Composing The Beatles Songbook: Lennon and McCartney 1966-1970

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I sat down to watch Composing The Beatles Songbook: Lennon and McCartney 1966-1970. Perhaps due to his life and death, I suspect a good many people give John Lennon the lion’s share of songwriting credit when they think of The Beatles. But this film was particularly McCartney focused and it was interesting to hear how the work was split during this time period.

Let me first say that the film was mostly interviews with writers and critics. If you’re looking for a lot of archival video of the Fab Four, then I suggest you watch HELP! or A Hard Day’s Night, because you won’t find it here. Composing The Beatles Songbook is aimed at die-hard Beatles fans or music fans in general. But if you go into it with those expectations, you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

As far as the songwriting credit goes, understandably, many of the early songs were written by John and Paul together. As an unknown band, the goal was trying to define what exactly The Beatles sound was. It’s interesting to note that one person interviewed considers Rubber Soul (1965) to be the last great Beatles album that was a collaborative effort as a band. Albums after Rubber Soul began to show signs of being more of a Paul album or more John.

Surprising to hear was that John Lennon’s disinterest can be heard in the band’s music  as early as St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967). Allegedly, John is quoted as saying that St. Pepper was Paul’s album (in a complimentary way as in he did a good job with it). But, by the time they were recording what would become The White Album (1968), John and Paul were writing and recording simultaneously and separately with different engineers which can clearly be heard in the final product.

By the time Let It Be (1970) was recorded, John Lennon had all but conceded The Beatles songwriting to Paul McCartney. Surprisingly, despite the internal turmoil, The Beatles managed to record one last record. Considered one of their most tightly constructed albums, it could be speculated that Abbey Road (1969), was intended purposefully as a final farewell. Although released before Let It Be, Abbey Road was recorded last.

There’s no arguing that Lennon and McCartney had distinctly different songwriting styles, but its interesting to note that credit is given to McCartney as having the hardest rocking Beatles song, Helter Skelter which was meant to be the “loudest, dirtiest song” that The Who was supposed to have written in “I Can See for Miles.” The filmmakers also dismiss the popular belief that Yoko Ono broke up The Beatles, admitting that while she had an influence over him, he was becoming increasingly withdrawn after Rubber Soul.

Whomever you choose to believe, the fact remains that The Beatles had two (and arguably four) very distinct and talented personalities. A band of that nature is never intended to last forever, even if the public expects or demands it. Regardless of each others songwriting skill, both John Lennon and Paul McCartney found it difficult in their solo careers to live up their creation called The Beatles.

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