While the John Lennon and Paul McCartney songwriting partnership remains one of the greatest of all time, The Beatles duo very rarely composed songs together in their entirety. It meant that as time progressed and each member of the band began writing material, they would only hear the track as it was being laid down, sometimes even as it came out.
While the surprise must have been welcomed rather than trialling every song they had before recording, it also meant that on occasion Lennon’s nose was put out of joint. Not by a particularly bad track, it has to be said, but more likely because a song was really great. It was this competitive streak that inspired some of Lennon’s finest work.
“It was a great way for us to keep each other on our toes,” McCartney told Uncut in 2004. “I’d write ‘Yesterday’ and John would go away and write ‘Norwegian Wood.’ If he wrote ‘Strawberry Fields’, it was like he’d upped the ante, so I had to come up with something as good as ‘Penny Lane’.” But it wasn’t always that way.
During the band’s formative years, pre-1964, Lennon and McCartney often worked “eyeball to eyeball”, creating songs like pop hits ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ and ‘She Loves You’. It would be safe to say that anything after 1964, as the band’s songs became more personal and reflective of their songwriter, Macca and Lennon began squaring off against one another.
One such case occurred upon hearing Paul McCartney’s song ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’. Lennon, with his creative competitiveness in full flow, threw himself into a writing cram session and it became the driving force behind the band’s next album. The song was a major shift of power behind the scenes, seeing Macca write and record the song almost entirely on his own. On stage too things had changed, the new track even saw McCartney taking up solo vocal duties.
It was a sign of things to come. While the group tried to keep to Brian Epstein’s intense marketing schedule of a film and two albums every year, Lennon was seemingly under threat from McCartney as the role of leader of The Beatles. What had always been John’s band was now beginning to change. When ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ was chosen as the A-side for their single release, Lennon reacted the best way possible—he went on a creative streak unlike any other.
As soon as The Beatles went into the studio to record the B-side for the single, Lennon was primed and ready with the rambunctious ‘You Can’t Do That’, a song that included Lennon’s first guitar solo—but he wasn’t done there. For the new album, A Hard Day’s Night, the soundtrack to the film, Lennon had a few more aces up his sleeve.
The Bespectacled Beatle also wrote and recorded ‘I Should Have Known Better’, ‘Tell Me Why’ and ‘If I Fell’ all for the new record. It marked one of Lennon’s most fruitful periods in the Fab Four. Perhaps the most memorable of the lot was the song ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, a song which took the number spot in the singles chart and shot the album up to number one too.
If there was one thing guaranteed to light a fire under John Lennon it was always going to be a Paul McCartney song. Below listen to both ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ and ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and enjoy one of the best musical competitions ever.