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Paul McCartney vs. John Lennon (Solo Careers) – Great Classic Rock Debates

John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Stroud, Getty Images

They are undoubtedly the greatest songwriting duo of the rock era. But which Beatles star — John Lennon or Paul McCartney — created better music on their own following the group’s breakup? We asked two of our writers to each take on one side of this great classic rock debate, and here’s what they said:
 
 
Paul McCartney’s Solo Career Is Better Than John Lennon’s
by Dave Lifton

Neither Paul McCartney nor John Lennon were as consistent on their own as they were together in the Beatles. I’ve been on both sides of the McCartney vs. Lennon argument over the years, but these days I lean more toward McCartney.

I won’t excuse his tendencies towards the banal — and there’s been plenty of that — but even on many of his worst songs there’s often a great chord progression or an interesting arrangement that can make you stop in your tracks. And he’s been on a pretty good run of form since 1997′s ‘Flaming Pie,’ which will hopefully erase mistakes like ‘Press to Play’ from our memory. Besides, his experimental side, from his classical works to the Fireman, are much more listenable than Lennon’s “Let Yoko sing this one” moments.

Most of Lennon’s solo reputation was made on the first two albums and the early singles, like ‘Give Peace a Chance’ and ‘Instant Karma.’ Still, the social commentary on the ‘Imagine’ album sounds naive 40 years later, and how often does anybody listen to ‘Plastic Ono Band’ these days? There are a handful of good songs on the three albums he made during his “Lost Weekend,” but the others are mostly a drunken mess (it’s hard to believe that only five years separated ‘Julia’ and ‘Tight A$’). Although he was returning toward consistency on ‘Double Fantasy,’ his death prevented us from seeing if it would continue.

But, in the spirit of the holiday season, I will readily admit that ‘Happy Xmas / War Is Over’ is infinitely superior to ‘Wonderful Christmastime.’
 
 
John Lennon’s Solo Career Was Better Than Paul McCartney’s
by Michael Gallucci

While I don’t listen to ‘Plastic Ono Band’ as much as I probably should these days, I do listen to it more than ‘Wild Life,’ the album McCartney made (with Wings — their first) a year after Lennon released his masterpiece. Or any other McCartney solo album, for that matter, except maybe ‘Band on the Run,’ the only thing he made after the Beatles‘ breakup that’s as good as any of the dozen albums he released with the band that made him famous.

Lennon, on the other hand, released two great records after the split: the aforementioned ‘Plastic Ono Band’ and ‘Imagine.’ And while you may argue that the politics fueling the latter sounds a bit naive 40 years later, it’s nothing compared to the empty-headed songs McCartney has released over the past four decades. I’ll take ‘Imagine”s title track and ‘Crippled Inside’ over everything McCartney’s made since 1982 and quite a bit of what he made before.

And while I admit that Ono is a very acquired taste, the “heart play” that she and Lennon interwove into ‘Double Fantasy’ makes for a much more interesting record than the mostly unlistenable ‘McCartney II,’ which was released the same year. It’s not just banal material that sank McCartney for a good chunk of his solo career; it’s lazy, uninspired music designed to feed his undemanding fan base, which made him one of the top artists of the ’70s.

Lennon rarely followed that path. Just look at the string of experimental (and yes, pretty wretched) records he made during the Beatles’ final months. At least he was following his creative muse, even if he wasn’t all that successful at first. All McCartney followed was a long and winding road toward Blahville.

Next: The Great AC/DC Debate

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