From the horizon of the sunny, charismatic melodies of Paul McCartney’s musical creations, to the valleys of the dark and mysterious undertones of John Lennon, one thing is for sure; together they made magic. But how do two people with such differences create something that works in such unison together? Most Beatles fans know that McCartney and Lennon wrote most of the songs, but few realize it was these vast differences between them that created their bewitching chemistry.
If these two were alike in any way, it was in their competitive nature. It was this competitive nature (with one another) that pushed them to improve their writing, and make their songs better and better. As one of the world’s most successful song writing partnerships, their differences complimented the task at hand. They were the answer to each other’s questions. If McCartney would write “it’s getting better all the time,” then Lennon would write “it can’t get no worse.” This is a perfect example of how their differences worked so wonderfully together, and of the different perspectives they had on life; but where did these differences come from?
One difference was in their backgrounds. Paul McCartney was raised in a family with values and morals. He had two hard working parents that he respected and loved. He was surrounded by warmth, love, and support from his family. His mother was a nurse and his father, a humble salesman. Although they weren’t poor, they were not rich either. McCartney’s parents always aspired to a better life, and they taught Paul and his brother to always try and do better, to surpass excellence in all that they do. Perhaps this is where McCartney’s competitive edge began.
In contrast, John Lennon’s childhood and adolescent years had a much more somber tone than that of Paul McCartney. Lennon’s family was a broken one. At age five, he was asked by his father to choose between him and his mother. When the broken hearted child chose his mother, it was the last he would see of his father until he was an adult. Shortly after, he was abandoned by his mother as well, and left in the care of an aunt. He grew to be a troubled young man, and rebelled and made trouble wherever he could. Although feeling a desperate need for love and affection, he feigned a hardness of heart that kept him safe from all of the hurt and loss that he had experienced at such a young age. It isn’t hard to imagine that this is where Lennon’s cynical outlook on life, and the tone that eventually defined his musical style, originated.
Another difference between these two extraordinary writer/musicians is their personalities. Paul McCartney brought a lot of warmth and charisma to the writing collaboration. He had a lot of positive energy that found its way into his guitar and his words. When listening to a song by Paul McCartney, one might either find themselves tapping their feet and feeling jovial, or they may be wiping away tears from a sad love song. Either way, he always let his music portray the affection he had in his heart.
While Paul McCartney was charismatic and energetic, John Lennon was more rebellious and cynical. Although he too was very much capable of love and affection, when it came to his musical styling, he seemed to be more determined to go against the grain. He did have a comical side, although it was usually lovingly layered in tones of realism. For one who seemed so rebellious, he was also very insecure. He would purposely shock the world with his statements and his antics, and then sit behind closed doors and read the headlines and worry. Most of his behavior was only a mask to hide his sadness and anger. When listening to a song by John Lennon, one can usually hear the pain of his past bleeding into his melodies.
Both McCartney and Lennon were average musicians, but their musical styles and ability to write music together was nothing less than extraordinary. It is hard to imagine with all of these differences in backgrounds and personalities that their writing styles would in any way be compatible. When Paul McCartney wrote music, he brought a passion to it the likes of which few musicians have ever attained. He had a charming and magnetic energy that resonated with each note. But, in order to compose the magical creations that these two did, his joviality needed to be counter-acted by Lennon’s poignancy.
Whereas McCartney was more of a main-stream, commercialized artist that went with the flow and fed the fans what they wanted to hear, John Lennon had more of an independent style of writing. He did not write to please anyone but himself. He wrote songs of love, songs of rebellion, songs of loss, and songs of peace. His melancholy, defiance and cynicism can be heard in many of the words that he wrote. He brought sophistication to the partnership that if left without, the sounds may have never transcended average musicianship to that of musical phenomena.
Perhaps the differences and the sheer genius that accompanies them cannot be better explained than in the song that they co-wrote, “A Day in the Life.” With the somber and mournful introduction to the song by Lennon, and the almost frightfully high-spirited take over by McCartney in the middle, anyone can see how the astronomical differences between them created something so magical, so wonderfully delicious that it left their fans constantly hungering for more. In looking at all of the polar differences in their backgrounds, personalities, and writing styles, it is clear to see that these differences are what created the timeless sound that we have all come to know and love.
Kane, Larry. Lennon Revealed. Running Press 2005
Miles, Barry. Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now. Secker & Warburg, 1997.
Spinesi, Stephen J. and Lewis, Michael. 100 Best Beatles Songs: A Passionate Fan’s Guide, Black Dog & Amp; Leventhal, 2009.