For whatever reason, John Lennon was relatively dismissive of many songs he wrote during his tenure with The Beatles. Whether it’s early material like ‘It’s Only Love’ with its “terrible lyric”, psychedelic songs like ‘Good Morning Good Morning’, beloved singles like ‘Eight Days a Week’, later period compositions like the “nonsense song” ‘Dig a Pony’ or hidden gems like ‘Hey Bulldog’, nothing was sacred to Lennon.
Still, he wasn’t all doom and gloom. Lennon would occasionally complement the material of his songwriting partner, Paul McCartney, and held respect for some of his own writing as well. Lennon’s main point of concern, inexplicably, was that while he could stomach gobbledygook lyrics, he didn’t consider himself the best melody writer.
“There was a period when I thought I didn’t write melodies, that Paul wrote those and I just wrote straight, shouting rock ‘n’ roll,” Lennon recalled in his later years. Lennon was incredibly dismissive of his earlier compositions, with songs like ‘I Call Your Name’ and ‘Little Child’ being lumped into his own sardonic self-assessments.
But there were a few tracks that Lennon acknowledged as disproving this notion. “But of course, when I think of some of my own songs – ‘In My Life’, or some of the early stuff, ‘This Boy’ – I was writing melody with the best of them,” he said. ‘In My Life’, especially, is a melodic tour de force. ‘This Boy’ features intricate and occasionally dissonant harmonies, but the doo-wop style that he based it on was clear to hear. ‘In My Life’ sounded like it had no predecessors or forefathers. It was completely original and classic Lennon.
Of course, classic Lennon is also rough and ready rock and roll that doesn’t require a strong focus on melody. ‘Yer Blues’, ‘Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey’, and ‘One After 909’ are all relatively bare-bones in terms of melody, and yet they work because of the attitude and emotion that comes to the fore. When Lennon began keying into those volatile emotions on John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, the melody would be replaced with screams to stirring effect. It all just serves to show how versatile Lennon was as a songwriter.