It’s a fact: Paul McCartney was a better Beatle than John Lennon. And no, we’re not talking about all the offstage words and deeds that made Lennon a rather dark figure. We’re not talking about what either Lennon or McCartney did with their lives and careers after The Beatles. And we’re not talking about the interminable, irresolvable argument over whose songs were better.
There are some relatively objective, thoroughly provable reasons why Paul McCartney was the one truly responsible for leading The Beatles to their success, making him the superior Beatle:
He Was A Far More Accomplished Musician Than Lennon
One of the all-time most quotable John Lennon exchanges has a reporter asking him, “Is Ringo the best drummer in the world?” to which Lennon replied, “He’s not even the best drummer in The Beatles.”
Of course, Lennon never actually said that (British comedian Jasper Carrott did, in 1983). But it remains one of the most widely misattributed lines in all of music history because it’s precisely Lennon’s brand of acerbic wit and many die-hard Beatles fans know it to be true. Indeed, the best drummer in The Beatles was Paul McCartney.
When Beatles drummer Ringo Starr briefly quit the band during the recording sessions for “The White Album,” McCartney, the group’s bassist, filled in on a number of key tracks (including “Back In The U.S.S.R.” and “Dear Prudence”) with stellar performances. And as soon as The Beatles broke up and Starr was no longer around, McCartney played every single drum track on his first solo album, then on a number of Wings albums and other solo albums thereafter.
When not sitting at the drums, McCartney was sitting at the piano, contributing integral parts on that instrument — in addition to the keyboard, mellotron, and synthesizer — to Beatles classics like “Hey Jude,” “Let It Be,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” and many, many more.
And when not playing virtually any instrument with a keyboard, McCartney was turning in acclaimed performances on the guitar, Lennon’s own instrument. For example, the celebrated guitar solos on hits like “Drive My Car,” “Taxman,” and “Helter Skelter,” to name but a few, were all performed by McCartney.
All of this is to say nothing of McCartney’s main instrument, at least nominally: bass. Of McCartney’s widely heralded bass playing, Lennon himself once said, in a Playboy interview published in 1981:
“Paul is one of the most innovative bass players … half the stuff that’s going on now is directly ripped off from his Beatles period … He’s an egomaniac about everything else, but his bass playing he’d always been a bit coy about.”
Furthermore, when moving beyond traditional rock instruments like bass, guitar, keyboard, and drums, McCartney was miles ahead of his bandmates — let alone any of his rock peers. Across The Beatles’ discography, McCartney has copious credits on plenty of non-traditional rock instruments you’ve heard of (trumpet, organ, wind chimes), plenty more you haven’t (flugelhorn, clavichord), and some that hardly even make sense to most music fans (“comb and tissue paper”).
Lennon’s list of credits isn’t nearly as long, varied, or interesting. And none of this is even counting any of the bold feats of musicianship McCartney performed throughout his solo career, or the musicianship he facilitated yet didn’t personally execute (for example, arranging and conducting a 40-piece orchestra during the Sgt. Pepper’s sessions) as a Beatle.
But back to that comb and tissue paper…