There’s no question that The Beatles were one of the most influential and successful bands in the history of music. And you won’t hear many people argue that they didn’t put out some high quality tunes as well. And while the Fab Four couldn’t have been the same without any of its members, some debate focuses on who was more talented: John Lennon or Paul McCartney.
Both men produced quite a lot of material for The Beatles and pulled their own weight in the group. Lennon and McCartney both proved themselves to be talented musicians and songwriters. But still, one had to be better than the other, right? According to author John Cherry, the superior Beatle was undoubtedly Paul McCartney. In his book, Better Than Lennon (which can be found here), Cherry argues, with both passion and raw facts, that McCartney was the more valuable member, through an analysis of during- and post-Beatles production.
Cherry was nice enough to set aside some time to discuss his book and other Beatle-related matters recently. Here’s what he had to say.
Brian: After delving so deeply into the contributions of Paul and John, is it easy for you to tell who wrote which song just by listening to it?
John Cherry: Yes, they are fairly easy to determine on the vocals, a bit less so on the instrumentation. For the most part in The Beatles, the author of the song was the lead singer on it.
Brian: Are there distinct characteristics that define Paul’s songs? John’s?
JC: I think Paul always had more range in his voice. He did have a tendency in some of his early solo music to have drawn out endings that sometimes diminished the song, in my opinion. By the way, I am writing about this in my upcoming book, “Paul McCartney’s Solo Career-Life, Love and a Sense of Child-like Wonder.” I hope it will be out sometime in August. On John’s songs, I think his vocal was quite distinctive, not as much on instrumentation, since he did not have the range of ability, musically, that Paul has in his repertoire.
Brian: In “Better Than Lennon,” you note that Paul’s songs with The Beatles accounted for 39 weeks at the top spot on US charts, while John’s only account for 13. What do you think the legacy of The Beatles would be like had Paul taken more of a backseat?
JC: If Paul had taken a backseat, I wonder if the group would have lasted as they did, which would have meant a less significant legacy. Stepping back may have allowed George to produce more Beatle songs, which would have been interesting, given his early success as a solo artist. But, a lesser role for Paul could have caused the Sgt. Pepper album to be less dramatic, as well as “Let it Be” for his three Number one singles, and “Abbey Road” on the second side medley.
Brian: Your book takes a serious look at the relationship between John and Yoko Ono. If Yoko Ono wasn’t in the picture, how do you think things would have played out differently?
JC: If Yoko had not entered the picture, I think it is quite likely that the group would have lasted longer. Coming into the studio and intruding on the group’s music was a disaster from the start, and Yoko was either too naïve or too arrogant to realize she should have not been there. Yes, John invited her there, but that does not excuse her totally. I am not saying that The Beatles would have lasted only as a group, as it may have been a good thing for some solo releases, but I think they could have continued in some form as a group. They talked at various times in the ten years after the breakup about getting together, so I feel confident that it could have worked for them to remain as a group.
Brian: What would you say your favorite Beatles composition is?
JC: Choosing a favorite Beatle song is tough. While I would choose “She Loves You” for the energy, harmony and the lyrics, it is tough to say that it is an absolute favorite. I do consider “My Brave Face” by Paul as my all-time favorite, again because of energy, harmony, great bass playing and the lyrics. It would have been a classic Beatles song.
Brian: What do you think is Paul’s best work, and how does it showcase his talent?
JC: As for Paul’s best album, I would probably say Band on the Run.
There are no weak songs, it has an ongoing theme running through it, Paul plays many instruments on it, sings flawlessly, and I really like “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five,” which he played at the concert I saw in Miami two months ago. Let me also say that I think Paul’s last three albums, including the last release of Electric Arguments, under the pseudonym “The Fireman,” are all excellent and demonstrate that Paul is only getting better.
Brian: What do you think, or hope, lies ahead for Paul?
JC: Paul has continuously stated that he wants to continue writing and doing concerts. He showed no signs of slowing down at the Miami concert, playing and singing on all of the songs during the two hour and 45 minute show. I hope he will receive the proper recognition as the greatest songwriter and artist of all time. The statistics don’t lie and the quality backs those facts. He has just been slighted again by Rolling Stone magazine, which released a list of the top 500 songs of all time. Only “Maybe I’m Amazed” made the list, at number 347, for Paul. I find that to be a huge insult. The Beatles had 23 songs on the list. I hope those that are reading this will choose to purchase my book via betterthanlennon.com to understand why it is such an insult.