Give the cute one his props

Guest Post By Julie Farin (@JulieFarin)

June 7
In a White House ceremony recently, Paul McCartney was awarded the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, which was created by the Library of Congress to honor artists “whose creative output transcends distinctions between musical styles and idioms, bringing diverse listeners together and fostering mutual understanding and appreciation.” Part of this honor recognizes McCartney for making “an impact far beyond music through his humanitarianism and activism around the world, which are emblematic of the spirit of the Gershwin Prize.”

A writer for NPR Music, Tom Cole, questions whether Sir Paul actually deserved this honor in the absence of his equally talented songwriting partner John Lennon, since The Beatles music catalog is comprised predominantly (with a few exceptions) of Lennon/McCartney tunes.  Cole challenges us to name a post-Beatles McCartney song that “holds even a dim candle to what they wrote together.” Furthermore, he feels that Lennon was the true humanitarian and activist, not McCartney, saying it’s unfair that “the Library’s website does not even mention John Lennon’s name.” 

While Lennon’s activism during the Vietnam era has been well-documented, most notably his 1969 anthem “Give Peace a Chance” still being used today in anti-war rallies, McCartney has also stood behind causes he feels strongly about, such as Animal Rights and Meat-Free Mondays.

Regarding his post-Beatles body of work, I would argue that “Live & Let Die,” “Here Today” (which he wrote for Lennon in 1982 and still performs in concert) and “Maybe I’m Amazed” are among McCartney’s finest compositions. Although the Library of Congress website might not have mentioned Lennon by name, President Barack Obama certainly made sure he did on the night McCartney was honored.

John Lennon has always been my favorite Beatle. But no one is implying that Lennon was less of a songwriter than McCartney by bestowing this honor on Sir Paul, who turns 68 on June 18th. And while the work McCartney has produced and continues to produce in the 40 years since the Beatles dismantled may not be everyone’s cuppa English tea, even the staunchest Macca foe would have to admit that the man and his music have staying power. Let’s see if anyone remembers Lady Gaga 40 years from now.

“In Performance at the White House” airs on PBS July 28 at 8 pm ET/PT.

12 thoughts on “Give the cute one his props

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  2. Thanks for the info, Julie.
    Ringo’s drumming is like James Garner’s acting: so plain and lacking in “technique” that the snobs think there’s no hard work or talent involved. There is, lots of it.

  3. Hi Peter –
    Paul McCartney has always been a British citizen; he did not automatically become an American citizen when he married Linda Eastman. After a lengthy legal battle, John Lennon was finally awarded “permanent resident” status; his green card was official in 1976.

  4. I don’t think it has to do with whether the honoree is alive. Remember that the Gershwin Prize is is an award from Library of Congress, a U.S. government entity. I did a quick search and couldn’t find anything that explicitly requires an honoree to be a U.S. citizen.
    Still, that seems would seem logical in the selection process. Wonder and Simon may have gotten it first because they were born on U.S. soil.
    Obviously McCartney was not, but I believe he remains a U.S. citizen because of his first marriage.
    Lennon was never a U.S. citizen; he had notorious immigration problems before being allowed to stay here. To my knowledge, Lennon was not naturalized before his death.

  5. Paul is a living legend and absolutely deserved the Gershwin award. Perhaps John’s death played a role in his not being honored, I don’t know if they give the award to the deceased, if not the real debate here should be why did Stevie Wonder and Paul Simon win before McCartney? If they do award the dead (so far they haven’t), Mr Lennon should receive one too. He actually wrote just over half of the Beatles songs himself. The uneducated quip about Ringo being a rudimentary drummer comes from some one who obviously knows nothing about drumming. Short of awarding The Beatles themselves the Gershwin, Paul will do for me.

  6. “Dark Horse” is right. That was one of the terrific Harrison songs I listened to on yesterday’s drive.

  7. Totally agree, Peter! The article reminded me of those “Beatles vs. Stones” articles I used to read in Creem and Crawdaddy magazines back in the day… Regarding Harrison: Unfortunately, he was the dark horse of the Fab 4 songwriters because he got a late start compared to Lennon/McCartney… But George’s great body of work certainly made up for the lost time.

  8. Great post! Sure, there was some mediocre pop in the Seventies and Eighties, but Sir Paul’s overall output — with and without John Lennon — is pretty extraordinary.
    Tom Cole is stuck in the same Worship John/Hate Paul trap taken by too many lazy music writers. I’d like to think that if John Lennon were still with us at 69, he’d have mellowed a lot and be giving Paul his proper due. And George Harrison too, for that matter.

  9. Good point, ThelemicWaves –
    Not sure what criteria Obama used to label Paul “the most successful songwriter in history.” I’m sure Cole Porter and others are up there high on that list as well… Obama did mention, however, that Paul’s music has been on the charts cumulatively for 32 years! Now that IS impressive… I don’t even think Paul could believe that when he heard it!

  10. I am a fan indeed. There’s no stopping that. The only Beatle who’s career doesn’t impress me is Ringo Starr (I like his humor, but his drumming was rudimentary and his singing style far too melancholy for me at times). I was grateful that President Obama mentioned The Beatles as a whole toward achieving the great influence Paul was being honored for, and that he also mentioned John Lennon specifically. But he did label Paul McCartney “the most successful songwriter in history.” The truth is, by whatever standards that was based on (I’m not saying it isn’t factual, just that I don’t know the yard stick), it’s relatively true that John’s commercial prowess didn’t live up to Paul’s. I’ve never contested that. Beatle, Wing man, or just plain Paul – Sir Macca has always been the “turn to boy” when it came to knowing how to keep the times.
    Great article, Julie.