Live and Let Creativity Die

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John continued his run through the early recording sessions of Help!, chalking up the frenetic title track and the plaintive "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away." Paul rallied in time to crank out "I'm Down," "I've Just Seen a Face," and the Beatles' first indelible hit, "Yesterday." Having been covered approximately 49,716 times since, the song comes off as something of a cliche these days. These days can kiss my patoot. Advantage Paul.

Though commonly billed as The Beatles Get Baked, Rubber Soul actually marked the band's move away from an overindulgence in pot, as well as from goofy Elvis-like film high jinks. The boys from Liverpool, John especially, were now dabbling in acid, and it showed. "Norwegian Wood" and "Nowhere Man" are notoriously spacy compositions. ("Day Tripper," a team effort with lyrics by John, speaks for itself.) Paul's offerings, per usual, are less cerebral affairs, more concerned with melody than nuance: "We Can Work It Out," "Drive My Car," "I'm Looking Through You," and "You Won't See Me." Bonus points to Paul for wrapping his Liverpudlian tongue around some actual French words on "Michelle." A draw.

The most underrated LP in the Beatles' catalogue, Revolver, pretty much established McCartney's creative ascendance. Busy reducing his brain to acid mush, John managed to pen three aces, the unjustly ignored "She Said She Said," its somber companion piece "Rain," and that ambitious bog known as "Tomorrow Never Knows." Excepting George's cheeky "Taxman," the rest is a Paul showcase: "Got to Get You into My Life," "Paperback Writer" (released as a single), "Yellow Submarine," "Good Day Sunshine," "Here, There and Everywhere," and "For No One." Add to these the dark elegance of "Eleanor Rigby" and you've got a walkover.

For reasons that still elude me, Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is often touted as the Beatles finest hour. It's a pretty punky album, really, one that suffers from Paul's nasty yen for high camp mishegoss. (How they got John into that dorky costume is beyond me. He was probably too stoned to notice.) Anyhoo, the album does mark a return to form for Lennon. "A Day in the Life" is plainly John's baby -- Paul's jaunty interlude notwithstanding -- marrying as it does his unorthodox melodic impulses and wry lyricism. "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" is the most delightful of John's lysergic spells, and "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite" ... well, like I said, "Day in the Life" is a helluva song. Paul's output includes the title track, "Lovely Rita," "Fixing a Hole," "When I'm 64," and the lion's share of "With a Little Help from My Friends." Factor in John's superlative single "Strawberry Fields," which was teamed with Paul's pennywhistlish "Penny Lane." You make the call.

We've arrived at the Magical Mystery Tour, haven't we? Egads. Let's move quickly over this most unfortunate concept album (my personal congrats, by the by, to anyone out there who's figured out the concept) and the subsequent "Yellow Submarine." It breaks down like this:

Paul: "Magical Mystery Tour," "All Together Now," "Fool on the Hill," "Your Mother Should Know," "Hello Goodbye," and "Lady Madonna."

John: "Baby, You're a Rich Man," "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)," "All You Need Is Love," and "I Am the Walrus." ("Hey Bulldog" was based on a John riff but banged out in the studio.)

George: "Bluejay Way." Ouch.
Ringo: Let's not forget the Ugly Beatle's first solo composition, "Don't Pass Me By." Or actually, okay, forget it.

As should be clear, the material squeezed from the lads' increasingly fuzzy frontal lobes during this era is hardly the stuff of legend. I lean toward Ringo.

Ah, the White Album. At last, a return to form for the haggard and now heavily bearded boys. Newly inspired by his relationship with performance artist/pretentious windbag Yoko Ono, John arrived at Abbey Road with a fat satchel of songs: "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," "Dear Prudence," "Julia," "Sexy Sadie," "Glass Onion," "Cry Baby Cry," and, of course, "Revolution."

Nor was Paul mucking around. Among his gems are "Back in the USSR," "Why Don't We Do It in the Road," "Martha My Dear," "Birthday," "Honey Pie," and "Helter Skelter" (the only Beatles song ever credited with inspiring a mass murderer!).

Go ahead and shag Paul toss-offs like "Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da." But only if you're prepared to hold John fully accountable for the eight minutes of hell known as "Revolution #9." We'll call the boys even when it comes to spoofy songs about men who like to shoot guns ("Rocky Raccoon" versus "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill"). But let's see now. I could swear I'm forgetting something. Oh yeah: "Blackbird." Oh, and "Hey Jude" (also originally released as a single). Lennonheads surrender. The round is over. And you lose.

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Steven Almond