Another lesson from The Beatles.

A long-lost Beatles interview was just discovered from a Scottish tv taping session in April 1964. This was initially touted as the earliest surviving Beatles interview—which of course it is not—but it may be the earliest surviving interview in which John Lennon and Paul McCartney discuss their songwriting partnership.

The brief snippet I heard on the radio yesterday was a fresh reminder of a critical lesson in team collaboration we can learn from Lennon and McCartney: it works to share the credit.

John and Paul agreed from the beginning that no matter how much or how little each contributed to a finished song, it was credited equally. (Even if a song was written only by Lennon or only by McCartney it was credited as a 'Lennon-McCartney' composition and the royalties from the song were shared fifty-fifty.)

This was a smart way to manage competition cooperatively. On the one hand, Lennon and McCartney could still take individual pride of ownership in—and receive public recognition from—what each contributed.

After all, most discerning listeners could figure out who wrote which songs (and even which sections of songs) by noting who was singing the lead vocal. For instance, in 'A Day in the Life' John wrote and sang the body of the song, while Paul wrote and sang the bridge ('Woke up, fell out of bed, dragged a comb across my head…').

On the other hand, Lennon and McCartney shared equally in all the financial rewards from each song. Given their competitive natures—which were on ugly display in the later Beatle years, contributing to their eventual breakup—this partnership model may have kept them together years longer than what would have occurred otherwise.

With a few exceptions, most of the Beatles' songwriting competitors were not able to manage their creative differences long enough to sustain long-term business success. (Interestingly, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards adopted the same partnership model as Lennon-McCartney and are still writing, recording, and performing with the Rolling Stones.)

Similar songwriting partnerships might have extended the life of other creatively-gifted bands of that era, such as The Byrds (featuring singer/composers Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark, and David Crosby) or Buffalo Springfield (Neil Young and Stephen Stills), given that both bands were unnecessarily riven by songwriter competition and jealousy.

As the late US President Harry Truman once said: 'It's amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.'


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15 Comments

  1. That's a good point about their songwriting partnership. As far as I can tell, McCartney was the first to break it with "Goodbye" (Mary Hopkin), which was credited only to McCartney. Lennon still kept it up though, attributing the Plastic Ono Band single "Give Peace a Chance" to Lennon/McCartney.

  2. tnk, I *LOVE* your blog, which I HIGHLY recommend to other Beatle lifers: http://lifeofthebeatles.blogspot.com/
    I will check it out in detail this weekend. You might enjoy my three earlier posts on the Beatles on this blog, including my interview with Pete Best last August, which I will include in my book.

    It turns out that "Goodbye" was credited to "Lennon-McCartney." It was a legal agreement so it wasn't something they could mess with until John & Paul were legally divorced. When Mary Hopkin had a hit with it, everybody KNEW Paul wrote it, so that's why everybody talked about it as a McCartney song.

    As a songwriting exegete who loved to de-construct Lennon-McCartney songs, I finally understood some signature features of Paul's writing after I listened closely to "Goodbye" as well as to "Come and Get It" which Paul wrote for Badfinger. Paul was presenting a songwriting clinic with those two songs.

  3. John, This is a great post! I love the notion of the 50/50 royalty split and the Truman quote. I also love the fact that admirers would discover who wrote what. But it is the notion of team work that you have brought out that is so beautiful. This requires a certain amount of continuous humility and confidence. It also requires a willingness to be creative together and to work things out. What a lesson for us all. Thanks!

  4. What about the other Beatles who were left out of the songwriting partnership? Didn't that create divisions within the larger "team"?

  5. Thanks, Judith.

    Anonymous, is that a Greek name? All seriousness aside...the four Beatles shared equally in what they produced together. So recording royalties and income from performances were shared equally four ways. Songwriter income from Lennon-McCartney songs was shared between John and Paul. And George Harrison and Ringo Starr each earned songwriter royalties from the songs each of them wrote alone. They seemed comfortable with that arrangement until their later days when George became a prolific writer and his songs were competing with L-Mc songs for space on Beatle albums. He finally got an A-side on a Beatles single with "Something."

  6. Ringo has sole songwriting credit for "Don't Pass Me By" and "Octopus's Garden," and co-wrote a few lesser known songs for the Beatles. Also he had several hits on his own after the Beatles broke up, including "It Don't Come Easy."

  7. Just saw it advertised. I guess Larry King will have as his guest on Monday, Ringo Starr, to celebrate the latter's birthday. Check your cable guide to be sure of the date, if you're interested. I am not exactly sure, though I think it's Monday. Is Ringo Starr his given name? If not, what is it? Is there a story behind the name change?

  8. I appreciate the tip, Judith. Yes, Ringo - Richard Starkey - will be LK's guest. He earned the appellation "Ringo" from the many gaudy rings he wore!

  9. A footnote to the above: when Larry last interviewed Ringo and Paul he said something to the effect of "What does it feel like to be the only ones alive who can say I played for the Beatles, the greatest band of all time?" This was quite an affront to those of us who appreciate the early contribution that Pete Best made to the Beatles - before he was replaced by Ringo a few weeks before they recorded their first hit record. Pete was a full member of the group when they congealed as a band in Hamburg and returned to Liverpool as a strikingly original rock and roll unit. It's no exaggeration to say: if there were no Pete Best, there'd be no Beatles. And Pete is very much alive - and is still touring with the Pete Best Band, whose CD is due out in the fall.

  10. What a lame interview of Ringo last night by Larry King, featuring such trenchant questions as "What was it like being a Beatle?" The only interesting moment came when Larry asked how Ringo joined the band, replacing the "other drummer" (at least Larry realized this time there was a previous drummer). Ringo brushed off the question saying that was "water under a bridge."

  11. John, I'm in total agreement with you. I turned the interview off just a little while into it. Your blog was, in fact, the main reason I tuned in.

    Rock and Roll Lessons is so much better for all things Beatles (not to mention the other business, philosophical, political, artistic stuff) and Ringo was there. What's up with that?

    Love the new descriptive on your header, John!

  12. Forgot to mention the name of the upcoming CD of the Pete Best Band: "Hayman's Green." That's the name of the road Pete Best lived on when he joined the Beatles just before their first Hamburg trip in 1960. In the basement of the Best home on 8 Hayman's Green was the Casbah Club, where the Beatles first got together. Imagine being an aspiring 19 year-old musician and having the most successful club in town (run by your mother) in YOUR BASEMENT? But this is a topic for a later post...

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