Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Smart One vs. The Cute One

A couple of issues ago, Rolling Stone published its list of the 100 best rock vocalists of all time. Like most such lists, there were plenty of arguable choices. The list was selected by a panel of "experts", including a lot of big names in the rock world.

I could quibble with plenty of the choices, but, for the most part, they hit on a lot of great singers, missed on some (as if 100 is a large enough list), and had a few objectionable selections. But I don't want to go into all that.

There is only one bone that I wish to pick. Both John Lennon and Paul McCartney made the list. But I heartily disagree with the panelists on the rankings. John Lennon came in at number five and Paul McCartney at number eleven.

Lennon v. McCartney is smart versus cute, style versus substance, "Imagine" versus "Silly Love Songs". And I think it clouds some people's judgment on the talents of these two giants.

McCartney has been so pigeonholed as a lightweight, causing people to disregard his awesome talent. Yes, Macca has penned some dire lyrics, but he also wrote "Yesterday", "Penny Lane" and "Hey Jude" (which he wrote, ultimately, because Mr. Lennon wasn't exactly father-of-the-year to Julian), just to name three fairly smart rock songs.

And let's not forget that McCartney is arguably the best bass player in rock history. I'm not saying he is the best, but if you made a Top 5, after John Entwistle and Paulie, you would get a wide range of nominees.

Finally, McCartney is an incredible singer. He can sing rock, he can sing with soul, he can sing the mooniest pop song (and has often), he can croon, and he does so effortlessly. Or should I say, he can be at peak intensity on a classic like "Maybe I'm Amazed" and if you watch him, there are no histrionics. He can just hit the right level every time.

Now John Lennon was a great rock 'n' roll singer. His hoarse, blow out version of Chuck Berry's "Rock And Roll Music" is just Exhibit A, as Lennon was an intense presence on rockers and ballads. And as The Beatles went from rock and pop to more experimental stuff, Lennon was a definitive vocalist.

But saying all that, Paul McCartney is a better singer than John Lennon. Or most rock singers ever -- very few could do as much as McCartney. I realize this should be something left to the ear of the beholder, but I'd really have to hear a compelling explanation as to why someone would think Lennon was better. Like, for example, "I'm Yoko Ono." I could understand that.

But what do I know? If I was in charge of the list, Robin Zander of Cheap Trick would be in the top 10, and Brian Connolly of Sweet and Russell Mael of Sparks wouldn't be too far behind.

5 comments:

Laura Faeth said...

Yes, Robin Zander definitely should have been on that list. One of the greatest rock singers ever.

Slack-a-gogo said...

While I prefer the edginess of Lennon's vocals, McCartney really is the better singer. And if you take away the double tracking on so many of John's leads, you're left a thinner vocal performance.

(The) Chutney Prophet said...

Amen. :D I've had the same thought. Paul is so often referred to as the "commercial" Beatle, and that's just a gross oversimplification. And, as much as I respect John, the latter's voice is actually rather nasally. Paul's probably the most objectively good singer in the Beatles (in my humble opinion).

Anonymous said...

You know, I love The Beatles, I really do. One of my favorite bands. I think they're amazing and fun and more or less extremley innovative. And I'm not going to get into the "The Beatles are/aren't the best band in the world" discussion. And as much as I love The Beatles, I still have to admit that I don't really think that John Lennon or Paul McCartney are amazing singers. Paul had a nice voice, Lennon had a pretty fair one. But compared to people like Freddie Mercury, or even Roger Daltrey (who also had an amazing power in his voice)... well, they don't quite measure up... at all, really. Still love The Beatles, though. I just don't love how everyone rates thim so highly, so narrow-mindedly.

A girl in love with love... said...

Dire lyrics? Where and when and how?

But I agree with all the rest.