Who is your favorite Beatle? As I understand it, that was an often discussed and highly debated subject in the sixties. When the lovable mop-tops first entered into America’s collective conscious, all four lads had their individual supporters. Whether John, George, Paul, or Ringo was your favorite didn’t matter; only that you liked one of them a little bit more than the others. My Father famously loved George, a choice I always found curious for some reason. He didn’t strike me as a 'George' kind of guy.
But the reason I had a hard time comprehending why George made it to the top of the list has as much to do with a generational difference as anything else. Because as each decade went on, the ‘favorite Beatle’ became clearer to each new set of Beatles fan.
It was John.
Granted, picking a favorite Beatle now is far easier, as you have their entire careers and catalogues to look at when assessing a favorite.
And before we go any further, it should be emphatically stated that any true Beatles fan loves all of The Beatles. Their success is predicated on their cohesive (albeit fractured at times) spirit. John famously banded and led the group early on, but there’s no question Paul was just as much the leader at various points in their career. George had his own fingerprints on many of their greatest hits, and even Ringo contributed in far larger ways than the casual fan realizes. Point being, all the Beatles are somewhat on equal footing, and so choosing a favorite is secondary to the overall power of the group dynamic. Just listen to their harmonies and you know immediately this is a true group, and one of the last of its kind. Just think about this, how many groups have hits on an epic scale that feature not one… not two… not three… but FOUR different lead singers? It’s almost staggering to think about.
But I believe with each new set of teenagers discovering The Beatles, with them comes more and more fans on the ‘John’ side of things. The pie chart of favorite Beatle gets more and more obvious with each year, it's John. John is, without question, the edgiest. His songs collectively are a bit more aggressive, filled with a sneering voice that feels truthful. Not to sound lame, but let’s face it, most of the youth recognize John as the cool one. Therefore, by nature, he becomes their favorite. This happens before they even come to really know The Beatles. Sure, George had a nice little surge in the last few years, aided by his warm spiritual presence and wise demeanor. And Ringo is clearly beloved, but the only people saying Ringo is their favorite are hipsters, and they’re just doing it because they’re a hipster… that’s what they do. I wish they understood that by saying Ringo in an ironic way, they’re not honoring him, but rather insulting him. I want to take Ringo’s drumsticks and play “Octopus’s Garden” all over their stupid hipster faces.
Again though, to clarify, picking one Beatle over another is of no insult to them. No one compares to The Beatles. Put it this way, I love Eddie Vedder, Bruce Springsteen and Bono; but if I had a choice to sit in a room and chat with one of them or Ringo? I’d seriously have to consider Ringo. Hell, I’d seriously consider Julian Lennon over those guys. Tis the power of The Beatles...
But forced to pick my favorite Beatle? I wouldn’t even hesitate. It’s John. It will always be John.
This brings me to McCartney. McCartney, the Beatle that’s contributed as much to The Beatles as John, if not more. Everyone loves Paul, and yet there’s a bit of reservation in saying that. It’s almost like a, “yeah, well, of course we love Paul… there are no Beatles without Paul, so we definitely love him.” Sometimes people sigh when saying it. I never really understood why as a child, and I have less insight now. Conventional logic says it has a lot to do with Paul’s sappy songwriting and inability to let down his guard in public. John was nothing if not vulnerable. Paul, conversely, always seems to be on point, as if he’s performing even when answering simple questions. After multiple decades in the public eye, you still feel like you don’t know Paul. This combination- as well as the belief that he had as much to do with The Beatles breakup as Yoko or anyone else did… and you get the less than enthusiastic love of Paul that should be there. For the record, I find all of this silly at best. Paul didn’t break up The Beatles, and neither did Yoko. No one person broke it up, it simply ran its course. Those that hold grudges need to get over it, as all four members gave us wonderful solo work that should not be taken for granted. I find their solo careers interesting, and am glad they as artists got that time to grow. Regardless, I think people should be yelling about how awesome Paul is with the same zeal as John, George, or Ringo. But again, even I couldn’t seem to do it with as much enthusiasm as I should have when I was a young man.
Yet lately, I’ve had a new appreciation for Paul that stretches well into my everyday life. I couldn’t put my finger on it for some time, but now I think I have a concrete theory as to why my love of Paul has grown exponentially in the last few years. I think, I’m sure; it’s because of this…
I’m happy now.
Yes, that’s a cheesy statement. But, that’s the point. McCartney is kind of cheesy at times, and when you’re younger that kind of sentiment doesn’t resonate as much. John seems tortured, and so it’s only natural that as a young man finding his way in the world, you’re drawn to his work. Somehow “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” doesn’t really speak to you as much as “I’m a Loser” when you’re 21.
But now that I’m a fairly happy man, Paul’s songs have taken on a new life for me. Yes, some of them are silly, but looking deeper into The Beatles catalogue you’ll find John had plenty of silly moments too.
Even McCartney’s solo stuff stands out more now that I’m happy, and I find myself digging through his back catalogue more and more every year. Yes, he‘s still a bit too happy-go-lucky at times, but in the end… the songs last. Even if he did once sport the most insane mullet anyone had ever seen.
There is irony in the public’s perception of Paul. Any good story has irony. Recently Paul was spotted at this year’s prestigious Coachella festival making an unannounced guest appearance in little-known DJ Afrojack’s booth. This came as a surprise to many music fans, but not those of us who have followed all Beatle activity closely for years. The truth is Paul has always pushed the boundaries of music. You may think he only does poppy love songs, but that couldn’t be farther from reality. Rumor has it that Paul was the driving force behind The Beatles’ transition into more experimental music. The kind of territory you’d think John or George traversed alone. Again, it was the collective that shaped the music and direction, but Paul was just as much a driver as anyone else.
And when you’re happy in life, somehow Paul’s songs seem to be at the forefront of the memories you make with your loved ones, at least as much as Johns’. I mean, who hasn’t closed the night out with a sing-a-long to either “Hey Jude” or “Let it Be”? “Maybe I’m Amazed” seemed pretty lame when I was 18, but now I find it to be nothing short of utterly beautiful.
All The Beatles’ songs will remain on countless loop in my head, that will never change. What will change is my appreciation for each member’s artistic contribution. Not that it didn’t exist before, it did. Now it’s just more so.
I can’t wait to see McCartney in concert again. I’ll be in the crowd, singing with thousands of other Beatle maniacs, basking in the glow of peace… if only even for a few hours.
To Paul, we love your songs. We love your goofy demeanor. We love who you are and what you’ve done. Even the mullet. Mostly though, we love you and all the joy you’ve given us. Even if it takes moronic self-tortured artists like me a little bit longer to catch up… we just love and appreciate you.
And I don’t think there’s anything lame about that.