Top 5 Lennon/McCartney Collaborations

lennon_mccartneyI realized a little too late, perhaps because I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, that this week would have been an optimal week to due a list of Top 5 Beatles Love Songs.  D’oh!  Oh well, another week.  I don’t like to play by the rules, anyway!

John Lennon and Paul McCartney are indisputably one of the greatest songwriting teams of all time.  I, and many others, would easily say the greatest.

Though simplifications of their overall styles and personalities, with Paul’s storytelling and John’s introspection, and John’s grit and Paul’s polish, the two were opposites who regularly complimented each other beautifully.

And yet, while the two were a team, most of us realize that beyond the earliest days of their career, John and Paul did not do a whole lot of sitting down and writing songs together.  There are John songs, and there are Paul songs, and though they all bear the Lennon/McCartney credit, it’s because Lennon/McCartney is a trademark, in many ways, as much as anything.  (And this is why, as a personal quirk of mine, I get really annoyed when I see something like “Eleanor Rigby, by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.”  No, it was by Lennon/McCartney.)

But that does not mean the two were not collaborators in many other ways.  Though they would not, as John described it, sit nose-to-nose as they did when they wrote She Loves You, they did indeed work together.  And even if they did not actually write the songs together, they did act together as songwriters.

From Paul writing the amazing, driving bass line for Come Together, to John suggesting the I love you, I love you, I love you bit for Michelle, the contributions that they each made to each other’s work are endless.  When one of them did not have the answer to the problem with a song, the other almost always did.  It was the true beauty of their partnership, and what both of their music so often missed after the breakup of the band.  In many ways, these contributions are so subtle that we cannot even know when and where they do exist.  But in many, we can.

That is what this list is based off of.  It is not a list of Please Please Me’s, or songs written together*, but of songs where a collaboration was formed by one making a significant contribution to the other’s song.  It’s a list of songs written by either John or Paul alone, which were then saved, transformed and/or truly perfected by the other.

1. We Can Work It Out

Ah, this song.  It’s easily one of my all-time favorite Beatles songs.  I personally think that it’s easily among the best.  And it’s also easily among Paul’s very best.  The ultimate peak of his catchy and truly infectious potential.

And yet.  That constant dilemma for Paul enters in: John Lennon.  It’s hard to be incredibly awesome when you’ve got someone even more awesome always standing next to you.  And it’s hard to hate on the other person’s awesomeness when they only serve to make you more awesome yourself.

Paul crafted an utterly amazing song here, but John fucking perfected it.  And, in truly poetic form, it also reflects the two of them perfectly.  As John himself once happily noted, you have Paul singing a story about a fight, but declaring how really, everything is going to be okay, all puppies and sunshine — and then John comes in and wants to talk about real life.  Not to mention how we’re all going to die.

And that change in rhythm from 4/4 to 4/3!  Dear lord.  So far as I’ve read, that shit had rarely, if ever, been done before in popular music, and it was the start of one of Lennon’s signature songwriting moves.  It works beautifully.  And yes, that vocal of his, too.  Paul turns in such a great performance, but again, John just knocks him out of the park.

And together, with Paul’s beautiful baby that John raised to be a fit young individual, they create pop perfection.

2. A Day In The Life

One day, John wrote a truly amazing song, haunting, mesmerizing and beautiful.  But he didn’t have a middle.  Three verses, yes, but the song needed something.  For a song this good, it needed something big.  But what?

Paul McCartney, apparently.  While John was more likely to write full songs all at once, or mostly complete songs anyway, contrary to everything else that their respective characters say about them, Paul as just as likely to have snippets of unfinished musical ideas just sitting around, all dressed up with nowhere to go.  He went through his notebooks, and he pulled one out.  Woke up, fell out of bed . . . it was so strange, almost nonsensical at first, and yet so simultaneously perfect.  What better for a song that already sounds on multiple levels like a dream?

And together, John and Paul created the “orchestral orgasm” directly preceding Paul’s bridge, and closing the song.  Then and there, the great, great song was transformed into what I dub as the greatest song of all time.

I always have and always will think of this song as John’s song.  But let’s face it: it wouldn’t be A Day In The Life without Paul.

3. Tomorrow Never Knows

Yet again, John wrote a song.  This one was even complete!  But still it needed something.  So far, it was just a minute and a half of Indian-inspired, single chord drone with trance-like lyrics on top.  How to draw it out?  And though already hypnotic, how to draw listeners in and ensure they’d never forget?

If there is any credence at all to Paul’s insolent claim that no, he was the “experimental” Beatle, it is here.  There are so many people influencing this song — from Ringo’s drumming, to Geoff Emerick’s decision to run John’s voice through a Leslie speaker, to Ken Townsend’s very fucking invention of automatic double-tracking (ADT) — but Paul’s influence cannot be denied.  He brought in the tape loops.

Brought into the studio in a little plastic bag, an image I have always found rather amusing, Paul had been experimenting with tape loops at home by taking the erase head off of his tape recorder and continuously spooling the tape, saturating the sound.  And in one of the best suggestions of all time, he suggested adding them to the song. To get the tape loops onto the track, the 1/4 inch wide pieces were individually spooled using pencils by engineers from all over Abbey Road studios, while mixed into the track in real-time.  The result is bizarre, disquieting . . . and absolutely marvelous.

4. I’ve Got a Feeling

Paul wrote a good rock song.  John had a great little unfinished song sitting around called “Everybody Had a Hard Year” that nevertheless could have never stood on its own.  But combine them, and it apparently works perfectly.  And ta-da, you’ve got yourself some classic Lennon/McCartney.  It’s a rare, and perhaps entirely unique, instance in which Paul rocks out, and John mellows things out.

The fact that this is quite arguably the last true Lennon/McCartney collaboration ever, unless you want to cheat and count Free As a Bird, also makes for a very apt and very bittersweet pick.

5. Hello Goodbye

Yeah, I’m going to get called out on Paul-hate again, but I’m still going to say it.  This song just isn’t very good.  While certainly catchy, it’s lacking in both musical and lyrical quality.  Its cuteness doesn’t make up for it’s blandness.  There’s just nothing there.  Paul can do so much better.

And then John comes in after the false ending.  And yes, this is probably the one instance where he really did just save a song from the ranks of supreme mediocrity.  Because you know what everyone I’ve ever talked to has said is their favorite part?  The same part that’s my favorite.  Hela, heba hello-a. It’s stupid and meaningless, but it’s fun as hell.  You can’t get it out of your head.  You’ll be humming it for hours.  It makes you want to dance.  And John created it while just fucking around on piano.  You beat that.

Also, the video is just hilarious.  And no, I’m not just talking about them dressed up in the Beatle suits or on the admittedly funny dancing at the end.  I’m talking about George.  Seriously, watch him closely.  (Especially at :38.)  He looks like he wants to kill Paul — painfully.

And the honorable mention goes to . . .

6. Hey Jude

This is probably a pretty quirky pick.  After all, this is entirely, undeniably Paul’s songs.  It’s one of his most well-known, and if I had to choose a song which most encapsulates Paul McCartney the songwriter, this would be it.  As far as I know, John didn’t write a single note, or a single word.

But he did rescue the best line in the whole song.

The movement you need is on your shoulder. As Paul himself explains in the Beatles Anthology, as he played the song for John the first time, he mentioned mid-performance that he was going to “fix” the line.  John stopped him in his tracks and said “you won’t!”  When Paul said that it didn’t make any sense, and anyway he’d already used the word “shoulder,” John adamantly declared that it was the best line in the song.  And he was right. So right, in fact, that Paul said he thinks of John and gets a little tear in his eye every time he sings the lyric.

For those who would ask me, as they have before, what it means, I offer my interpretation.  I usually describe it as the ruby slipper phenomenon — the thing you needed was with you all along.  The movement you need is on your shoulder means that you have the strength within you to make a change in your own life, to take a step forward and move on — you just have to choose to use it.

And what might your top five be, dear audience?

*This is, however, be a list I’d be interested in for a future date.  Any suggestions on what to call it?

Previous installments:

Top 5 Beatles Rock Band Songs
Top 5 John Lennon Vocals
Top 5 Anti-Feminist Beatles Songs
Top 5 George Harrison Songs
Top 5 Paul McCartney Vocals

0 thoughts on “Top 5 Lennon/McCartney Collaborations

  1. frau sally benz

    You know the thing about these collaborations that’s so genius is that it seems like this was the way the songs were meant to be. Even though I know the “woke up, fell out of bed” part was plugged in, it strangely sounds like it’s just the natural progression of the song. Same thing with the added bits in the other songs.

    I would probably reshuffle your list: A Day In The Life, I’ve Got A Feeling, We Can Work It Out as top three.

    For a possibly unconventional pick, I choose Ticket to Ride as #4. Even though it’s a John song, the thing I’ve always loved most about that song is the riff it opens with and that you continue to hear throughout the song — and that’s Paul’s. I don’t know why I love that song so much, but I do.

    Not sure what my #5 would be, but if Eleanor Rigby was a collab. (as John said and Paul denied), I’d put it in there for sure. Since at this point, we’ll have to just take Paul’s word for it, I suppose we’ll never really know.

    1. Cara Post author

      Yeah, I meant to mention it but since this post already runs 1700 words (!), I didn’t. I specifically ruled out both Eleanor Rigby and In My Life for consideration since they’re the two big controversial ones. Paul claims that John did virtually nothing on Eleanor Rigby while John claimed he wrote the last two verses, and John claimed that Paul wrote the harmonies on In My Life, while Paul claims that he helped write the whole damn song, including the lyrics and that killer melody. Since we don’t know, and both of them are known for lying to make themselves look better . . . I just excluded them both.

      And I didn’t know that about Ticket to Ride! Really?

  2. frau sally benz

    And I didn’t know that about Ticket to Ride! Really?

    I read it in a book once and then I saw it again in a completely different book, so it stuck with me just cuz I’ve always loved that song. Not sure if Paul actually played it (I’d say George did? I dunno), because both sources said he came up with it, but didn’t explicitly say he played it.

    1. Cara Post author

      No, I’ve never seen that before! What a great resource! I greatly use Mark Lewisohn’s book The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, which is excellent . . . but not as nicely indexed (and also out of print and very expensive, for those who don’t already have it). I’m bookmarking this now . . . thanks!

      And welcome to the blog! Beatles enthusiasts always welcome! 🙂

  3. Erunyauve

    In the video of Hello Goodbye, George not only looks murderous at times, he also looks frequently like he would rather be anywhere than where he is. Paul and John are bouncing around, Ringo is banging the drums, and George has a look on his face like, “Damn, I need to get away from here!”
    But then, he looks like that in a lot of videos of them performing.

  4. francis

    in my opinion the top 5 beatles songs are; a day in a life, strawberry fields forever, here there and everywhere, hey jude, and across the universe. in fact those songs are real masterpieces by the beatles and quality wise it’s the best.

    1. Cara Post author

      Well I think you’ve got the top two right, anyway. But this thread is about top Lennon/McCartney collaborations, as outlined above — not just plain old top 5 Lennon/McCartneys. Any opinion there?

  5. Pingback: Top 5 Beatles Love Songs : The Curvature

  6. Pingback: 34: We Can Work It Out : The Curvature

  7. Dave

    Does the other have to use “fucking” to sound cool? I like his analysis except in reviewing the songs, is there any reason to put Paul down compared to John. Paul stands up to John every which way as a songwriter. He may not have been “cool” but he was cooler than people acknowledge, and John wrote a lot of cheesy crap as well as solid sentimental songs. They both rocked and once Paul dies, people will realize that Paul was every bit as genius as John was. He may not have posed naked on album covers, got into a bag or hung out with a calculating lady named Yoko, but he was damned good and innovative as well.

    1. Cara Post author

      Approving this comment just for the lols. I won’t explicitly comment on the glaring error in word choice, but will note that Dave apparently assumes every writer in the world to be male, even on a blog that has the word feminist in its banner. Good times. If you want to talk about “uncool,” though, Dave, Yoko-hate definitely is. So 1970s.

  8. Nona

    “Not sure if Paul actually played it (I’d say George did? I dunno), because both sources said he came up with it, but didn’t explicitly say he played it.”

    Old post but, it’s my understanding from what I’ve read that Paul did play it, apparently Paul played a few solos in various songs. I hadn’t known that before. Obviously Taxman is the famous one but he played Sgt Pepper and Good Morning and a couple others here and there(besides the obvious one – his part in the three part guitar solo during The End on Abbey Road – it’s goes Paul, George, John, Paul, George, John, Paul, George, John, just in case anyone did not know that LOL)

  9. Nona

    PS: Oh about Eleanor Rigby, there is an old video, I need to find the link, someone just sent it to me from youtube – of an interview with the Beatles in 1966 and someone asks them “Do you plan to go out on your own” and they sort of hedge it a bit but say no we don’t plan on making our own records and at one point George answers “We already do record on our own, like Eleanor Rigby is just Paul” and then John pipes in, something like “Yes, the rest of us were just drinking tea”.

    So given the fact that at that time, for the most part, Yesterday notwithstanding, Brian still tried to make them be very group oriented in public – I’d imagine George wouldn’t have called it a “Paul on his own song” if it wasn’t essentially true. If John had written anything like even a third of the lyrics, never mind 70 percent of the lyrics – I can’t see that George would have said it was all Paul’s and he’d certainly have known because he was there when the unfinished part of the lyrics were being written, according to what I’ve read. It was done in a room full of people.

    If anything I’d have taken it as showing John and George being perhaps a bit annoyed, even if they liked the song as a thing, that it was essentially a non-band song, that they had contributed very little or next to nothing to. I got that vibe from John’s comment at least(and Paul was sitting right there with them).


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