Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

John Lennon 1940– Paul McCartney 1942–

British songwriters, musicians, producers, arrangers, actors, and filmmakers. Lennon and McCartney were the chief writers for the Beatles, the rock quartet by whose success all other groups are now measured. Without formal musical training, they created music that had universal appeal, yet was sophisticated enough to be appreciated by musical scholars. They expanded the boundaries of popular music, gave it respectability, and helped to bring it, both artistically and commercially, to its present state. The Beatles played a major role in defining the cultural climate of the sixties. From their hair and clothing to their interests in drugs and meditation, young people emulated them and their lifestyles. The Beatles achieved an uncanny balance of personality and talent, with each member of the group (which also included George Harrison and Ringo Starr) strongly individual as well as complementary to the others. Their music reflected this diversity: Lennon wrote songs that were often rebellious, aggressive, and satirical; McCartney's were lyrical, sweeter, and more sentimental. As songwriters, the difference in their natures seemed to aid in the success of their collaborations as each complemented the other's writing style. Later Harrison also became a composer, and his works most often reflected his interest in Eastern music and mystical thought. The Beatles, along with Bob Dylan, are considered responsible for renewing an interest in the power of words to the listening audience of the sixties. From the beginning, their lyrics were fresh and devoid of cliché. As they matured, their songs increased in complexity, and they moved from boy/girl romantic themes to subjects infrequently used in popular songs. Lennon's "Norwegian Wood," for instance, dealt with a clandestine affair, and McCartney's "Eleanor Rigby" painted a touching picture of the life and death of a lonely woman. Lennon also published two inventive books, In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works, which have been recognized as serious contributions to the genre of comic literature in the vein of James Joyce and Edward Lear. The zenith for the band was Sgt Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band, an ambitious album which was not only unified thematically, but which was also the last representation of the Beatles working together as a unit. It treats illusion, escape, and reality within its structure of an English music hall show, and includes the song "A Day in the Life," which many critics have called the finest synthesis of the talents of Lennon and McCartney. The release of Sgt Pepper in 1967 was a landmark in the history of popular music. Its success and influence solidified the Beatles's reputation as major musical innovators, and provided the first example of a popular work worthy of analysis as art, with criterion similar to that of more classical forms. On their successive albums, the Beatles began to work independently of each other, and created works that went into more unconventional musical directions but were less cohesive. The Lennon and McCartney song-writing partnership disbanded due to personal and musical differences, and some critics complained that without the balancing effect that the composers had on each other, their compositions were marred by the excesses of their individual writing styles. These complaints were intensified after the breakup of the group in 1970, when both Lennon and McCartney began releasing solo albums. Many critics felt that each artist operated from either side of an extreme: Lennon was accused of making musical editorials of his songs, while McCartney became considered an intellectual lightweight with songs that, although melodic, had no more meaning than nursery rhymes. Despite McCartney's recent commercial success and Lennon's deified position as a reclusive genius, the most consistent opinion has been that Lennon and McCartney are less successful individually than they were with the rest of the Beatles. However, as the creative forces behind the most potently influential musicians of the last twenty years, very few of us have been left untouched by the magic of their words and music.