#2. Scott Walker Rejects Pop Stardom for the Avant-Garde
Hey, ever heard of the Walker Brothers? Yeah, me either, until my buddy Blind Boy from the Rubber Bandits turned me on to them and, more importantly, their frontman, Scott Walker. Apparently, for a moment in the mid-'60s, they were on the receiving end of accolades reserved for the likes of the Beatles. They were wildly successful and known for their dreamy frontman's distinctive baritone vocals.
Anyway, instead of being part of a wildly successful pop group, Scott Walker decided to make incredibly obscure avant-garde soundscapes, a transformation so unexpected and extreme, one critic described it as "Andy Williams reinventing himself as Stockhausen." To put that in perspective for younger readers: going from being Justin Bieber to ... I don't know, someone complex and important you've never heard of because you don't listen to stuff like that because I just had to patronize you with a Justin Bieber reference.
Walker's music is obtuse, dramatic, and extreme, and I could link clips like this, but on one listen it wouldn't make much of an impression. And if it did, it probably wouldn't be a very good one. At the end of the day, perhaps the best proof of what an important musician Walker is would be this audio clip from 1995 in which he calls in to a radio show to wish David Bowie a happy birthday. Even from the mere audio, you can hear David Bowie -- already regarded as his generation's pre-eminent musical provocateur -- utterly lose his shit and his mind that Scott Walker is even talking to him:
#1. John Lennon Has the Guts to Do What He'd Slammed Paul McCartney for Doing
It's slowly changing, but John Lennon gets a lot of praise for the Beatles, and Paul McCartney seems to take a lot of shit. History remembers Lennon as the more earnest poet, writing music like "Strawberry Fields Forever," and McCartney as the more fluffy songsmith of things like "Yellow Submarine." For the most part, those classifications are crap, and true Beatles fans don't think in those terms. McCartney wrote some of the Beatles' raunchiest songs, like "Helter Skelter" and "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?" while Lennon certainly wrote his share of fluff, like "Good Night." Both men enjoyed rock and blues and pure pop. And some of Lennon's greatest compositions benefited greatly from McCartney (check out McCartney's bass and drums on "Dear Prudence." Yeah, he plays the drums on that.)
Lots of factors have led to this characterization: Paul was more conventionally cute and boyish-looking, Paul had a smoother, higher tenor voice, and Paul lived longer and produced a lot more incredibly mediocre solo material. But some of the biggest blame for the McCartney slander belongs to John Lennon himself, who said some very not nice things about Paul in the press and got George Harrison to play on the acerbic and vicious "How Do You Sleep?" which paints Paul as a sellout.
Paul's response was to write a massive No. 1 hit called "Silly Love Songs," in which he sings:
"Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs
And what's wrong with that?
I'd like to know, because here I go again
I love you"
Yep, a massive hit with a chorus that's was merely "I love you." The most brilliantly passive-aggressive fuck you ever.
And it's pretty hard to beat up on McCartney for writing love songs when he spent the '70s in a blissful marriage to Linda McCartney, whereas Lennon's decade was more tumultuous, with a rocky relationship with Yoko and some heroin problems. But by 1980, Lennon's life had sorted out. He was back together with Yoko, spending time with his baby, Sean, and getting back to recording. In short, his life was more closely resembling that of McCartney, who had already thrown himself into a stable family life. The result is Lennon's great work on his final album, Double Fantasy. Now, don't get me wrong: I love the album, but basically it's a bunch of silly love songs. Take a listen to "(Just Like) Starting Over" or "Woman."
Basically, after spending the '70s perfecting an image as the true troubled artist, responsible for the most "legit" Beatles and solo music, John Lennon seemed to remember that, much like his friend Paul McCartney, he liked pop music and love songs. Double Fantasy would be deemed saccharine if it weren't so sincere and catchy. Still, it took tremendous balls to release such a simply romantic album after spending 10 years talking politics and publicly dumping on his former partner for writing pop songs. Clearly, Lennon was aware of the public's perception. I remember listening to "The Lost Lennon Tapes" as a boy and hearing him mock "Woman" during the recording by comparing it to his earlier Beatles composition "Girl." (YouTube has failed me though ...) But he was brave enough to pursue a simple, honest, romantic album, and due to that sincerity, his change of heart reads more like maturity than hypocrisy.
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