Why did so many ex-Beatle solo albums suck?

Having noticed the debate in the thread about solo stars who were part of a band, I began to think about how terrible most of The Beatles’ solo albums are.

Let’s start with John Lennon

Two Virgins The one with the naked cover. Ok, that got some attention back then. However, I’ve heard the album and it is nothing but a bunch of noise and gibberish.

Life with the Lions Same as above, although no naked cover.

The Wedding Album. I think the orginal set was more of a collector’s piece. The music again was garbage.

Live Peace in Toronto Half the record is outstanding with John Lennon and Clapton playing some oldies live. The other half is more of Yoko screaming.

The remainder of his solo catalog is decent. Some of the are a bit uneven such as Sometime in New York City. I’m not sure Rock and Roll ever needed to be released.

Paul McCartney

Ok McCartney and Ram were both listenable, although not great efforts. Wild Life is just terrible. The remainder of the catalog is very uneven. Band on the Run ** and Venus and Mars ** are by far the two best albums with almost no “throwaway” tracks. Tug of War was well received at the time, although it does sound a bit dated now. London Town, Back to the Egg, and Pipes of Peace are very weak albums with lots of filler. I’ll stop there with Paul.

George Harrison

Wonderwall Music and **Electronic Sound ** are both experimental albums. In my opinion, they are as unlistenable as Lennon’s early solo work. All Things must Pass is an excellent album although there are a few filler tracks. Then it does downhill and fast. Living in the Material World, Dark Horse, **Extra Texture ** among others are all plagued with George’s voice problems, preachy (in my opinion) lyrics, and poor production.

Ringo Starr

Sentimental Journey was his attempt at doing old standards. Then, he turns around and does the country album Beaucops of Blues. The Ringo album was by far the highlight of his early solo career. The less said about his mid 70’s solo work, the better. Anyone listen to the disco songs on **Ringo the 4th ** in the past 25 years? I’ll give Ringo credit. He realized he was better as part of a band.

In fact, I think that is what made the Beatles’ solo albums so problematic. An idea which would have worked for one 3 minute song on a diverse Beatles album did not work when expanded to a full album. Even the immense talent of John Lennon and Paul McCartney was not able to overcome their own limitations. Perhaps they also need George Martin or each other to tell them when a song just…sucks!


I think George Martin was the real genius behind the Beatles.

The same reason Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Michael Richards’ solo sitcoms all failed after Seinfeld went off the air. There was just something magical about these four particular people coming together at one point in history that can’t necessarily be duplicated alone.

I think once they got out on their own, their egos took over. I’m sure they thought “I’m a friggin’ Beatle. Everything I do is gold.” And what producer/studio musician/bandmate is going to tell them different?

But when they were a friggin’ Beatle, they had three (four, counting George M.) other guys not afraid of the Beatle name, and not afraid to say if something sucked.

John, it seemed, really didn’t care about commercial sucess. His albums tended to lean towards the experimental.

Paul, OTOH, liked sucess and was all about songs that would sell. Granted, some of his stuff sucked. He peaked early with Band on the Run. He had a lot of good pop songs after that, but nothing nearly as good. Had John lived, I am certain he would have ragged Paul relentlessly for the horrific “Ebony and Ivory” and more so on the unspeakable horror that was “The Girl Is Mine”.

George just wanted to do the stuff he started while in the Beatles. “Here Comes the Sun”, for example, was far superior than most of the stuff John and/or Paul did. As a solo artists, songs like “What Is Life” showed what a great songwriter he could be. We’ll overlook Gone Troppo.

Ringo. Well, Ringo is Ringo. He was immensely sucessful in the early 70s, but tanked quickly. He doesn’t seem to care one way or the other about sucess.

This is key. Paul and John were not afraid to slag each other if they thought the song was substandard. Many of their songs were either written together (early in their career) or pieced together (“Day in the Life” being a good example).

In addition to their friendship, there was also a bit of competition between the two. After John died, Paul had made it known that he was the one who was into the experimental music before John (which is true, but John is the one known as the “artist.”)

Then, George Martin complemented them by putting into effect their instructions. Paul would describe a certain sound he wanted for the solo on Penny Lane, and it was GM who came up with the Bach trumpet and scored the solo.

But collaboration can become stressful and wearing, so it’s no wonder that, after they broke up, they’d want to do things their way. It’s a great pity that John was murdered, because as time passes and the pressure on them to reform eased, one wonders if they would have decided to collaborate again, just the two of them, like they did in the beginning? What would they have come up with?

One extremely important factor in many such situations: Because they were older when their solo careers got going. It’s very rare for musical (and many other) artists to maintain the originality of their youth.

Look at the Rolling Stones. They’ve been a joke for over 20 years now. Solo has nothing to do with it. You get older, you get “slower”.

I think, that given their ages, they did quite well thru much of the 1970s.

OTOH, once you get old enough, you magically enter The Land Of Lots of Grammys for Bland Music!

Whereas as the Beatles they had the collective talent and the imagination, along with George Martin’s mad genius at editing and the knack of figuring out what the hell John and Paul wanted, to not turn anything they did into suck; as individuals they sometimes overreached themselves, and, sadly, for the most part reflexively dismissed their past works. Later on, Paul and Ringo came to embrace their past works ‘When they were Fab’, as evidenced in their latest concerts.

Their individual works did reach Beatlesque in quality, if not in sales, and they did rub off each other (who would have really thought that Paul would do something as hardcore as ‘Live and Let Die’, and John would write some of the sweetest ballads such as ‘Woman’?).

It was good that Ringo was the first out with individual success. That proved that there were no weak links whatsoever in the Beatles.

That individually they couldn’t match the album consistency like the stretch from Revolver to Abbey Road, proves how it is almost impossible to achieve something like this in pop music. The only ones that come close is Outkast.

I’ve said it before, but I think the song that would’ve set John off was “Freedom.”

Absolutely. One of the big reasons that the Beatles have the legendary status that the Stones and the Who don’t is because they broke up as early as they did.

A buddy of mine in college insisted that seven years was pretty much as long as any band could go without starting to lose it (and I don’t know that I’d stick to that figure as hard as he did, but there’s something to be said for it).

A lot of solo Beatles’ work has a very crappy production. John Lennon songs like “Nobody Loves You When You’re Down and Out”, Whatever Gets You Through Your Life", “Woman”, “Watching The Wheels”, “Mind Games”, and “#9 Dream” are, in my opinion very solid songs if not up to the standards of “In My Life” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” - but they all have this awful, dated 1970s “AM Gold” adult contemporary production that just makes me barf.

George Harrison also had some great songs that were poorly produced. But overall, I think he produced three fairly solid solo albums (‘All Things Must Pass’, ‘Cloud Nine’ and ‘Brainwashed’) compared to two definite winners from John ("Plastic Ono Band’ and ‘Imagine’).

I also think John’s early albums with Yoko (such as the nudie covered one) were more ‘happenings’ than proper ‘albums’.

Paul, has made some good albums, including his last couple of records. Most of the stuff he released in the 1980s and early 1990s was tripe, and seriously hurt his reputation. I think he would have benefitted from an extended retirement and comeback.

Anyway, he has the opposite problem from John…his stuff generally sounds great, but often there isn’t much substance there.

Ringo, well he was never a major songwriter…but I will argue that the single best single album by any ex-Beatle was “Blast From Your Past”. Its a Ringo compilation album from 1975. Of course, this is helped by the fact that most other ex-Beatle compilation albums suck (other than Paul’s “Wingspan” which is two discs and meanders through about 15 years, and includes almost as much filler as a regular Paul album).

Yes I know albums should be italicized and songs placed in quotes, I’m lazy.

You’d be better off with All the Best.

I don’t know if Paul and John would have ever reconciled enough to record together again. How great would it have been to see this … 2005 Lennon-McCartney Unplugged Tour … tickets go on sale tomorrow. Wow … the dream is over, what can I say?

Well, “Start Me Up” was released in 1981, meaning that they beat seven years by quite a bit, but they are a big exception, yes.

Others I can think of are Pink Floyd, the Who, Led Zepplin, R.E.M., Van Halen and U2, who are still rolling along, especially if they can score a couple radio hits off their new album.

But it’s hard to find these exceptions. There aren’t many who can make past seven years.

Can you imagine the ticket prices?

Maybe they would have to do it like poker in Vegas. You have to go all-in. :smiley:

Gestalt. The whole is more than the sum of its parts.

Paul stopped John disappearing up his own behind.

John stopped Paul wandering off in cutesy whimsy.

George no longer had a quality threshold he had to cross before getting on the record.

Ringo is a drummer.

Futile Gesture summed it up nicely. Allow me to add:

  • the relentless, inhumanely-paced pressure cooker that was the Beatles forced a certain songcraft discipline to their process. Relieved of that context, the individuals probably breathed a collective sigh of relief, then relaxed into poorer songcraft.

  • The Beatles, more than any other band, went through a creative arc that is practically the equivalent of Einstein intuiting the Theory of Relativity in his head - what other band has gone from “Love Me Do” to “Strawberry Fields” in 4 years? Maybe that experimental vibe spun off into different directions, and without the control of George Martin and the “Beatles Process” it lost focus…

I have to wonder if they would have started to suck as well if they hadn’t broken up. I never really liked Let it Be very much, and I doubt that they could have stayed together much longer, unless they did it solely for the money.