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Tickets to ride

Tens of thousands of people have just paid up to £85 for a ticket to see Macca at Anfield. Not bad for a 65-year-old whose output is often dismissed by critics favouring John Lennon. So who was the real talent?

Published on November 13th 2007.

Tickets to ride


Lennon was the founder member of the Beatles and meeting Paul McCartney triggered a songwriting synergy between the two. But would McCartney have been in a band at all, had he not met Lennon and the Quarrymen at St Peter's church fete in Woolton?

Both individually and together, Lennon and McCartney represent the two finest songwriters we will ever know, however Lennon for me is first. Why? Two key words in my argument are innovation and lyrics. Lennon always retained a raw edge and inspiration to his music which immediately stemmed from his personal experiences and relationships, which he can convey to the listener in a technically complex yet deceptively simple mix of music and words.

As Lennon's solo career developed he looked deeper into
the power of music
as an inspirational
and powerful voice for society...McCartney could not compete with this level of emotion and insight
on a solo level

Strawberry Fields Forever is perfect backward glance at earlier memories of Liverpool, which paved the way for the growing psychedelic movements in music and lyrics showing a distinct Lewis Carroll influence. Paul, literally on the flipside, pens Penny Lane, a perfect reminiscence but lyrically and musically safe.

In terms of lyrical prowess, let's take Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite, a song inspired by a circus poster. The lyrics paint a full story of the event, the music is arranged in waltz timing which is completely profound and beautiful. This is a musical and lyrical feat that Paul could never really aspire to.

Now, let’s look at the real Beatles innovation album, Revolver. McCartney puts forward Eleanor Rigby and Yellow Submarine, standards, no doubt, but again safe. Lennon produces Tomorrow Never Knows, technically brilliant and pioneering the psychedelic genre.

Personally, the real differences become apparent when the songwriting partners split up. Lennon immediately produced the Plastic Ono Band album and, cited by many as the most heartfelt recordings of all time, Mother and God, both towering outpourings of raw emotion and lyrical prowess. And Paul? Uncle Albert and Teddy Boy.

As Lennon solo career developed, he looked deeper into the power of music as an inspirational and powerful voice for society. All evident in Imagine, a crushing masterpiece and spiritual statement, Cold Turkey, a biting sentiment that still moves listeners today, and How Do You Sleep? a backwards and bitter look at his relationship with Paul.

McCartney could not compete with this level of emotion and insight from a solo standpoint, writing alone and for Wings and producing catchy yet lightweight Band On The Run and Live and Let Die, a Bond classic but lyrically weak.

I will reiterate that Paul is a near perfect songwriter, however he lacks the edge which affords true innovation and lyrical descriptiveness. This edge allows Lennon to truly look into the listener's soul. I believe that Lennon’s influence in the partnership years promoted Paul to be better than he could have been alone, which holds true when you look closely at the subsequent solo offerings.

And the true test of the two writers? The Christmas song. Lennon: Happy Xmas War is Over; McCartney: Wonderful Christmas Time. Which one would you rather be made to listen to through Christmas dinner?


Let me be clear, I love the Beatles – the music and the phenomenon, but am fed up with Macca bashing. Had McCartney died in 1980 he would be viewed as the deity of the Fab Four. His only crime has been to live too long, dye his hair a dodgy colour and attempt to lead as normal a life as someone can with his money, talent and fame.

Who was the leader of the Beatles? Initially Lennon, but very soon McCartney became the driving force. Lennon, although talented, was fundamentally lazy. It was his rivalry with his buddy that spurred him on, even in his solo years.

You cannot forget a magnificent and timeless solo output that included My Love, Band on the Run and Maybe I'm Amazed... Who can name a memorable track from Mind Games or from Walls & Bridges, other than # 9 Dream?

If you analyse the cream of the Beatles output 1966 -1968, it was McCartney in charge. Sergeant Pepper was his concept and project, as were Magical Mystery Tour and Abbey Road (the breathtaking Side Two medley being almost wholly penned by him).

He was by far the most talented musician, and could as easily switch from his exemplary bass playing to playing lead guitar to piano, to drums.

Always first to arrive at the recording studio he would on occasion write and record whole songs on his own (Why Don’t We Do It In The Road and Come and Get It – which he created and produced in an hour then gave the completed demo to Badfinger to copy).

As for being the avant-garde Beatle, Macca was the single-man-about-London in 1966 when Lennon was married and living in Weybridge. It was McCartney who helped set up the Indica Gallery and later encouraged John to attend the exhibition there where he met Yoko. It was McCartney experimenting with backward tape loops and psychedelia whilst Lennon lived in the suburbs.

Cutting edge protest songs? Lennon might have written Power to the People and Happy Xmas War is Over, but McCartney had both Give Ireland Back to the Irish and Hi,Hi, Hi banned by the BBC.

Yes he wrote the Frog Chorus (a children's song, don't forget), but at least there was a melody, unlike the dire Sometime in New York City or Two Virgins. You cannot forget a magnificent and timeless solo output that included My Love, Band on the Run and Maybe I'm Amazed, Listen to What the Man Said, Juniors Farm, Another Day, Every Night, C-Moon, No More Lonely Nights, even Let ‘Em In.

Who can name a memorable track from Mind Games or from Walls & Bridges, other than # 9 Dream? Both albums were pretty lame.

By 1974, Lennon was pretty much spent. 1975’s Rock & Roll doesn’t count. He then disappeared for six years until 1980’s Double Fantasy which lacked any of the fire of his earlier output. Double Fantasy was panned by the NME on first review. After he had been shot dead it was re-reviewed and cynically given five stars .

Paul McCartney has been a victim of his own longevity. Let us not forget that he is the most successful songwriter of all time and that he has produced some of the the most brilliant pop music ever written.

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31 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Dr RobertOctober 31st 2007.

About 6 or 7 years ago there was an article in a magazine (mojo or uncut i think) which asked 50 well known musicians to list their favourite/most infuential Beatles song (Bryan Ferry, Ian McCulloch, Thom Yorke and many other WELL RESPECTED musicians). Basically out of the 50, 45 of them chose a JOHN LENNON song. I think theres the defining answer to this question. THE MUSICIANS (those in the know) Have spoken. John Lennon wins Hands Down!

Beatle GeorgeOctober 31st 2007.

What about me?

AnonymousOctober 31st 2007.

Well, the question of which was the better songwriter is academic and self-defeating, really. VERY subjective. Both had their highs and lows, well documented here, but the fact remains that we had BOTH of them, and we should celebrate the fact.To decide on a "winner" is to dismiss the "loser" - and no-one gains from that. They both produced some magnificent music, individually and collectively. Let's not forget, too, that a certain third member (George Harrison, I believe he was called) weighed in with some stuff, a bit less in amounts maybe, that was the equal of JL & PMc's best.

Pop-PickerOctober 31st 2007.


Lovely RitaOctober 31st 2007.

All those people paying all that dosh to see Paul after all these years. They may have disbanded but I suspect lennon wouldn't have had that pulling power still. Anyways I'm goin!

Not surprisedOctober 31st 2007.

They've got Ringo at the Echo Arena, but most of the people who've bought tickets for that will soon find themselves feeling ripped off because it's the opening night and every freeloader in town has been invited for the champagne and canapes at no cost to them at all.

Sexy SadieOctober 31st 2007.

As a musicain (OK perhaps not a succesful one but one all the same) I have to chip in and say that John's music and lyrics in the Beatles pushed boundaries and was innovative. Paul had his moments too but much of it is "music by numbers". Their solo careers saw Paul being much more succesful while John largely suffered from Phil Spectors awful production. But I think George Harrison's solo material is better than both of them.

Mr KiteOctober 31st 2007.

Well they would say a Lennon song because that's the "cool" way to go. Like silly schoolkids running with the Macca bashing pack. When people actually sit down and think about it privately they realise the Lennon thing is complete bollocks

leon kayOctober 31st 2007.

thats one hell of a price to pay 85 squids plus £18 booking fee for that old has been Still I suppose he needs the dosh for the divorce settlement

leon kayOctober 31st 2007.

I thought the Beatles disbanded in 1969 PLEEEZE move on for the citys sake .Considering they were poo pooed after the announcement they were bigger than JC hey hoe thank goodness for Ken Dodd

Jim McCabeOctober 31st 2007.

Lennon had the wit, humour & wordplay. McCartney had the "wholesome" appeal, PR skills & gift for catchy melodies. I suspect that were Lennon around today, he would be a sorry shadow of his former self, just as Macca, Dylan, Townshend, etc. are.Personally, I always thought that Lennon WAS the Beatles. That said, however, Lennon was responsible for probably the most risible song in pop music history, "Imagine". "Imagine no possessions", yeah, right, mate.The McCartney concert at Anfield looks likely to be an overblown, overrated & cringe-inducing exercise in parochial Scouse nostalgia; if 2008 is to genuinely showcase the city's music, it should focus on the likes of The Coral, The Zutons, Candi Payne, etc., rather than the clanking ghosts of its past.

YokoOctober 31st 2007.

Just got one thing to say: Frog Song

leon kayOctober 31st 2007.

I thought the Beatles disbanded in 1969 PLEEEZE move on for the citys sake .Considering they were poo pooed after the announcement they were bigger than JC hey hoe thank goodness for Ken Dodd

Uncle AlbertOctober 31st 2007.

Had the two of them not met well who knows? Would they have succeeded as solo artists or in other bands? Macca had performed before(with Brother Mike). He was definately more driven of the two. He was wrinting songs before John - When I'm 64 (when he was 15) and I Lost My Little Girl. Anyway who cares - collectively they were fabulous

AnonymousOctober 31st 2007.

It is a nonsense to say that Lennon was the more talented. Before his death it was a completely different story and anyone who remembers back then will know that Lennon's solo music was rarely played on radio. Had McCartney been the one who had been shot instead, I don't think Lennon would gone on to sell out Anfield or have such a long and productive career. The people have always loved Paul

Mark LiddellOctober 31st 2007.

Give me Lennon anyday

emmaOctober 31st 2007.

i've been travelling to the Manchester one for years and believe me, Liverpool should be very excited

Dr Winston O'BoogieOctober 31st 2007.

Personally if I never heard Happy Christmas War is Over again ever in my life it wouldn't be a bad thing

George MartinOctober 31st 2007.

The Frog Chorus was a song for kids, as was let us not forget Yellow Submarine also written by McCartney but no-one criticises that

Maghull70October 31st 2007.

LENNON was the genius. Plain and simple.You just have to listen to the White Album and hear the difference between Lennon and McCartney. Lennons songs are thought provoking, emotive, intelligent and somewhat dark both musically and lyrically. Pauls are mainly wet soppy love songs. You cant compare the likes of Johns "Happiness is a Warm Gun", "Dear Prudence", "Julia" "Revolution" or "Cry Baby Cry" with Pauls embarrassing offerings of "Martha My Dear", "Wild Honey Pie", "Goodnight" or "Mother Natures Son". George's songs are better than Pauls on theis album. Pauls only half decent tracks were "Helter Skelter" and "Back in the USSR". Yes you could say Paul was a better "MUSICIAN" but genius goes beyond technical ability.

Mr MustardOctober 31st 2007.

Brian Ferry? Well respected? Well f*** me!

V. I. Lenin AirportOctober 31st 2007.

"thats one hell of a price to pay 85 squids plus £18 booking fee for that old has been Still I suppose he needs the dosh for the divorce settlement" - Ah, will the lovely Lady McCartney be there too?

John LennonOctober 31st 2007.

Difficult one..Christ you know it ain't easy. Okay the Walrus was Paul

The Sun KingOctober 31st 2007.

Out of all the Beatles McCartney has never forgotten the city. He's back every New Year and has always played here on his tours. When we didn't have a venue big enough he built one.

DaveOctober 31st 2007.

Lennon for me, every time

Fly on the wallOctober 31st 2007.

Who are what is MOJO and why are we ranting on a story from about a year ago?

Mad MaxwellOctober 31st 2007.

I love Paul McCartney. Always have done, but I didn't apply for these vastly overpriced tickets for the Liverpool Sound because he is past his best and I want to remember him when he could hit the top notes. I'm sorry, but I mean is this the best they can do in Capital of Culture year?

Pop-PickerOctober 31st 2007.

Fly on the wall

John Lennon AirportOctober 31st 2007.

I second that

AnonymousOctober 31st 2007.

It will always be Paul for me. Lennon had well run out of steam by 1975. People always churn out that stupid moronic line about the frog chorus. It's the sign of knowing if someone is a dickhead or not

ChrisOctober 31st 2007.

if one takes the Beatles catalogue in complete isolation, then there really is little to choose between the two song smiths. Granted, McCartney produced more social commentary and was more the voice of the people of Liverpool, history showing that such song styles have longevity (The Streets and Lily Allen being modern day proponents of this style) but I just can't take the work in isolation. It would be like ignoring what Sven did before managing England and what he he is doing now for Manchester City. The body of work is all important. Therefore, I provide the following evidence of slipping from excellence. The lilting Scottish 'Anthem' Mull of Kintyre (look up Bagpipe Dirge in google and the first hit will be Mull !) and the aquatic classic, The Frog Chorus. To add insult to injury, Macca has not aged well and should quit whilst he still has a fortune (quit limb depleted relationships, quit music, quit bathing in moisturiser - it's not working). Whilst I agree that the Beatles had their combined moments of brevity, to paraphrase the glorious Prince, nothing compares to frog chorus. It is with sadness then that I reiterate my stance that Lennon was a better song writer than McCartney. Who knows what drivel he would have created had he lived - but for that we will never know. I rest my case.

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