Paul McCartney vs. John Lennon: Two Very Different Song Writers

Posted in: Rock by steelalaska on April 2nd, 2008 | 34 Comments

Considering the differences between two of the most prominent songwriters in modern music that made up the most successful band of all time, the Beatles.

From their formation to their eventual disbanding, the Beatles’ offered one of the most interesting and outstanding songwriting duos: the team of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. In the early stages of their career Lennon and McCartney did not have distinctly different styles, but as the Beatles’ career progressed the two songwriters’ styles deviated. As Lennon and McCartney’s styles departed from one another, so did the members of the band. An obvious tension grew from the differing styles that, in addition to Brian Epstein’s death, lead to the band’s ultimate end. In the following discussion, I will compare two songs off Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and analyze two other songs, also off Sgt. Pepper’s, all suggesting that Lennon’s songwriting style is considerably more pessimistic than McCartney’s.

“A Day In The Life,” off of the Beatles’ album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, is actually two separate songs mashed together masterfully using a 41-piece orchestra. Of the two separate songs, Lennon wrote one and McCartney the other. The song begins with simple strumming of the guitar, and complementing piano riffs playing in a ¾ time signature. Lennon’s cheerless voice then enters, and the first line ends with an exhausted, “oh boy;” the feeling of pessimism and depression is palpable. From here on McCartney compliments Lennon’s sadness with a continually descending bass riff, and Ringo Starr offers a drumbeat that seems to drags along. Then a roar of orchestral instruments crescendos into the song, and when it settles there is nothing but a bouncing piano part playing one chord steadily and a constant bass riff playing in a new time signature, 4/4.

Then an alarm sounds, and Paul enters with a cheerful voice to match the lively movement by the piano. He sings, “I woke up, fell out of bed, dragged a comb across my head,” and a full sentence later he playfully pants. When McCartney’s jovial contribution is finally complete, there is an epic-sounding orchestra sound on top of Lennon’s “ahhs,” and then the song returns to Lennon’s melodramatic style. The title, “A Day in the Life,” may signify the differences between McCartney and Lennon’s everyday lives. While Lennon is reading sad stories in the newspaper, McCartney is simply preparing himself for the day that lies ahead. Both Lennon and McCartney wrote their portions of the songs individually, and there is an obvious difference in both the lyrics and the aesthetics in these portions that hints at Lennon’s style being more pessimistic.

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34 Responses to “Paul McCartney vs. John Lennon: Two Very Different Song Writers”
  • John April 2nd, 2008 at 1:45 pm

    This is a great piece that analyzes the two writing styles and their differences. Thank you for sharing

  • Dave R April 2nd, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    I like this! Good points. You should analyze some more music and share.

  • Kevin M. April 2nd, 2008 at 9:16 pm

    Sounds like the author likes McCartney better. That’s ok. But Lennon is real world.

  • Bob M. April 7th, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    It appears that the writer like McCartney better, and Kevin M. is right in saying that Lennon is real world but being a realist is almost synonymous with being a pessimist. The writer could have portrayed Lennon as a realist, as that title has less of a negative connotation, but all in all it is still a very interesting critique.

  • vincent June 13th, 2008 at 7:32 pm

    I don’t agree at all with this critic.
    “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “A Day In The Life” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamond” are not pessimist songs.

    What about “Revolution” vs “Hey Jude” ?

    What about “I am the Walrus”, “Come Together”, “Imagine”, “Ticket to Ride”, “Across the Universe” and all his early works?

    Lennon’s lyrics have evolved to be more engaging, deep and to talk about much more, giving a message for later generations.
    While McCartney’s lyrics didn’t.
    (though I also love McCartney’s songs)

    That is the main difference.

  • vic September 6th, 2008 at 7:49 pm

    Very detailed and very true but both styles are equally as good as the other. It doesn’t matter how sad John’s lyrics are or how happy Paul can make you feel, it’s the Beatles, happy or sad, it’s The Beatles.

  • penn October 30th, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    I don’t think that the writer intended to say that Lennon’s song writing is not as good as McCartney. I, myself, loved songs that are written by Lennon himself and though I may have replaced the world with pessimistic with something lighter.

    Lennon’s song are more intriguing and abstract while McCartney’s are usually direct and straightforward. I see Lennon as more of a realist in a sense that he acknowledges the rotten real world where beauty seems unreal anymore (regarding the song ‘STRAWBERRY FIELDS & LUCY IN THE SKIES’)…

    “A day in a life” is a pretty good example of how they contrasted. While McCartney was indeed focused on getting prepped for the day ahead, Lennon is dwelling upon the reality of the chaotic and world full of sorrow.

    I think McCartney’s song writing is entertaining and uplifting, but I strongly lean on the Lennon when I am moved and enlightened and just lost in his words.

    And for more information, “Imagine” is a Lennon Song released post-beatles-break up. I think it’s best to compare the song writing styles in the songs that they have collaborated in. =)

    OVER ALL LOVE THE BEATLES!

  • Alicia November 14th, 2008 at 7:25 am

    I disagree… it’s easy to compare a couple of songs and label them as pessimistic or optimistic. Music is an art and can is open to interpretation. I can see how Strawberry Fields Forever can be seen as pessimistic but honestly I felt it more optimistic until now. Each artist gives their messages a different way. I love both of them. I don’t think you can be so black and white to say John is pessimistic and Paul is optimistic. I think Lennon is more abstract, but that doesn’t necessarily make it positive or negative.

  • rodneyfaile November 23rd, 2008 at 10:50 am

    why not comapre the lyrics of “oh-bla-di, oh-bla-da” to “IMAGINE” ?

  • ben152 November 25th, 2008 at 12:23 am

    You mention that a day in the life begins in 3/4 time.. thats not true, the whole song is in 4/4 (minus the intro) its just McCartney’s section is a faster tempo.

  • francis February 21st, 2009 at 2:40 am

    I think Lennon’s lyrics move people more than McCartney’s lyrics
    because it is straight from the heart and you can relate into it
    whether it is branded as pessimistic or not that makes it more suoerior than McCartney’s songs.

  • HEYHEY March 29th, 2009 at 10:48 pm

    THERE IS NOTHING WRONG TO BE HAPPY. IT IS OK TO BE SAD. THAT’S WHY WHEN THESE TWO ARE TOGETHER, THEY GIVE YOU EVERYTHING. NOT JUST SADNESS OR JUST PURE HAPPINESS. I THINK THAT’S THE REASON OF THEIR SUCCESS.

  • J.R May 10th, 2009 at 11:05 am

    I don’t think you can say that Lennon is superior to McCartney, or vice versa. The reason these two worked so well together and what made them the best songwriting duo of the 20th Century is the fact that they complemented each other so well. You can have your favourite of the two, but that is your opinion, not fact. The two were as good as each other and together they were amazing.

  • J.R May 10th, 2009 at 11:16 am

    Oh, and francis – yes, Lennon’s lyrics can be moving, but some of McCartney’s melodies have moved me just as much. That’s why I just don’t think you can claim one is superior over the other. That is based on your opinion alone. Rodneyfaile – it’s hardly fair to compare Oh-bla-di, Oh-bla-da lyrics to Imagine, two completely different songs. Some of my favourite Beatles lyrics belong to two McCartney songs actually, For No One and I’m Looking Through You. Maybe they’re not peace and love type lyrics like Imagine but I can relate to them a lot more.

  • francis June 16th, 2009 at 6:40 am

    you maybe right at some point

    you maybe right at some point

    you maybe right at some point J.R. that Mccartney’s songs can be moving the same as lennon’s songs but my point is that much of Mccartney songs doesnt make sense the way their time permits, his songs seems to be a little bit naive with the events presented by their time for example they lived in a post war period and there is the cold war between two superpowers yet mccartney sticks to pop songs , sugar coated love songs, and third party songs while lennon provides solution by making “all you need is love”,”revolution”,”give peace a chance”, and that made the difference.

  • david June 16th, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    i love them both!

  • Austin Wallace August 9th, 2009 at 2:28 am

    The beginning of “A Day In the Life” is NOT in 3/4 time. It’s not a waltz.

  • anus September 27th, 2009 at 8:51 am

    and a little more poop

  • Bear September 29th, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    Interesting piece, but I always viewed Lennon as the better songwriter. Angst makes for much better tracks than happy-go-lucky bubble gum. IMHO….

  • Kim November 29th, 2009 at 11:02 pm

    I think Paul and John’s differences are what made the music of the Beatles so diverse and great. I love them both and I could never choose between them (and then there is George who was also a fantastic songwriter and terribly underrated).

    As for Paul only writing happy-go-lucky bubble gum music I guess you never heard of Eleanor Rigby.

  • Sarah December 15th, 2009 at 11:58 pm

    Yep, there’s nothing more bubble-gum or happy-go-luckier than songs about a woman dying alone and unloved (Eleanor Rigby), a pair of parents abandoned by their daughter (She’s Leaving Home), a broken relationship a man can’t seem to accept (For No One), a man who knows he’s useless and alone (Fool on the Hill) or a black woman hoping for racial equality (Blackbird). Such silly, peppy stuff!

  • Michael February 8th, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    Obviously Paul and John did not stay in their proposed spheres, but they a majority of their songs fit within them. Sure Paul wrote songs that were deep and depressing, and John had his happy moments, but they more than often stayed the way the writer has described here. Also it is not as though he/she is saying that Paul is a less talented writer at all, but simply different. The somewhat dissonant dynamic is what made the Beatles music great.

  • manson February 13th, 2010 at 12:32 am

    John had the imagination of the two and I think thats what made them different. As you said Paul was straightforward with his writing while John made up these people and wrote these places where literally anything was possible. And come on John always sang it from the heart ,I’m not saying Paul didn’t but you related more to John when he did.

  • Matt April 19th, 2010 at 9:06 am

    manson…i will say that Paul also made up people too, i’d even say more-so than Lennon. Look at Lady Madonna, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, Paperback Writer, etc

  • Acap November 8th, 2010 at 9:53 am

    mccartney is good but lennon is a greatest

  • RPM January 8th, 2011 at 6:55 pm

    Paul’s music is more uplifting while John’s music at times got more than a little depressing, Pauls music was heading in all different directions after the split while Johns became political and boring, during The Beatles most creative period, it was Paul who came up with the ideas which kept The Beatles ahead of the game, Lennon may be a Legend but McCartney is a Genius who will eventually get the recognition he deserves, all this Lennon v McCartney thing started with John slagging Paul, everyone and there granny followed suit, could it be that John was jealous of Paul?

  • JohnWalterm January 25th, 2011 at 7:04 pm

    As a group I love all of the Beatles and highly praise every one of them for changing the entire musical landscape. That’s no small feat. They’ll forever be remembered along with greats like Mozart and Beethoven. The Bealtes are and always will be prominent in the musical pantheon.
    As far as their solo careers, I absolutely prefer Paul. In fact, there’s nothing John did solo that I really speaks to me at all.
    For my tastes Paul is far superior to John both lyrically and certainly musically. Also, I never thought Imagine was that big of a deal either musically or lyrically and it’s certainly not any more an original theme to write on than love.
    As far as comparing Obladi Oblada to Imagine (which is akin to comparing apples to hand grenades) you could also compare Glass Onion to say… Blackbird which was written about the struggle of black people in the U.S.. Or compare say, Elenore Rigby to For the Benefit of Mr Kite.
    Paul and John were both goofy and serious.

  • DS January 26th, 2011 at 5:31 am

    this article feels too biased to take seriously, but I still think Paul was a much better songwriter than John.

    It\’s obvious that Paul spawned out more free flowing music and melody whereas john\’s stuff feels outside the box but labored at times.

  • louie July 28th, 2011 at 9:41 am

    paul is a great musician, no doubt that he is a big contributor to the success of the beatles.. but all of them did contribute to the beatles, specially mr.harrison with a very unique talent.

    but lennon a pessimist? mccartney an optimist? it does not matter actually.. maybe true, may be not, who are we to tell, we are not even an inch close to their talents..

    paul taught lennon some things about music he is very technical.. so as george.

    they often outshine lennon in things like that.. but this is music, it is not just made, but it is about your ears and your hearts.. music has to be felt.

    and that is an area where lennon outshines mccartney and harrison. lennon feels his music whether he’s happy or sad. you can feel it.

    lennon’s voice is part of the beatles instruments, im sorry mccartney, even though he screams more than lennon could, it can not be felt, listen to a day in the life, lennon could be into it yet so out of it.

    the beatles are the beatles, they are still the greatest by far.
    yet we can not judge one from the other, 4 of them are the beatles.

    but for me, lennon is not the perfect being nor the most talented guy in the group.

    but he leads the beatles. he is the man behind it. he is still the most popular of the four, as we all know, even paul and george idolized lennon.

  • eugene August 18th, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    This is a poor analysis I’m affraid. Eleanor Rigby and Yesterday are possibly the most pesimistic of Beatle songs, both McCartney.
    Lennon wrote Good Morning, same album and In My Life, Tell Me Why,. Dear Prudence, Good Night, Hard Days Night, If Feel Fine, Because, Imagine. You are too simplistic.

  • her September 14th, 2011 at 3:24 am

    I don’t know if I agree with all the arguments, but I do agree that John and Paul were pretty different songwriters. They’re difficult to compare, so kudos for the effort!

    Personally, I find the two equally remarkable in different ways.

    Paul is something of a Mozart, I find. He’s a musical prodigy and he can write incredible, (usually) happy, lovable songs with lyrics both light and deep. His technique and style are simply heaven-sent. His songs will live on for a VERY long time.

    But that’s also where he falters: He’s not the only genius out there. I don’t mean to undervalue Paul or Mozart’s work, and they are unique artists with unique styles, but there are a number of musicians with similarly gifted, incredible technique – and certainly artists with endless creativity.

    John, though, was more of a Beethoven. That man had some serious SOUL. His songs touched hearts and somehow connected with the audiences in inexplicable ways – there was something SPECIAL in his words and music. That’s something much rarer than good musical talent (don’t get me wrong, though – both traits are equally important) – and that was what made him so incredible.

    Now, was John as good as McCartney in terms of musical technique and rapid song-writing pace? Not really (though that’s up for some serious debate).

    The way I see it, every artist has two main artistic traits: technical skill and heart. Paul and John had plenty of both – Paul just happened to be superior in the former and John superior in the latter.

    People remember Mozart as the young, brilliant musical prodigy and Beethoven as the angry, emotional, piano-key-smashing musician-gone-deaf-guy. John constantly felt threatened that Paul was the better musician and Paul always idolized John. Same difference.

  • JGGott_87 February 8th, 2012 at 9:44 am

    Separately, they already are widely regarded as the greatest spongwriters of the XX Century. Together they are unbeatable.

    Both McCartney and Lennon were geniouses. But in different ways.
    Lennon was more of an “overall genious”, like he was way ahead of his time not only through his songwriting, but the way he thought and acted. Way ahead of his time.
    McCartney’s genious lies more strictly in his music and the way he saw music. As a musician, in the most complete meaning of the word, Paul McCartney was the most genious of the four Beatles: better instrumentalist, better singer (technically speaking only, obviously), unmatched melody maker and so on. I mean, the man is responsible for Sgt.Pepper, for Christ’s sake. How can he not be a genious?!??
    Cutting the story short, Lennon was genious as a person (as well as a musician, of course) and McCartney was genious, more strictly, as a musician.

  • JGGott_87 February 8th, 2012 at 9:49 am

    I believe that if Paul McCartney had been assassinated in such tragic way, then he would have been considered the “most important Beatle”, like John Lennon is, by many, nowadays.
    People tend to dislike legends who don’t die young, which shows how stupid people can be.

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