Sir George Martin's passing last week was a sad day for Beatles fans everywhere. He played a crucial role in both their early rise to pop superstardom as well as their later critical and artistic triumph.
He once said something interesting about the band's powerhouse songwriting team of Lennon and McCartney. Asked to rank their relative abilities, their longtime producer demurred,
saying he couldn't "put a cigarette paper between them."
In other words, in the opinion of the man who signed them to their first recording contract and who worked closely with them for nearly a decade, it was a dead heat. They were that evenly matched.
There is a theory that the secret of The Beatles’ genius—and even the seed of their eventual breakup—can be found in the fierce competition that existed between John Lennon and Paul McCartney. It was a songwriting partnership that initially flourished, and then ultimately failed, because of their mutual desire to impress and top each other.
Bill Maher gets it. He recently explained it to Jerry Seinfeld.
This competition also saw their respective arcs of creativity peak at different times. John Lennon dominated the group’s songwriting in the early years of their recording career, from 1962-1965. He wrote the bulk of the hits, and was also indisputably the group’s leader in those early days.
But starting in 1965, the younger (by a year and a half) Paul McCartney started to come on very strong indeed. It began when he wrote the game-changing “Yesterday.” Recorded four days before he turned 23, it was the first “solo” Beatles song. Paul sang it while strumming a guitar, backed by a string quartet…and none of the other Beatles.
It signaled a seismic shift in the group dynamic.
Paul—always the group’s superior musician— would now become the dominant creative force in the band by the time Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released to popular and critical acclaim during the Summer of Love in 1967. The album’s fantasy-alter-ego-band-gives-a-concert structure—arguably the dawn of the concept album in pop music—was pure, unadulterated Paul.
After their manager Brian Epstein’s tragic death by drug overdose following the release of Pepper, Paul began to assert his dominance even more. Epstein’s death left a void in the group’s leadership and direction that John was unable to fill. This may have been due to personal crises like an unhappy marriage to first wife Cynthia Lennon and an ever-worsening drug habit.
So Paul stepped up—and on the toes of his bandmates. The tensions rose and Yoko came on the scene and the rest, as they say, is history…
But that was all well in the future in 1965, when Rubber Soul was released. It blew Brian Wilson away. He derived a lot of inspiration from Soul while writing the new songs for The Beach Boys’ answer to it, the incredible Pet Sounds album.
Rubber Soul was the first of the truly superior, sophisticated, “adult” Beatles albums. It featured some great John songs: mature classics like “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” “Nowhere Man,” and “In My Life.”
George Harrison said Rubber Soul and its 1966 follow up, Revolver, could almost be considered the same album in two parts. The lovable mop tops had grown up. They had written some mature songs with adult themes that weren’t just simple lovey-dovey ballads and rockers anymore.
Just as impressive as John’s standouts on Rubber Soul were Paul’s major contributions to Revolver: “Eleanor Rigby”; “Here, There, and Everywhere”; “For No One”; and “Good day Sunshine.” McCartney has said in interviews that around this time John paid his partner a rare compliment and admitted he preferred Paul’s songs on the new album to his own.
We have to agree with John on that point.
John had by this time begun to coast just a wee bit. And to do a lot of heavy drugs including acid, that slowly degraded his creative output over time.
So, just imagine an album that combines the best of these two prolific geniuses’ output, before “the rot” set in, as George described it. (He was talking about the all-around bad vibes that surrounded the making of The Beatles, aka the so-called White Album in 1968.)
A VCH "save" album in vinyl; the first, surviving half of the two-disc White Album, made into one keeper
The result is a fantasy compilation of mostly John’s best from Rubber Soul and Paul’s best from Revolver, with a few gems from George thrown in for good measure — that, and the uber finale song from John that closes out Revolver —“Tomorrow Never Knows.” (Just ask Don Draper.)
And there you have it: Revolver Soul.
Make this playlist and tell us what you think. Maybe you’ll agree that Revolver Soul is the greatest album the Beatles never made.
Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)
Got To Get You Into My Life
Good Day Sunshine
I’m Looking Through You
If I Needed Someone
In My Life
Here, There and Everywhere
She Said She Said
For No One
Tomorrow Never Knows