This is how The Beatles decided the songwriting pecking order
The Beatles albums always seemed to have some kind of formulaic feel to them, especially later on in their career where it was assumed there would be an allotted number of songs for each of the members to take the lead. However, this was far from the truth in the early days as George Harrison revealed following the split of the band in 1970.
When The Fab Four announced their break up in January 1970, there was no love lost between Paul McCartney and the other three members of the group. While the bass player seemed to out on his own, the rest of the band remained tight-knit but the songwriting partnership of Lennon and McCartney had started to suffer as their relationship wavered leading to it becoming untenable.
As their careers progressed and their creative visions began to sway into four different directions, their personal musical tastes changed and they all evolved as people with age. In their last couple of years as a group, each member of the band was having to compromise a lot more than they all likely envisaged when they began in the band all those years ago and, judging from what George Harrison said on reflection, it would seem that The Beatles had become more of a business venture than a creative form of escapism.
Harrison broke his silence four months following the band’s split which, although had seen like it was on the cards, still managed to send the entire world into a state of mourning. While he was in New York, the guitarist popped by into Howard Smith’s show on WABC-FM where he managed to get some frustrations off his chest at long last.
“I’ve had one or two songs on each album,” he commented. “Well, there are four songs of mine on the double White Album. But now, uhh, the output of songs is too much to be able to just sit around, you know, waiting to put two songs on an album. I’ve got to get ’em out, you know,” Harrison added when commenting on his need to flex his creative muscles as a solo artist.
The topic of conversation then shifted to how The Beatles decided whose creative vision gets followed on each record and whether it was a diplomatic process. “It was whoever would be the heaviest would get the most songs done,” he said, bluntly. “So consequently, I couldn’t be bothered pushing, like, that much. You know, even on ‘Abbey Road’ for instance, we’d record about eight tracks before I got ’round to doing one of mine.”
He continued: “Because uhh, you know, you say ‘Well, I’ve got a song,’ and then with Paul, ‘Well I’ve got a song as well and mine goes like this — diddle-diddle-diddle-duh,’ and away you go! You know, it was just difficult to get in there, and I wasn’t gonna push and shout.” The guitarist then revealed the shift that occurred as the years went on, “It was just over the last year or so we worked something out, which is still a joke really. Three songs for me, three songs for Paul, three songs for John, and two for Ringo.”
The fact that they had to come up with this formula to make an album suggests that the records began to become a series of songs cobbled together rather than a genuine collective record with one running theme throughout, a factor which was what The Beatles did so well at one point. The hostile split wasn’t down to just one reason, but the creative differences were undoubtedly the predominant factor and led to some great music all round as they got to do what they truly wanted to do.