When The Beatles split in 1970, something strange happened. Suddenly, a band that had been defined by their camaraderie, we’re being pitched against one another in a bizarre talent battle that sought to answer one question: who had been the creative force behind the group’s success? For some, the answer was self-evident – it has been the songwriting partnership of John Lennon and Paul McCartney that had spawned the group’s biggest hits. Therefore, some said, they must be the best songwriters.
For others, however, the answer wasn’t so simple. After all, it’s not like Lennon and McCartney wrote every single Beatles song in existence. No, George Harrison – and even Ringo Starr – played an important part, with Harrison contributing tracks such as ‘Here Comes The Sun’, ‘Within You Without You’, and countless others. In retrospect, it seemed Harrison had offered up many of The Beatles’ most mature and musically adventurous tracks, leading people to pitch his talents against the man generally regarded as one of the most important songwriters of his generation, John Lennon.
In one notable interview, John Lennon’s solo material was compared to George Harrison’s in a way that Lennon violently disagreed with. Both their solo ventures had seemed to embrace a more folk-leaning style, but the comparison was just lazy journalism in Lennon’s eyes. His biggest qualm was that the interviewer was trying to draw similarities between the way Harrison and Lennon himself sang about religion in many of their solo recordings. But, what the comparison seemed to ignore was the fact that Lennon was often criticising religion, whereas Harrison’s music celebrated his newfound Hindu faith.
Yoko Ono would later say: “What I respect about John’s music is it’s very real. You know how people tell children about Santa Claus and all that, and you know when you start not to believe in Santa Claus and all that shit, but the thing is, like George Harrison, the only thing that I object [to] is that he’s still saying Santa Claus is there.”
In many ways, it’s unsurprising that Lennon so disliked being compared to Harrison. After all, one of the main motivations behind The Beatles split was that it would allow its members the opportunity to pursue projects which better reflected the unique personalities they had developed throughout the latter half of the 1960s. Whilst Harrison had fallen in love with eastern mysticism, Lennon had become even more politically radical than he had been as a young man, a radicalism he expressed through songs like ‘Imagine’ and ‘Working Class Hero’.
To then be lumped in with George, who expressed vastly different (and frequently indifferent) political views, must have felt like a real kick in the teeth for John. Lennon’s indignation in this regard was clear during a TV interview in which the Harrison comparison came up once again. “We’re not talking about that anyway,” he said. “We’re talking about social revolution in England. No, I don’t-I don’t like-I don’t want this-it’s hard not to compare with George, even for us. But I don’t want to be compared with George. Why should I be compared with George?”.