Worthy White House Rock
Was John Lennon really superior to Paul McCartney? Defending McCartney's WhiteHouse Gershwin Award
I can hear the snickers now from the critics who have been sharpening their knives for years. A songwriting award for Paul McCartney?
After all, it’s always been fashionable to knock his supposedly simplified lyrics or to have a go at his solo career, and there are some folks who steadfastly contend that McCartney was the inferior half of the Lennon/McCartney combo.
So when Sir Paul stepped up to accept the Library Of Congress’ Gershwin Award for Popular Song at the White House Wednesday evening with President Obama looking on, those same critics suddenly found more fodder for outrage. As a Beatlemaniac myself, I’m here to tell those doubters they need to take another listen, because Paul McCartney is as deserving as they come.
Let’s take on some of the criticisms one by one. First of all, there’s the misconception that McCartney can’t write lyrics. The same people who make this criticism usually have a narrow view of lyric-writing, feeling that the more complex the words, the better the result. But while McCartney doesn’t go for the lyrical depth of a Dylan or a Costello, his attention to metrical flow is unrivaled in rock or pop.
That's why, when coupled with his prodigious melodic talents, his Beatles' classics roll off the tongue with such sing-along ease. Maybe Paul could never write “Like A Rolling Stone”, but I don’t think Dylan could write “All My Loving” either.
And Jerry Seinfeld — the man who gave us "master of my domain" — agrees. "Sir Paul, you have written some of the most beautiful music ever heard by humans in this world," Seinfeld said at the ceremony, which included performances from the Jonas Brothers, Faith Hill, Stevie Wonder and McCartney's own, "Got to Get You Into My Life."
Now about that solo career. Maybe the biggest drawback about McCartney on his own is that he lacks a good editor. That has resulted in a lot of so-so songs slipping onto disc throughout the years, leading to some mediocre albums. I’ll concede that. But you, cynical ones, then have to concede in turn that his string of solo singles in the '70s and '80s is pretty staggering, especially considering that those songs more than hold their own with the Beatles' classics in Paul’s set lists.
Plus, Band On The Run, Tug Of War, and Flowers In The Dirt are all consistently excellent albums from the solo oeuvre. Most amazing of all is the fact that, deprived of any radio play for many years now, McCartney has become quite the album artist, releasing a pair of standouts, Chaos & Creation In The Back Yard and Memory Almost Full, which have earned him some of the best reviews of his career. More people need to hear these.
As for the eternal Team John and Team Paul camps that inevitably and eternally square off in the Beatles fandom universe, that’s a battle that I choose not to fight. The Beatles success would have been impossible had any of the quartet been removed from the equation. It’s de rigueur for critics to come down on Lennon’s side of the John-or-Paul debate, but is it really that cut-and-dried?
McCartney gave us “Hey Jude”, “Eleanor Rigby”, the bulk of the Abbey Road closing suite, along with innumerable other Beatles' classics. That’s a pretty hefty legacy. I’m not denying John’s fantastic output, both with and without the band, but Paul’s efforts shouldn’t take a backseat to anything.
It’s human nature to dwell on what’s gone. As a result, it’s my perception that, these days, John Lennon and even George Harrison are often held in higher regard, as songwriters, than Paul McCartney. That’s an argument for the ages. But this moment at the White House (which was taped to be broadcast on PBS July 28) is not about looking back.
It’s about honoring a man who has given us a colossal amount of unforgettable music. Anyone who wants to argue that point, well, don’t bother with ‘em.
Save your breath to sing along to your favorite McCartney tune, if you can possibly narrow it down.