing in my opinion, so was Bungalow Bill, the latter very music hall. Neither one deep and meaningful by any stretch of the imagination. The idiosyncratic MSH didn’t end up on Let it Be anyway so I don’t see the shortage of songs being a problem.
@Leigh Ann. I wouldn’t be too hasty in claiming Get Back has changed the narrative to Paul being the true genius in the band. The old prejudices still abound, don’t worry.
@Lara – I should clarify that I don’t think Paul was cramping anyone’s style. But it’s certainly how John and George later sold it to the public. And George’s behaviour around Paul in the Anthology footage was painful to watch. For someone who liked to think of himself as enlightened, George really could be petty and mean.
@Michelle – It’s certainly true that Paul’s solo career has been less critically acclaimed than his work with the Beatles. On the other hand, it has been extremely diverse – much, much more so than John’s solo career (albeit that it was cut short, but he could never have written classical music, for example) or George’s solo career (his songs all sound the same to me – like a dirge, sorry). I wonder to what extent Paul’s mental health was affected by John (Yoko) and George’s hate campaign of the early 70’s and beyond, and whether he might have done things differently had his confidence not been so badly knocked. I don’t think he would have had Linda in his band for a start.
Still, I’m sure he’s not looking back with too many regrets.
I mean John wrote Because after hearing Yoko play Mozart. A song which according to Geoff Emerick was both McCartney and Harrison’s favourite track on Abbey Road. I don’t think John was without range at all.
Sorry Beethoven not Mozart.
“John Lennon got the idea for this song when he heard Yoko Ono playing Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” on the piano. He asked her to play it backwards, and came up with “Because” based on what he heard. John said, “I was lying on the sofa in our house, listening to Yoko play Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ on the piano. Suddenly, I said ‘Can you play those chords backward?’ She did, and I wrote ‘Because’ around them. The song sounds like ‘Moonlight Sonata,’ too. The lyrics are clear, no bulls–t, no imagery, no obscure references.”
How do you know John wasn’t capable of writing classical music? He may not have been, but it’s not exactly Paul’s forte either. His classical works don’t stand out from Billy Joel’s or any other pop musician that tried their hand at it.
Piggies was George’s song (you only mention John here, so I assume you thought that was his song). The best of Paul’s “granny songs” or whatever you want to call it, in my opinion, is Martha My Dear.
I know Piggies is a George song. My response was to the assertion that John and George found Paul’s songs embarrassing and uncool. As far as Martha My Dear goes, why does it have to be the best of Paul’s granny songs? It’s a song. Like any other song. Sadly, this illustrates exactly how John undermined Paul’s reputation and he continues to beyond the grave. Would anybody seriously be describing them as such if Lennon hadn’t to begin with?
Aren’t people getting preoccupied with a couple of songs? Guess Helter Skelter wasn’t cool, ditto I’ve Got a Feeling, Get Back, She Came in Through the Bathroom Window, Oh Darling (John even wanted to sing it), Blackbird, Two of Us … I could go on. If Paul had written Across the Universe he would probably be exoriated for writing cosmic schmaltz, even though I do like it. Perhaps John and George’s astrological and outer worldly leanings didn’t fit the Beatles vision either. The time was right for them to go their own ways. Whatever people like or dislike about any one of them, they were magic together. It was probably too good to last.
Two of those are from 1980 Playboy interview (I think?)and the first two are only about his bass playing, not his songwriting. It’s like John’s throwing a little bone “but hey he plays a mean bass amirite?”. Also notice you didn’t include the dig John got in at him first before the first quote about his bass playing.
I’m not saying John didn’t mean all 3 of those comments, I think they are nice and he meant them, but it was too little too late, damage done.
And people complain Paul rewrites history?
Now trying to pretend that John’s repeated put downs and insults towards Paul in the aftermath of the break up had nothing to do with how his reputation suffered? A few compliments when he was in a good mood wasn’t going to take those away and make all macho rock critics and wannabes just forget stuff his earlier harsh comments or stuff “How Do You Sleep” etc.
But John did praise his songwriting, when he praised certain songs of his in that same interview.
“Paul doesn’t think he’s a good lyricist and I don’t think he’s made an effort to. I don’t think he’s as good as me, but he’s certainly not incapable. ‘Hey Jude’ is a damn good set of lyrics and I made no contribution to that”
I also recall John saying at one point that Eleanor Rigby and Hey Jude were the two Beatle songs that would stand the rest of time.
I mean wasn’t Paul glowing in praise of John either. Both he and John have talked about the fact they didn’t really do that. I think one of the saddest things I read in an interview Paul gave promoting his book was how after John died one of the things he regretted was never telling him how great he was as a musician and how much he loved him.
The fact is that all four of them adopted the northern man thing where they didn’t really compliment each other or tell each other how they felt. Plus after their break up all four of them were competitive and insecure with one another over their careers. I mean when Paul was asked about Walls and Bridges after it’s release – John’s first commercial success since Imagine- he responded that it was a good album but John could do better.
Paul rarely compliments John’s music. I thought John was more effusive in his praise than Paul ever was, even after John’s death. When Sean asked him what his favorite songs of John’s were, he seemed hard pressed to come up with anything except the obvious Beautiful Boy. John gave a glowing review of the Band on the Run album etc.
@Michelle Paul has a habit of damning with faint praise if he praises at all. Which makes it seem rather mendacious whenever he falls back on his old chestnut about begging for any validation from John. Even in ‘Get Back,’ it’s Paul showing the most ambivalence towards other people’s songs. When George presents a song, or even John tries to work on something like ‘Gimme Some Truth,’ ‘Child of Nature,’ or ‘Across the Universe,’ those efforts seem to be scarcely acknowledged before he corrals everyone back to the 900th run through of “I’ve Got a Feeling.’
Yet he has no problem praising songs by non-Beatles contemporaries like Brian Wilson, Paul Simon, Billy Joel etc. to the point of saying he wishes he had written them. If I can be cynical for a moment, perhaps he thinks that by praising John’s songs he basically concedes that they are JOHN’s songs and he had nothing to do with them other than a little tweaking and arrangement.
@Matt: “Even in ‘Get Back,’ it’s Paul showing the most ambivalence towards other people’s songs.” I didn’t get this impression and would like to know if others here did. Sadly, my guess is that responses will fall along “party lines” due to confirmation bias.
@Matt, you said, “Even in ‘Get Back,’ it’s Paul showing the most ambivalence towards other people’s songs.”
I didn’t read things that way – what do others here think? I’d guess we tend to see things along “party lines” with confirmation bias playing a big role.
(I tried to post a similar comment/question but haven’t seen it show up.)
@Elizabeth. I don’t think any of the solo careers were critically acclaimed as matching their Beatles work. Even Plastic Ono Band, despite being hailed, was such a departure for John it was difficult to compare. The vast majority of songs off All Things Must Pass were written during George’s Beatle years. The biggest change of attitude is towards Ram. Critically savaged when it was released, it has been reassessed very positively and many now regard it as the best solo album. This alternates of course with POB and ATMP but today, together with Ram, they make up the big three.
@Michael- that’s John downplaying his own work and talent again, a tendency he had which frankly I find nauseating. Yoko didn’t play the whole piece backward for John, just the arpeggios. If you play Moonlight Sonata backwards, you don’t get Because. Everyone is influenced by chords from other works when composing. Here is a short video on how John wrote becsuse, and Beethoven’s influence. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=KeG95UnWyFo
Thank you for sharing that video Michelle. I mean I think that musician clearly demonstrated how John took influence from Beethoven but did something unique with it and his ability to compose music.
In a British music press interview, if I remember correctly, Paul was asked who he thought was the best songwriter ever, to which he answered John Lennon. I don’t know why some people here display such aggression towards Paul. He has his faults, which are constantly pointed out, but any praise for him is interpreted as a slight against John or George. No matter how ‘effusive’ John was in his praise about Paul’s songs, it will never make up for his granny shit slur. He laughed at the line ‘please lock me away’ in Paul’s A World Without Love, yet went on to use the same metaphor in I’ll Cry Instead. There were others. What was it with John? Did he have to be first at everything or something? Was that his problem? Does it matter? I get the impression that not many people have read the actual words John, George and Ringo used about Paul’s music and his character. They were brutally unkind, truly appalling, particularly if you read them at the time, as I did, in the midst of the actual breakup. This was the band that I and millions of other kids had grown up with. Deep down inside those words must still hurt Paul. None of them came out of it smelling of roses. Retrospection is a fine thing, that’s for sure. It doesn’t really surprise me that Paul has been, and still is, reticent towards John, and George and Ringo, regardless of his outer joviality. A less magnanimous man would have wiped them out of his life forever.
@Lara – I think that what John (Yoko) and George did to Paul was unforgivable. I wouldn’t consider myself a fan of any one of the Beatles, including Paul, so that’s an objective opinion; I’m not saying it because Paul’s my favourite. But even looking at it objectively, it’s shocking. They set out to destroy not only his reputation, but his confidence. And it worked: for years and years (in the UK at least), he was considered ‘uncool’ and ‘embarrassing’. He still is by many (most?) people, and it has nothing to do with his music and everything to do with what their hate campaign turned him into – because he believed it. It’s obvious he did or he would not have put Linda in his band.
I don’t believe that Paul was desperate to reunite the Beatles either, though there’s plenty to suggest that John was. In fact, I would bet that Paul was the reason they didn’t reunite in the 70’s. Why would he put himself in that position after what they did to him? That’s not to say that he didn’t invite John to New Orleans. But there’s a big difference between John playing on one song on a Wings album and the Beatles reuniting, which is what John wanted.
As for the aggression towards Paul, I think people are either deliberately provocative or determined to defend the indefensible because they identify with John’s (or in some cases, Yoko’s) image. It has nothing to do with reality and everything to do with the way people use celebrities to construct identity and self-image. It’s the reason why Michael Jackson still has millions of fans and why Yoko was so easily able to discredit Goldman – because people will only believe what they want to believe.
@Elizabeth. Sadly, Paul was/is seen in other countries outside the UK as embarrassing as well. It’s a great shame. To be fair, some of it he has brought on himself, hamming it up and gooning around with Linda. What is charming in someone in their early twenties can be irritating at 30 plus. Perhaps it’s the quirks of genius or something he does to hide his lack of confidence as a solo artist. Interestingly, Chris Salewicz said of Paul in his book that Paul constantly struggles to overcome a deep-seated shyness in his nature. George, too, always said Paul was the shy Beatle, not him.
Excellent comment Lara.
Mikal Gilmore wrote about the breakup in Rolling Stone, and had this to say:
“But what I found most troubling, most tragic, in all of this was two things: Both Lennon and Harrison (Lennon, clearly, in particular) did their best to sabotage the Beatles from mid-1968 onward, and when it all came irrevocably apart, I believe that both men regretted what they had wrought. I don’t think that John Lennon and George Harrison (but Lennon, again, in particular) truly meant the Beatles to end, even though they might not have known it in the moment. I think they meant to shift the balance of power, I think they meant for the Beatles to become, in a sense, a more casual form of collaboration, and I think they clearly intended to rein in Paul McCartney.
But they overplayed their hand and — there’s no way around it — they treated McCartney shamefully during 1969, and unforgivably in the early months of 1970.”
Paul was no saint; no one is. He did not deserve the shitty treatment by George and John. George let himself be used by John to get back at Paul, and then he and John never spoke again after all was said and done.
Here’s the link to the article by Mikal Gilmore:
I mean, “please lock me away” is pretty funny when combined with the tune it’s sung in. I thought so before I knew that John found it funny (my response being, of course that one didn’t escape his funny bone). Sing it in your head and tell me it doesn’t make you laugh.
I never found it funny. Both Paul and John wrote lyrics in the early songs that didn’t always resonate with everyone.
Something I think is being ignored in the all “poor Paul the other Beatles were so mean to him” talk is that Paul sued George John and Ringo. He took his life long friends to court. Regardless of whether it proved the right move career wise in hindsight doesn’t negate the fact that on an emotional level he sued his friends. The Beatles were used to being screwed over by outsiders like the James, the Klein’s, the Grade’s of the world but this was one of them. On emotional level imagine someone you considered your best friend, brother, partner someone you were once so close you use to sandwich with for warmth in winter taking you to court to sue you.
So I think it’s disingenuous to pretend like Paul was some passive innocent bystander. They all slagged each other off and have blame to share.
LeighAnn, it’s important to note that suing the other Beatles was the only way McCartney could find to fight Klein’s control, and it wasn’t something he did lightly. The suit ended up helping the other Beatles financially, as John and George later acknowledged. Both Mikal Gilmore and Peter Doggett explain the suit, its background, and its consequences in depth.
Paul was not passive, and he’s not an innocent bystander. But the suit isn’t the place where I’d lay blame on him.
I’m not disputing that career wise it was the right move but still he took his once friends to court. On an emotional level you don’t think that John George and Ringo weren’t hurt by the fact that they were being sued by Paul?
Could anyone say they wouldn’t be affected by their best friend someone they once considered family suing you?
Even if it worked out well in the end and to their benefit it had to have hurt at the time.
My point is that “career wise” it was the best move for ALL of the Beatles. McCartney looked for other ways to wrest the band from Allen Klein’s grasp and found that suing the other Beatles was the only way to achieve that end, since they refused to voluntarily dissolve their partnership. I’m sure it did hurt the rest of the band emotionally, and to me that seems to be on a par with the rest of the band trying to coerce McCartney into signing with Klein.
It’s worth recalling that insofar as there is a real villain in this story, it’s Klein. He had a long track record of dishonesty with The Rolling Stones and other bands, and it would have spelled disaster for him to remain in charge of the Beatles’ legacy. Lennon wrote “Steel and Glass” about Klein because he also came to see this.
In a better version of this timeline, McCartney would have been less stubborn and have proposed a manager who wasn’t his brother-in-law — not sure that would have moved the rest of the band off of Klein, but it might have. But once the rest of the band signed with Klein the legal options were limited.
He took his lifelong friends to court AFTER they were “mean” to him. He didn’t leave and immediately sue, he didn’t sue until the end of 1970(December 31st to be exact, 51st anniversary just passed). How do you think Paul felt with his “lifelong friends” changing all the rules by which they’d made major decisions to force Klein on him and then letting Klein attempt bully him? Don’t you think THAT hurt him?
They left him no choice after he repeatedly tried to give them that chance. They refused to let him out of the contract(this isn’t an unusual thing, people are allowed out of business partnerships all the time). Even more they tried to use slimey tactics, like trying to trick him into recording with them that would make it impossible for him to leave.
THEY were the ones concerned about money then, namely HIS money. So he was willing to give up his share of their money(leaving the partnership), they were unwilling to give up their share of his(forcing him to stay).
@Nancy Carr, I don’t believe Paul pushed for the Eastman’s. He suggested them and when it was rejected, he did not push for them again. I’m not sure what’s so stubborn about that He was quite willing to consider other people besides Klein OR the Eastmans as managers for The Beatles, and says he did make other suggestions, it was John who wasn’t willing to consider anyone but Klein.
Yes. The lawsuit wasnt to take anything away from the other three; it was more akin to a divorce. You “sue” for divorce, too. Paul asked the other three to let him out of his contract (something that often happens in business partnerships) but they refused. That’s an aggressive act. Imagine telling your spouse you don’t want to live together anymore, but also you want to unilaterally force on them a lawyer and accountant they don’t trust or want, but also when they say “that doesn’t work for me actually, let’s get a no-fault divorce” you say “dream on lol” and then when they finally take you to court you have the gall to act surprised and betrayed. Absurd.
Yeah, he struggled over that decision.
It’s also pertinent that the lawsuit grew out of the others signing with a manager Paul opposed, thereby forcing him on Paul against his wishes. That was far from friendly AND not supported by their partnership agreement according to the judge who heard the case. I’ve seen no evidence that Paul would only accept the Eastmans, but he should have looked for an alternative. Unfortunately, it was too late once Klein arrived on the scene.
@LeighAnn – They weren’t just his friends. They were also his business partners, and millions of pounds were at stake. He had no choice but to take them to court.
* reticent about John, George and Ringo’s songs.
@Laura and @Matt, I agree with Matt about Paul’s reception of John and George’s work in Get Back—he’s a complete dick to George, and I too noticed John saying he wanted to work on Gimme Some Truth and Child of Nature, but Paul directing the group toward another run through of one of his songs. In general, my impression of Paul in the movie was “musical genius, and the last Beatle I’d ever want to work with.” Even when he’s making constructive suggestions on Don’t Let Me Down, they’re corny ideas that are terrible for the song, and the point seems to be more “Paul putting his stamp on this” than “fixing a defect.”
I’m not really into the Paul/John boosterism that’s going on in the comments, but Paul’s collaborative approach was very irritating to me as someone who works in a creative partnership. You are absolutely allowed to assertively pitch your ideas, but not steamroller your partners. John’s addiction is the wild card here, though. I bet in 1964-65, the dynamic we see was a bit different: yes, Paul probably made a million and one suggestions, but John had all the A-sides and John’s musical tastes (Dylan, Byrds, Soul) were driving what the group did.
I’m about half way through re-watching and will continue to be on and lookout for those examples. So far Child of Nature is done before Paul arrives and they move from Gimme Some Truth to All Thing Must Pass (George says he has some slow ones).
I’m interested in creative partnerships if the artists think often of the “what is right and not who is right” concept. Your mention of not being keen to work with Paul, irrespective of his genius, made me think of how often the Beatles, in the early years, seemingly just got on with doing what was right and did not quibble over who was right.
It is something that is heavily stressed in my field but it is a safety dependent one. How often does it get shunted aside when highly creative individuals are at work? Watching the documentary I had fleeting glimpses that Paul sometimes thought himself to be both right and contributing the superior product.
Great skill can of course dazzle onlookers, but it seems it must be very finely balanced within a creative dynamic.
I didn’t think Paul was a dick to George. And so what if his suggestions for Don’t Let Me Down didn’t end up being right? At least he was making suggestions. As others have pointed out just saying something is shit but not actually coming up with something else is not at all helpful and something George did quite a bit of.
Also if John wanted to work on one of his songs, then it was up to JOHN to direct them in that. John saying it and then…not doing it…is just talk.
“John’s musical tastes (Dylan, Byrds, Soul) were driving what the group did.”
Pretty sure they were ALL into Dylan, the Byrds and Soul, among many other things. He also didn’t have all the A-sides in 1963-65,- UK singles – Love Me Do, She Loves You and I Want to Hold Your Hand – two songs they were say were absolute co-writes, All My Loving, Can’t Buy Me Love, We Can Work it Out/Day Tripper was a double A-side.
@Michael Bleicher, about “I too [in addition to @Matt] noticed John saying he wanted to work on Gimme Some Truth and Child of Nature, but Paul directing the group toward another run through of one of his songs.” After watching Get Back again, what I saw was them going from Gimme Some Truth into All Things Must Pass, and from Child of Nature into a couple of covers, then John asking what they should do and Paul suggesting Two of Us. So the specifics are a little off, but I get that you both found Paul to be a royal pain.
Just want to add that regarding Paul’s treatment of George, George did say in an interview before his death that both Paul and George Martin had apologized to him.
George also said in other interviews that he had Paul and Linda over for dinner several times. (I believe around the time of Anthology)
I think they all hurt each other terribly, (not sure Ringo did however), but it seems things were repaired, or trying to be repaired.
@Michael B – I didn’t really get the impression that Paul was being a dick to George. I think he was frustrated by George’s procrastination and a bit panicked about the deadline and he was trying to keep things moving forward. He was shouldering a lot of responsibility and the others were more than happy to let him – it really wasn’t an equal partnership in that respect.
It is interesting that he admitted he was at fault during the recorded conversation in the canteen. On the other hand, he was dealing with someone who was unpredictable, prone to violent outbursts and on heroin. They were in the middle of making an album and they were being filmed. He needed to make sure that John would keep turning up for work. He might well have said it because he didn’t dare disagree with John.
I don’t know, but my thoughts are that it’s not easy being the drudge, which was essentially Paul’s role in the group. Even after complaining that he didn’t want Paul arranging his songs, John still looked to him to do that. Yes, Paul’s ideas for Don’t Let Me Down weren’t working, but where were John’s ideas?
None of which is to say that Paul came across well or was remotely likeable in any of that footage. But he was under a lot of stress.
It was a self-imposed deadline. I don’t get that. Couldn’t Paul have waited until after Ringo got done filming his superfluous role in a silly, forgettable movie? Seriously, his acting career was more important than his band? By the way, if you didn’t know who was on heroin and had to guess which Beatle it was while watching this, most people would probably say Ringo. He looked worn out and checked out, and said but a few words in the whole thing.
@Michael B. You mean John wasn’t being a total dick to George when he patted him on the head when George tried to put forward his song I Me Mine, yeah son. But let’s put all the blame on Paul on the dick stakes, I mean, after all what’s new? And let’s blame John’s dickery on his heroin use. I don’t like the John/Paul/George boosterism either but I honestly do believe Paul has been on the thin end of the wedge in all this for 50 plus years. It’s wearisome. Paul’s ideas for Don’t Let Me Down were corny but what were the others offering? Not much. And I bet the final version of the song ended up with some of those ideas in a different format. As for Paul directing everything back to his songs – I think that is losing the perspective of the project, which was to complete 14 songs within a specific time frame. He may have been irritating but perhaps Paul felt songs should be finished off one at a time rather than getting diverted into three or four others simultaneously.
Both John and Paul in 1964/65 were driving the band and several of those early A sides were co-writes whether people like it or not. What is this thing people have about Dylan? Like he’s the holy grail or something. Why should he be considered more important than Brian Wilson or Stockhausen or the classical musical influences on the Beatles? The Beatles were open to all influences from Hamburg and beyond.
That’s what separated them from their contemporaries.
Yet George never seemed to be offended by anything John did. Is it possible that the “yeah son” pat on the head was John mocking Paul’s treatment of George? Or maybe self-awareness (not Paul’s strong suit) for how they both treated George? I’d have to watch it for the third time because there is so much to take in with this documentary. I couldn’t help but notice John’s look of concern on his face when Paul and George were bickering at one point (talking over each other), as he briefly looked from one to the other, seemingly on the verge of telling them that was enough. Paul’s suggestion for “Don’t Let Me Down”, answering each vocal line with harmony, is not much different than George’s suggestion for guitar intervals during “Hey Jude” that Paul found ridiculous and continues to scoff at today (it’s true that it wasn’t right for the song). If Paul had his way with “Don’t Let Me Down” it would have sounded closer to “You’re Going to Lose that Girl” than what John had in mind.
Also at one point at Apple John puts his foot down with Paul and says they are going to work on George’s songs when Paul wants to do another run through of Don’t let me down (I think).
I won’t argue that John is more supportive of George’s songs then Paul as I think John is right when he says they have both been guilty of “wounding” George. However John at least was offering line suggestions to all things must pass and was trying to prod and encourage George during the writing of Something. And it’s telling that George says that he hears John’s voice in his head when he was struggling with writing a song. I think Paul’s investment in Don’t let me down just makes his lack of investment in George’s songs all the more glaring.
I actually was honestly surprised by how close George and John seemed as I was always under the impression that they had more tension between them then Get Back ultimately showed.
I definitely agree with impressions I’ve seen elsewhere of the Big Brother, Middle Brother and Little Brother dynamic between John/Paul/George. Even now Paul talks about George like his the little kid brother who did good rather then a creative equal.
I don’t get the impression he was intentional in overlooking George but I felt like he was just oblivious and rigid about keeping the status quo- which is what I think John, albeit rather rambling, was trying to explain to Paul during the flower pot convo.
That’s not allowing for basic human nature. Plenty of people are willing to be treated a certain way by one person and not by someone else. George hero-worshipped John as a teenager, whereas he just saw Paul as his mate from school. So to him Paul was over stepping his bounds whereas John wasn’t and it colored all their interactions. Because he still wanted John to like him best. To him Paul was the one IN THE WAY of that, so he just blamed Paul.
I don’t think George being more willing to take crit from John than Paul was entirely about the vestiges of his teenage hero worship, since Ringo – who was outside the high school dynamics – also chafed at Paul’s style of giving input, as did several people who played in Wings and countless other people he’s worked with (don’t have the quote on hand, but even George Martin described him as being petulant about input while recording Tug of War/Pipes of Peace). Studio insiders (incld. extremely trustworthy sources like Martin and Geoff Emerick) consistently described Paul as being extremely particular and quick to get his back up when creatively questioned, while describing John as being more collaborative and “go with the flow”. Yeah – of course one of those guys pissed a willful, independent guy like George off more lmao. That’s how John destroyed the band through inaction: by withdrawing the buffer he provided between Paul’s obsessiveness and George and Ringo’s desire for some creative autonomy in the unit (lest you think I believe Paul was the only insufferable guy in the studio, it’s easy to see from observation that Paul also provided a similar buffer in the opposite direction, by diffusing John whenever he started working himself into a completely hysterical insecure fit).
Also, John and George were both casual piss-taking lads who could slag each other off and forget about it the next day, whereas Paul is hyper sensitive and holds on to things for a long time. George’s issues with John were probably easier to hash out because they COULD be hashed out or deflected into shit-talk (until they couldn’t, when John explicitly chose Yoko’s enabling over everyone else), whereas the issues and distance between George and Paul seemed to just malinger and fester until there was no daylight for communication possible between them anymore. I think the age based pecking order existed more in Paul’s head than it ever did in George’s, ESP by 196-freaking-8; George’s loyalty to and then anger at John re: the beakup really has nothing to do with anything that was happening in the studio, and everything to do with the fact that John – who he considered an emotionally intimate friend – was ditching his entire life to do heroin with his controlling new girlfriend. With Paul and George, what was left of their friendship WAS what was going on in the studio.
Great post, a more nuanced way to look at the relationship dynamics as they evolved from the time they were kids. I especially find interesting and plausible your argument that John’s biggest blow to the band was when he withdrew from his role as buffer between Paul’s controlling tendencies and the others’ desire for more autonomy. Like you said, it worked both ways. The Beatles were at their most indestructible when John and Paul reined each other in when it came to their respective negative influence. @Lara mentioned before that “Paul’s ideas for Don’t Let Me Down were corny but what were the others offering? Not much.” But it seems that Paul was super protective of his songs and far more willing to give input than accept it. Rejecting George’s idea for the guitar in Hey Jude is one thing; talking about how silly the idea was in an interview is unnecessary. In the doc he also tells George that his chord suggestion was passé (with George wondering how a chord goes out of style). This all suggests he might have made the others feel wary of offering ideas, especially George and Ringo.
I saw that quote from George Martin as well. There are several things about the doc that changed people’s original, pre-conceived notions; a minor one that nevertheless suprised me was how respectful John was to Martin in this. With Glyn Johns acting as the new boy wonder in the studio, Martin had very little to do. John seemed to go out of his way to keep him engaged, addressing him directly about the studio speaker system and arrangment of equipment. Paul meanwhile was curt with Martin at one point when the latter joined a conversation (“That’s why I was talking to John”). He basically gave him the brush off. I realize Paul was under a lot of stress, but I felt bad for GM.
@Orange. Several members of Wings are on YouTube recalling how good it was to work with Paul. George Martin did his fair share of undercutting Paul, albeit unintentionally. In the Hunter Davies bio, he remarked that Paul could turn out pot boilers which he wasn’t particularly proud of. Made to feel NOT proud of, I wonder? Some of those ‘pot boilers’ turned out to be some of the Beatles best deep cuts. He also expressed surprise at how good Paul’s lyrics were in Eleanor Rigby – lyrics written by the lad who won essays for his prose at one of the top grammar schools in the North of England. Perhaps Paul resented this from Martin? Did Martin unwittingly set in motion the John deep, Paul light trope? I think Martin realized his lack of insight in undermining Paul’s ability, which is why he later reached a much greater understanding and support for Paul.
@Michelle. The saga of Hey Jude. I think the song was deeply personal to Paul. Maybe he didn’t want a call and response style in a song which was essentially about self-reproach. It could be argued that it was George who was insensitive by pushing it and not recognizing Paul was in a dark space at the time. I got the impression that Paul allowed quite a bit of input into his songs -Get Back, I’ve Got a Feeling, etc. It’s easier to be selective, I guess.
Glyn Johns did not replace George Martin. Martin himself withdrew to a supervisory role after becoming fed up with the White Album’s unpleasantness, back biting, and the presence of Yoko Ono in the studio. I think John realized this and made an effort with GM. All of them wanted Martin to produce Abbey Road as a result.
@Orange – Well, I definitely agree that George was wilful and independent. He went through life doing exactly what he wanted, with no thought to the consequences and without any regard to the impact of his wilfulness on other people. I find it hard to conceive of a situation in which Paul might have stormed off in the middle of making an album, leaving everyone in the lurch, but George just didn’t have his work ethic or sense of responsibility towards other people and that seems obvious (to me in any case).
I agree that Paul was insecure and incredibly nervy throughout all three episodes, but let’s be fair – there were four people in that band, and one person doing 90% of the work. The others put that responsibility onto Paul because they didn’t want it. Ringo wasn’t capable, John was on another planet and George was too wilful and too independent – he wanted the freedom to not turn up or to be able to walk away if he felt like it.
All that said, I think you’re right that Paul was less willing to take criticism, but maybe he didn’t have room for it in his head. He was dealing with so much – being responsible for all the decisions on top of having to walk on eggshells around John and George to keep them functional (in John’s case) and willing to turn up for work (in both John’s case and George’s case). And the expectation of everyone that the end product would be amazing and better than what they had done before meant that the stakes were so high – and the weight of that expectation was all on Paul, who was the only one who was capable or who cared enough to carry it. Dealing with criticism on top of all that, which probably translated into taking on yet more responsibility to do yet more work, might simply have been too much for him.
George needed to grow up a bit. Sadly, I don’t think he ever really did. He thought of himself as a victim of Paul (sometimes John, but mostly Paul) until his dying day because he wasn’t treated as an ‘equal’. It didn’t occur to him that there wasn’t anything equal about leaving Paul to do most of the work and shoulder nearly all of the burden.
I mean in this comment there is discussions about John murdering Stuart his best mate and/or homosexual lover on the down low. So I think Paul is on the good end of the debate spectrum if the most contentious the discussion gets about him is whether he is a bossy control freak who writes granny songs myself.
@LeighAnn. Isn’t this discussion about who did what on George’s songs trivial? I feel you are using George as a lever in Paul’s relationship with John or as a way of undermining Paul’s standing within the Beatles. What do they call it? Divide and rule, or maybe, my enemy is my best friend when I have a greater enemy. We really don’t know how well they worked together in creating any of their albums except Let it Be. They were the only sessions filmed, and, not only that, to create fourteen songs within a time period as required under their contract. So Paul is seemingly being judged in a working environment which by and large was probably atypical. That’s not to say Paul wasn’t hard to watch during some of the footage but it appears his whole character has been exoriated based on that time onwards. They had all gone through or going through upheavals in their personal relationships, a process of change. Whether it was for the better is something that is entirely subjective. Geoff Emerick, in his book, thought highly of Paul only to be met with howls of outrage accusing Emerick of bias towards Paul. So what? Most books on the Beatles by far are seriously biased against Paul so why should Emerick’s opinion of Paul be thought less of?
Writing a few excellent, mainly guitar-based songs does not make George the creative equal of John and Paul, even by Abbey Road. That is unfair and unrealistic. As with John, death goes a long way in changing the narrative.
I object to the suggestion that our comments are unfair towards, or biased in any way against, John Lennon. John’s behavior comes in for more scrutiny for two reasons: 1) things we know he did (such as beating Bob Wooler up with a shovel); and 2) things he said like “I thought, ‘I’m beating this guy to death with a shovel.’”
The reason Paul doesn’t get his sexuality analyzed is because his public stance and statements are different from John’s; does anybody really think that if Paul had died in 1980 and his widow had dropped hints that he was bisexual, we wouldn’t discuss it here?
Similarly, John’s proclivity towards violence was admitted by John, and is all over the historical record. I’m truly sorry if this isn’t comfortable for anybody who’s a fan of John’s or the Beatles, but it is simply factual.
If Dot Rhône had died, and her sibling had believed it was from a botched abortion of Paul’s baby, we would talk about that here. Not as fact —- John kicking Stu in the head and causing his death is not proven — but it is part of the story here.
@LeighAnn. “They all slagged each other off and have blame to share”. Well, I’m not seeing much blame being shared out to be honest. In choosing Allen Klein as their manager, a fraud who several people warned them about, John, George and Ringo were effectively screwing Paul over. Where was the rule that all FOUR would agree on any major decision affecting the band? Like a manager, for example. I’m not seeing much in the way of emotional attachment to Paul either. That doesn’t let Paul and the Eastmans off the hook either, but I honestly think John was determined to have Klein, regardless.
“ I don’t like the John/Paul/George boosterism either but I honestly do believe Paul has been on the thin end of the wedge in all this for 50 plus years. It’s wearisome.”
I agree. Paul, while not a victim, was unfairly demonized for the breakup. “Get Back” has helped the truth come out, that Paul was trying desperately to keep the band together.
I understand Paul wanting to set the record straight before he’s gone. I think that’s the motivation behind “The Lyrics”, and him being ok with the “Get Back” movie, even though he’s not portrayed in the best light.
John and Allen Klein (with a heavy assist from Jann Wenner), got to set the narrative after the break up. Paul deserves to tell his side.
Paul has been setting the record straight for years now. What record was he trying to set straight with The Lyrics? That he could mend a fuse better than John? It would be most welcome and refreshing if he released a memoir without an agenda for once.
@Tasmin. Yes, I think you’re right about the apology, but it’s pertinent at this point to remember that George also admitted that he had been shitty to Paul. Both of them had a silly childish rivalry between them. This was illustrated in the Davies bio when both of them would fight over whose turn it was to drive. Much is made of George being the youngest Beatle but there was only eight months between them. Paul was young too.
@Michelle. Yes, George was offended by how John treated him, which is why he said in effect, fuck you, I’ll do it myself. Typical though, to somehow make Paul responsible for how John behaved.
@Michelle. Paul didn’t get his own way on Don’t Let Me Down. That’s the whole point.
I don’t think everything Paul does has an “agenda” behind it. It’s clear from your many comments, that you are not a Paul fan.
That’s your right, but it is tiresome that any comment that is made in a positive light toward Paul, you feel the need to squash it.
The last comment I made was to Michelle, if I didn’t make that clear.
@Lata, do know where /when it was that George apologized or admitted his behavior to Paul? I’ve never seen it and would love to find it.
@Kristy. I’m not sure exactly where I read it, perhaps in Patti Harrison’s book. I do know that I read it. One-sided apologies from Paul and George Martin make me suspicious considering that John was no longer around to share the blame.
Am I the only one who notices the utter hypocrisy of Lennon’s granny music slur? This is from the guy who proclaimed himself the great feminist, yet any music he considered uncool and unworthy could only be appreciated by people who were not only female but old. Ageism and sexism in one good swipe. Not only that, when he first extolled the virtues of Yoko, he described his band mates’ women as nothing but dolly birds, with their makeup on, swinging off the arms of their men at a premier. Seriously, if he’d said that to their faces, particularly to Jane and Pattie, they’d have kneed him in the cobblers.
“Granny music” is not a slur.
At the time Lennon said it, “granny music” was definitely intended as an insult — on a par with the comparison he made between McCartney and Engelbert Humperdinck. At this distance of time it’s difficult to recapture just how deeply uncool McCartney’s choices to include his wife in his band and to tour with his family were considered in the late 1960s / early 1970s. Lester Bang’s takedown of McCartney in Creem, during the 1976 “Wings Over America” tour, is illustrative of this. Bangs keeps returning to how inexplicable he finds it that McCartney would go on tour with his wife and kids, and this is a big part of his argument that McCartney is insufficiently masculine and rock ‘n’ roll.
Perhaps we are speaking at cross purposes here… As a young person online, the word “slur” has a specific connotation as something extremely personally offensive, as in an ethnic or homophobic slur. I absolutely agree that it was meant to be insulting, that is obvious; but I do not think it rises even close to the level of a “slur” in the connotation that people widely use these days, especially online.
Excellent point, Harlow, and I should have been clearer. I agree that “granny music,” said by John Lennon in the late 60s / early 70s, was an insult rather than a slur.
My, what a poor soul (Bangs, that is). S’pose he must have completely lost the will to live when he heard the exceedingly unmasculine-yet-lovely London Town two years later!
Nancy – do you know where a scan or transcript of said takedown can be found?
Lester Bangs also wrote a piece entitled “James Taylor Marked For Death.” He had what is IMO a pathological fear of men he deemed insufficiently masculine. And unfortunately I don’t believe the Creem piece I mentioned is online anywhere.
@Nancy, if I saw that title and didn’t know what it said or the context, I would have assumed it was a sort of ironic reference to the story James Taylor told of being accosted by the agitated and creepy (his description, as well as the entire planet’s) Mark David Chapman coming out of the subway station the day before he shot Lennon down. Taylor lived in a building down the street from the Dakota. From what I recall, Taylor said Chapman was rambling about wanting to get something to John. Taylor actually heard the five shots when the tragedy happened.
Isn’t that for Paul to decide whether it’s a slur or not? Not you. Paul defends his enjoyment of the music of an earlier generation and I can’t recall him ever using the term. Perhaps check the dictionary?
No one called Paul himself a “granny”. That would be a slur. An artist’s music is fair game, and some of John’s has been called things that isn’t necessarily flattering.
Reposting cause I’m not sure if I submitted my first post. Someone posted the actual quote John made and he didn’t specifically say “granny music” he said “songs for the grannies to enjoy” with examples in reference to a question about what makes the Beatles diverse and their appeal lasting. I honestly don’t see that as an intentional personal insult to Paul or a “slur” as much as a perhaps poor choice of words.
And since I can’t recall Paul ever mentioning or acknowledging the comment “granny music” whose to say he cares or is offended by it. At the end of the day he’s had a very successful career that has not been harmed by a throw away comment John gave in an interview 50 years ago. Wings had a successful run. He’s had a successful solo career and he can still get an album to number one on the billboard charts as a almost 80 year old grandfather, which is pretty impressive.
I agree it’s not a slur. It’s the music of your grandmother’s generation. John loved that music too (“Little White Lies” was a favorite of his growing up).
Why grandmother’s generation and not grandfather’s generation? The music was also written by men.
The insult “granny music” (and it was an insult at the time) combines ageism and misogyny. “Granny music” operated in the late 1960s and 1970s as the opposite of “rock,” in terms of both hipness/youth culture and gender. To write and perform “rock music” was to write and perform loud, tough music for men; to write and perform “granny music” or “pop” was to make music women and old people liked. Lester Bangs was one of the leading critics to embrace and promote this dichotomy, but he wasn’t the only one.
I can’t recall granny music being used as a general term by listeners to describe nonrock music even though I’m familiar with Lester Bangs and others. Not outside the US anyway. Perhaps there was too much music that didn’t fit the description (which couldn’t make the distinction of what was clearly dross and what wasn’t outside their own biases) that the term never took hold. Creem appealed to rock and punk aficionados, egalitarian in nature, even though that was the very least of its intention. It claimed to be humorous, but at the expense of others. Its defenders today still tend to be male rock music critics and writers over 55. There was a certain amount of cynicism displayed towards Bangs by more moderate rock music critics at the time. The difference between Bang’s interpretation and Lennon’s, is that the latter’s use of granny music has been embraced thoughtlessly against a target demographic well into the 21st century. And it IS a target demographic like any other target demographic. It may take another generation or two to fully realise that. What is not considered a slur today will be in thirty years time. It has always been that way because of the nature of linguistic change and societal sensitivities.
@Lara, that’s a matter a semantics. Why can’t granny mean “grandparent”? It’s not called “grandma music.”
This is an absurd comment; “granny” is colloquial for grandmother, not “grandparent.”
Fair warning, everybody —- many of the Get Back comments are bullshitty bickering; I cannot believe the back-and-forth parsing of “granny music” — it’s clear that Lennon didn’t like, or respect, music of McCartney’s that he felt was old-fashioned or saccharine, and this public disdain was picked up and amplified by many prominent rock critics, mostly male.
There is a terrible tendency on the internet to simply gainsay data you don’t like, or pick at a point to such a degree that it becomes nonsensical. The object of this comments section isn’t simply to let people run roughshod over the discussion, pushing it in their preferred direction simply through frequency of posting (@Michelle and @LeighAnn, I’m looking at you both). It is designed to add nuance, aid deeper knowledge via linking to other sources, and increase a collegial interest in the topic. Anybody who can’t, or won’t, do that will have their comments trashed. I run a loose ship here, but when we start actively obscuring the topic for weird partisan reasons, I have to step in.
Comments will be moderated harder for the next while. Nancy and I will trash anything dopey, with a special eye towards the one line ripostes constantly turning this into John vs. Paul. Give more than that, or be quiet.
In actual Beatles news, I see the Rooftop Concert will be shown at IMAX theaters in late January, followed by a Q&A with Peter Jackson.
I would imagine seeing the Beatles in IMAX would be the closest thing to having a seat on the rooftop. Except no cigarettes.
Following the Jan. 30 premiere, the Rooftop Concert will get an additional theatrical release, Feb. 11 through 13. Get your booster, everyone, and double mask. There’s something about the big screen theater experience (IMAX or not) that’s more magical than home-viewing.
Another bit of news: An upcoming comic book is telling the life story of The Beatles’ Ringo Starr.
Here’s a link to some sample panels:
Thank you, Michael. I do feel like adding one more layer to the “granny music” point.
Music considered too “soft” was also coded as music hall (in the UK), showbiz, and sellout, in distinction to “rock,” which was coded as authentic, gritty, and uncompromising. And a big part of this was what was considered masculine. See also the way disco was derided by some rock fans — it wasn’t just that they didn’t care for the music, it’s that disco was associated with homosexuality and nonwhite people.
Note that I am referring to SOME rock fans, by no means all. But look at the “Disco Demolition” night at Chicago’s Comiskey Park on July 12, 1979. At the end of the White Sox / Detroit Tigers game, a crate of disco records was exploded in the middle of the field, and the night ended in a riot. It was a prime example of the predominately white, male, straight backlash against disco. Wikipedia article here.
Now, it’s ALSO worth noting that Lennon actually embraced quite a bit of “soft” music throughout his career, and that the “Double Fantasy” album, as others have pointed out, is full of songs that 1970s rockist critics might have derided as “soft.” I think the “granny music” snipe was the emotion of the moment speaking, far more than a settled stance that Lennon had. The Beatles loved “girl group” music, as their choice of covers shows, and it’s important that they were often described as unmasculine and threatening to the conservative order for that reason (see William Buckley, among others).
@Nancy, this is all 100% right I think. And here’s ANOTHER layer:
Much of what gave “glam rock” its power was how it allowed for a certain kind of male rocker to keep his masc card while indulging in performance. Bowie, Bolan, The New York Dolls — this was a coopting of female presentation by men which allowed these artists more artistic freedom and the frisson of rebellion. Even Elton John’s weird and whimsical stage costumes from the mid-70s are part of this trend, as are the hyper-theatrical stage shows of groups like Gabriel-era Genesis. Isn’t a lot of prog-rock musical hall? What does “granny music” even mean when you have songs like Bowie’s “Kooks” or LPs like Nilsson’s The Point or groups like Roxy Music? Music hall? Yes. Theatrical? Without a doubt. But as long as you had a penis, and made it a bit rocky and sexually ambiguous or Weimar-y, it was fine. Lennon’s “granny music” comment was always about Paul’s MASCULINITY, and Lennon’s own anger at not being able to write a standard like “Yesterday.” (I personally don’t consider that a flaw, but if I were Lennon, I could see him being pissed about it. Cue the famous story about the violinist at the restaurant.)
If Paul had dressed up like Ziggy Stardust and mimed fellating Henry McCullough, his music might be perceived very differently from 1970-75; yet isn’t a lot of Bowie’s “Hunky Dory” straight-up granny music? Of course it is. I’m currently listening to side one and it’s positively grannerific — but with Crowleyian/Nietzsche lyrics. So is Lennon railing against Bowie? Of course not; he loved him, because Bowie was sexually ambiguous, occulty, ever-so-slightly Fascist, and therefore cool.
I’d argue that glam rock was inherently anti-female, in the same way that that some types of male homoerotics seek to replace the biological female with a “better” male version. This type of thinking isn’t the same as drag, but you can see it, sometimes, in drag performers. According to classicist Mary Beard, it’s as old as the ancient Greeks.
I’d also argue that it was viciously anti-female in that the privilege to gender-bend was only given to male rockers.
Finally, I think one could argue that Lennon had a neurotic fear of “softness,” which extended to how he viewed, and treated, women, right up to the end of his life. You can’t laud Lennon for treating Ono as an equal partner (yes, John, duh, women and men are equal beings, and that wasn’t news to EVERYBODY; thanks for your service, though), you can’t laud him for recognizing this basic truth while primarily valuing Ono’s “male” characteristics. Her drive, strength, toughness, business acumen — all great things in a person, but the lack of them (in, say, Cyn) doesn’t invalidate a person. Lennon says “she’s like a bloke” and means it as a compliment because, well, to him “like a bloke” is good and “like not a bloke” is bad. That’s encoded in the “granny music” comment, and to deny that is to willfully miss Lennon’s point. To be old was bad, to be female was bad, and to be old and female (and thus not sexually available or attractive) is the worst. That was the message John was delivering, and Paul got it. And the only thing Paul could really say — “What the fuck is wrong with music that grannies like?” — would put him outside the entire rock scene as it existed 1970-73. Lennon knew that, and it’s why he said it.
I wish Lennon and Bowie had written more together. Great combo.
Agreed. I always swear I hear Lennon’s voice on “Changes,” but I suppose I don’t.
I just looked up Lester Bangs, hoping to find an effeminate man who projected his own self-loathing onto others. But that’s not the case. He does, however, resemble the serial killer in the movie Maniac.