John, Paul, George, and Ringo. When you add those four names together, you get the greatest band of all time. Of course, they weren’t really just four names. They were people, people who were just as fascinating individually as they were collectively.
Though very few Beatles fans have actually met any of the Beatles, they tend to ascribe certain personality traits to each of them. George was the quiet Beatle. John was the abrasive, avant-garde revolutionary. Paul was the schmaltzy, sentimental type. And Ringo was the goofy uncle on the drum set. Fans fabricated these characters based on what they heard in the music, what they saw in Beatles movies, and the way the boys carried themselves in interviews and public appearances. Even though there are many examples one could use to counteract the pigeonholing that Beatle fanatics have carried out, these labels seemed to stick over the years. Therefore, one would expect people of different personality types to identify most strongly with the Beatle who most closely matches their own disposition.
This week, I set out to see which member of The Beatles people would choose when asked to select their favorite.
I posted a poll on my Facebook page telling people to comment with the name of their favorite Beatle. The results were surprising, to say the least.
Of the twenty people who responded, Paul received eight votes, George received seven, Ringo received three, and John received a measly two . If you would have told me before doing this survey that more people would choose Ringo as their favorite than the legendary and iconic John Lennon, I would not have believed you. Not in a million years.
And that’s not a jab at Ringo. Even if he wasn’t as gifted of a songwriter, Ringo was a great drummer and had a fun-loving spirit that was essential to the ethos of The Beatles. It’s just that the critical reputation of John Lennon as a solo artist dwarfs that of Ringo and the other ex-Beatles. John was certainly the most honest, the most controversial, and the most experimental of any of them. This was the man behind “Imagine” the song and Imagine the album, as well as his previous masterpiece Plastic Ono Band, widely regarded as the definitive musical document capturing the cultural fallout from the idealism of the 60’s. But alas, my Facebook friends are not music critics. Come to think of it, no one from my generation grew up with The Beatles, or was even alive at the same time as John. None of them were able to experience the period of cultural obsession with John’s life, or the outpouring of grief at his murder. He’s been gone for more than thirty years now. Could it be that John Lennon is fading away from the public eye? For the love of music, let’s hope not.
Can you tell which Beatle is my favorite?
But despite the ridiculously low showing that John made in the polls, the rest of the graph was largely anticipated. Paul is in many ways the quintessential Beatle, so it makes sense that he would come out on top. As the band made its way past their teenybopper era, he was always at the helm of the ship, guiding them from one project to the next. Paul thought of the concepts behind most of their major endeavors, whether they were massive successes (Sgt. Pepper’s) or massive flops (the Magical Mystery Tour film). In addition, I view Paul as the most melodically gifted Beatle, though he was not as effective at inserting emotion into his songs as John was. So, in summary, while John had the better solo career, Paul was more important to The Beatles as an entity.
But I would say that Paul and John are about equal in terms of the quality of the songs they contributed to The Beatles. Though every Beatles song written by either of them was credited to Lennon-McCartney, many Beatles songs were mostly written by only one of them. There is no way to compare their respective songwriting contributions. How do you judge “Hey Jude” against “Revolution”? You can’t. They are both perfect. And when John and Paul did truly collaborate in their songwriting efforts, as on “She’s Leaving Home” or “Getting Better”, their opposing styles balanced each other perfectly, and the results were exquisite.
And then there’s George.
Being the lead guitar player for the greatest rock band ever is the coolest job in the world, hands down. That’s one of the main reasons why people love him so much, and why he almost took the top spot in my Facebook poll. But he also had this mystical aura about him. He was very spiritual, and he brought that spirituality into his work, imbuing it with an incredible sense of longing that worked both religiously and romantically. Though George’s attempts at getting his Beatle brothers to record his songs were sometimes crushed by Paul’s iron fist, every Beatles song by George is a gem. Check out this underrated George track, “The Inner Light”, released as the B-side to the vastly more popular “Lady Madonna”.
George’s fascination with Indian culture made him even more of a curious figure. By playing sitar on “Norwegian Wood”, he became the first person to combine Indian instrumentation with Western pop music. Think about it. George was the one who brought Indian influences into the 60’s counterculture. He’s the reason we associate sitars with LSD.
But there’s one more aspect of George Harrison that I believe gave him the number two spot in my Beatles survey.
He was an underdog. And everybody loves an underdog.
George would stay in the background for a little while, and then BAM! He would drop a meditative, universal, peace-and-love bomb on you, the unsuspecting listener:
In the end, The Beatles will always be unmatched in the history of pop. No one has come close to achieving what they achieved fifty years ago. They appeal to anyone and everyone. Pop culture geeks adore The Beatles for their cultural hegemony and deliciously catchy singles. Rock historians appreciate them for making the rock album into a legitimate art form, and for creating the highest-quality discography in music. Metalheads can jam out to “Revolution” and “Helter Skelter”. Potheads have been getting high to “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” since time immemorial. Musicians cite The Beatles as influences. Non-musicians cite The Beatles as inspiration. Old people love them. Young people love them. Everybody loves them.
And that’s what really matters.
No matter who your favorite Beatle is, the important thing is that you are passionate about them. As long as you’re listening to The Beatles, you’re doing something right. In fact, the cleverest response that anyone gave to my Facebook survey was this:
“PaJoGeRi. I tried :(“
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