Wednesday, July 06, 2011

In the Beginning ...

Today is a special anniversary in the annals of popular music.

It was on this day in 1957 that the two halves of perhaps the most famous songwriting team in history — John Lennon and Paul McCartney — came together for the first time.

It was in a place called Woolton, a suburb of Liverpool. Lennon's band, the Quarrymen, was performing at some sort of social function at St. Peter's Church. McCartney happened to be there — although why I do not know.

Anyway, why he was there doesn't matter, I guess. The point is that they were introduced to each other 54 years ago today. By October, McCartney had joined the Quarrymen. A few months later, so did George Harrison.

The rest is history, I suppose. Lennon and McCartney formed a partnership and agreed to share the credit for all songs that were written by them, either collaboratively or separately. Between 1962 and 1969, Lennon and McCartney composed approximately 180 songs, most of which were recorded by the Beatles.

As just about any Beatles fan will tell you, most of those songs were not collaborative efforts. Most of them were written, entirely or mostly, by either Lennon or McCartney.

It was more of a team effort in the early days. Many of their early songs were compositions in which one had written an incomplete song that the other completed by adding a "middle eight," which tended to have a different melody from the rest of the song and acted as something of a bridge.

There was a competitive element in their work in those days, and it produced some truly influential songs. "Yesterday," for example, has been cited as the most recorded/covered song ever by the Guinness Book of World Records.

Later on, nearly all of their songs were individual efforts.

Lennon spoke about the dynamic tension between his style and McCartney's — which was so critical in the creation of the Beatles phenomenon. In an interview near the end of his life, he told Playboy that McCartney "provided a lightness, an optimism, while I would always go for the sadness, the discords, the bluesy notes. There was a period when I thought I didn't write melodies, that Paul wrote those and I just wrote straight, shouting rock 'n' roll."

Typically, it wasn't hard to tell who was responsible for which song. The primary composer usually sang his songs on the albums so, if you could differentiate between the two voices, you could figure it out.

And, as Lennon observed, many of his songs were of the "straight, shouting rock 'n' roll" variety while McCartney leaned more to love songs and ballads.

But they struck a balance that worked — and worked well.