With Lennon’s 70th birthday and the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s death approaching, there are both predictions of commercial success (with items like the newly remastered music catalog) and criticisms of Lennon’s commodification.
Rolling Stone has released a special issue featuring the 100 Greatest Beatles Songs. Paul Grein of Yahoo! Music argues the list revives the question of who was the greatest Beatle:
Of the 100 songs, which were ranked by the editors of Rolling Stone, 40 were written by Lennon, 35 by McCartney, 17 by the two men working together and eight by George Harrison, who came into his own as a songwriter on the Beatles’ final albums.
So it’s fairly close, but Lennon was the key Beatle? Not so fast. In the high-rent district, McCartney leads. McCartney has three songs in the top 10 (“Yesterday” at #4, “Hey Jude” at #7 and “Let It Be” at #8), to just two for Lennon (“Strawberry Fields Forever” at #3 and “Come Together” at #9). Three songs in the top 10 are Lennon/McCartney collaborations: “A Day In The Life” at #1, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” at #2 and “In My Life” at #5. Harrison wrote the two remaining songs in the top 10 (“Something” at #6 and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at #10).
Grein concludes that Lennon was favored in the list:
Why do critics tend to favor Lennon? There are two main reasons. Lennon was edgier and more envelope-pushing, and rock critics tend to favor those qualities over McCartney’s more tradition-bound, pop-minded virtues. Also, Lennon died at 40, shot to death outside of his apartment.
I’ll add my own two cents: Lennon said the kinds of things, particularly politically and culturally, that people who write and read Rolling Stone like. But I’m not convinced he was so “edgy” – after reading several books about his life, particularly post-Beatles, he sounds like a man who was often lost. While he often sounded like a man who knew what he thought, his personal actions indicated something else.
As for who is the best Beatle: I can’t say I really have a favorite. What continually impresses me is the whole they made out of four different parts. The solo work of all four members is an indication that something special happened between the members to create such enduring music.