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The Most Successful “Beatle” Post Break-up..?

It is, perhaps, the greatest rhetorical question among pop music aficionados because it elicits so many answers based on arguments ranging from simple math to generational preferences. Older fans that remember the Beatles prior to their disbanding remember that one solo Beatle song from the 70’s that gave them  false hope for a Beatle reunion. One solo album from any of the four Beatles could easily form the basis for one’s entire argument as to which solo Beatle was the greatest because All Things Must Pass, Plastic Ono Band, Imagine, Ram, McCartney or Ringo are all considered classic albums and nearly flawless depending on one’s taste.

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And, to prove just how difficult this question really is to answer, consider the trivia question, “What Beatle sold the most units as a solo artist?” Friends and I used to participate in music trivia at the fabulous PNA in Adams, and our grouping rivaled the great “super teams” of any generation be it Curry, Durant, Green, and Thompson, or the Beatles themselves. However, the aforementioned question stumped us, and it had less to do with our ability to count and more to do with us getting stuck on all of the non-summative reasons for why one Beatle sold more albums than the next. I think the answer to the trivia question was obviously “McCartney,” but the experience of getting that question wrong proved to me just how impossible it would be (beyond counting units moved by the artist) to answer the question, “Which Beatle was most successful post break-up?” On the heels of hearing Paul McCartney’s brilliant second album, Ram, for the first time yesterday, I present my argument in hopes that someone will tear it apart.

Albums:

The Beatles were so prolific in the 5 year period following their break-up, that identifying the best album from each requires some thought. Based on my personal preferences, I worked backwards.

4. Ringo: His 1973 release Ringo features songs written by many of his famous friends, but Ringo’s charm came in his singles and innate charisma. “You’re Sixteen” is probably the best song in his solo catalog, but Ringo’s best solo albums were greatest hits compilations.

3. Lennon: You could argue that Lennon’s experimental phase after the break-up of the Beatles made for better albums from an artistic sense, but I always felt as if Plastic Ono sounded like a side project more than something that should have been taken as seriously as it was by critics. Plastic Ono could have impacted the 70’s musical landscape in the same way that the overrated side project Mad Season impacted 90’s alternative music: it allowed fans to experience something fresh- from an artistic sense- and different from the main product (Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains) without completely destroying said “main product.” Instead, Plastic Ono, though good, likely moved eyes and ears of some Beatle fans to McCartney’s earlier releases.

2. McCartney: Ram takes creative risks in “Admiral Halsey,” jabs at Lennon / Ono in “Too Many People,” and features nearly flawless song writing in “Dear Boy.” There are so many McCartney releases (he still makes music), that it is easy for younger fans to miss these albums and dismiss McCartney’s solo work as secondary to that of the other Beatles, but Ram is a masterpiece. 1970’s McCartney was just as good, and it is hard to argue that any of the four Beatles got off to a better start in their solo career than Paul McCartney.

1. Harrison: All Things Must Pass, with its two top hits, and a Dylan cover, is so much more than the two songs that are so prominently associated with it. Harrison’s guitar work is on display in this double LP, and the thing that separates this album from Ram is the way that Harrison creates catchy songs with his musicianship rather than through the jauntiness of pop songs. The album stands in contrast to Plastic Ono in the sense that it visits serious themes without alienating part of the fan base. I love this album.

Songs:

4. Ringo: Most of the songs he wrote were so fun and enjoyable without trying to be anything other than that. Ringo, it should also be remembered, was involved in a wider variety of ventures post-Beatles than any of the other three Beatles thus limiting his focus on music. Still, “You’re Sixteen” and “The No No Song” are the most “fun” songs in the post Beatles’ catalog, and “It Don’t Come Easy” just misses being that signature 70’s hit that the other three Beatles all had.

3. Harrison: “My Sweet Lord” is a classic song forever associated with the 70’s, and there were great songs that came after that one especially when considering “Got my Mind Set on You” and the music he made with the Traveling Wilbury’s. Still, Harrison just didn’t make as much solo music as the other three Beatles.

2. McCartney: There are so many records from Paul McCartney with so many great songs, that it is difficult to place him behind Lennon. “Maybe I’m Amazed” is a classic rock staple, and an iconic song, and his catalog is so full of solid hits spanning from the 70’s to present day…

1. Lennon: As much as I dislike Plastic Ono in all of its failed attempts to one up Bob Dylan, it is hard to argue Lennon’s song writing ability. “Imagine” is the best post-Beatles song by far. “Mind Games” is so cool, “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” with Elton John is the best post-Beatles pop tune. Even his covers, like his solo-acoustic “Stand By Me,” which might be better than the original version, are mind blowing.

The only safe assumptions that I would make after writing this is that Ringo may not have a claim to the title of best Beatle post breakup, and readers likely have their own dissenting opinions that can be argued for eons.

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