One thing I’ve been realizing while re-watching the Beatles Anthology documentary is what incredible songwriters Lennon and McCartney were.
I suppose that’s as obvious as saying that I suddenly realized that Tom Cruise is a pretty good movie star … but it’s not just that John and Paul could write great songs. It’s that ALL they did was write great songs.
Go look at ANY Beatles album before 1967. There isn’t a bum track on ANY of them. For almost any other group, the least impressive song on any Beatles album would be the best song of that other band’s career … and the Beatles put out 10 of those ever half year, PLUS the major mondo-popular hits, too. And the only reason I draw that arbitrary line in 1967 is that the group had gotten SO big that they could be purely experimental … in public … and still have 90% of their work be best-song-for-any-other-band brilliant.
Now, I’m sure that if I were to sit down with Sir Paul McCartney and say this, he’d point out to me all of the things they did in the studio that didn’t work out … all of the hours they had to work to craft and polish their songs to make them come out the way they did. And, of course, he’d be right. I’m in no way saying it was somehow effortless.
But I work hard at my craft, too. So do all the other incredibly talented folks I know and work with and near. And let me tell you, I’d consider myself lucky if one in ten of the things I put my full effort into ended up being something that the audience at large would consider being A-level—something that stands out as being among the best of its ilk for that time period. Lennon & McCartney did that with practically every song … and the only reason the lesser ones are lesser at all is that they have to be compared against the greater Lennon & McCartney songs.
For some of us, the best work we can ever hope to produce will never be anything more than metaphorical “B-side” material. But when you look at how great a “B-side” can be, you realize how lucky you are to be able to reach that level, even one out of ten times.