The Beatles are a sterling example of the concept that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
It came as something of a surprise to me—a pleasant surprise, I must say—that there was no blow-by-blow breakdown of the “tribute” to John Lennon that appeared on cable earlier this week. Although I still remember where I was when I heard that Lennon had been shot (for some reason, remembrances of such things are supposed to signify an import beyond the norm, which I’m not so sure about, as it could simply be a function of difference, not significance), it has always seemed to me that his post-Beatles career with such things as “Instant Karma,” wasn’t much more than a variant of a Ray Stevens novelty act.
The whole veneration of Lennon goes back to something that happened during my generation, when The Beatles were new and we were children. Everyone had their “favorite” Beatle. Although they were considered as individuals (e.g., “Paul is the cute one”; “George is the shy one”), the band members were inextricably tied to the band as a whole; there was no notion that there could be solos. Of course, the main dichotomy was between John and Paul for the simple reason that they were the two up front: No one—at least no one at age 10—was pouring over the small type on the label on the vinyl to see who was responsible for what. Even on the Saturday morning cartoon of the band there were obvious differences between the two. John was the guy who made the most cracks while Paul evinced a certain niceness. And so it has remained ever since.
But let’s face it: for every “Mind Games” or “Maybe I’m Amazed,” there has been a whole lot of post-Beatles dreck. Not that I think that those guys should have stopped working after the band broke up, but it does seem to me that there should have been a bit of critical distance applied to their subsequent music. Less fawning. More listening.
For some reason, musicians who have gained success, recognition and popularity through their membership in a band almost never (I really can’t think of a good counter example, but I’m keeping my options open) do as well solo. Think, for example, of all of the albums released by Mick Jagger, Robert Plant, Pete Townshend and on and on and on. How many of these are better than the Stones, Zeppelin, Who, or Whomever?
Note how the Patron Musician of this site, Neil Young, has been a part of many bands but has always been apart from them. In my argument, Buffalo Springfield been successful, we would probably not be giving Neil quite as many props today—if any at all.
7 thoughts on “The David Caruso Factor”
I totally agree, but with these exceptions: Peter Gabriel. I loathe Genesis, but Gabriel’s solo work (esp. his earlier stuff) is great. Bob Mould did some great stuff after leaving Husker Du.Also, Don Henley didn’t do too bad. Actually, I think his dark pop is much better than the Eagles, for the most part.Morrisey and The Smiths come to mind. Also, Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music. Rod Stewart and The Small Faces. Danzig and The Misfits…but that’s really stretching it.Then there’s Sting, but frankly I much prefer old Police albums over his solo dreck. However, he’s done pretty well commercially.But that’s about all I can think of. Without a doubt the vast majority the members of great bands tend to be so-so on their own. Of course, when it’s time for the members of nSync to head out on their own I’m sure we’ll all be amazed at their prolific output. :D
A couple of things from me…Most post-Beatle solo stuff from any of the members is somewhat weak. Oddly, all of their best solo work came immediately after the break up of the Beatles: Plastic Ono Band, Ram, All Things Must Pass and Beau Cup Full of Blues. I think the Beatles’ solo work full into the hands of bad production, Phil Spector’s work on mid-70s Lennon albums the most egregious. There are some good songs on Walls and Bridges but good luck listening to the schmaltzy arrangements Heir Spector drenched the album in.Wings was an immensely popular band in the 70s, but if you don’t like Paul’s silly love songs, then this was not the band for you. But record sales aside, I agree that the work lacked the depth some of Paul’s best Beatle songs possessed. I can’t stress enough how fucking great Plastic Ono Band and Ram are. Go buy them now.
I agree with everything you two guys up there said, especially Phil’s comment about the best post-Beatles albums being released right after the breakup. I also dig Plastic Ono Band, Ram, and All Things Must Pass and they’re the best of ’em all. You know, I hear a lot of people say that when an artist is freshly freed from their band, their initial solo album is great because they cull the songs from the wealth of idiosyncratic pent-up material that their bands found unpalatable. I think that’s true.I think Lindsey Buckingham’s original, freak-pop album “Law and Order” is an example. Obviously Buckingham had some, uh, idiosyncracies that he didn’t completely exorcise in his bizarre Tusk songs. Well, he definitely let some more shit fly in Law and Order. Stuff like “Johnny Stew”, a track I love because he actually threw in a Frankenstein voice at the end going, “Stewww! Stewww!” Kinda like the barking dog he threw into “Holiday Road” from National Lampoon’s Vacation. Really fun songs with great, weird production!
One of the aspects that I may not have emphasized enough is what I see as the deep embedded nature of the musician in the band that is better than the artist sans band. For example, I don’t think that Peter Gabriel’s identity was really formed with Genesis. Stewart and the Faces (I actually saw them when Ron Wood was still in the band and Rod lurked behind the amps–saw them in a hall that was about the size of a compact high school gym) is a case where the Small Faces existed prior to Rod and so he was something of an appendage. And I think that many people (at least those reading this site) would argue that the Police is much better than solo Sting (although I am partial to Andy Summers’ solo work).But exceptions prove the rule, I suppose.
I think I’ve found an exception to your rule.The Jam. They were pretty much the most successful band in Britain the year Paul Weller decided to call it a day. Although Weller’s solo career has been sometimes erratic (the eighties were a tough time for everyone) I have no difficulty comparing albums like “Wild Wood” and “Stanley Road” with the best of his Jam stuff.Songs like “Sunflower”, “Changing Man” and “Brand New Start.” As a songwriter he has definitely progressed since the days of the Jam (although he was still quite young when they split)His career is in sharp contrast to for example, Joe Strummer,Despite the fact that the Mesceleros are quite good, the best Strummer could manage after the Clash was a guest slot singing on A Pogues tour.So in summation, WELLER IS GOD. Don’t forget it.
Ah yes, the Mod Father. But let’s not forget Style Council. That, in my opinion, was tripe compared to the Jam. Headline on NME the day the first Style Council single came out: He broke up the Jam for this?I love Wildwood. But isn’t it funny that it took some 20 odd years for Weller, who was primarily known for a youth movement, to write an album as good as that he’d recorded at 22 years old? Weller is a great example. Good post.
Here are some exceptions I think:Frank Black has done some really interesting stuff since the Pixies. Elliot Smith definitely breaks the rule — who’s ever heard of Heatmiser?Kristin Hersh has established a pretty solid career since Throwing Muses, and is pretty damn good.What about Kelly Hogan? I liked the Jody Grind and I like RockATeens, but she can definitely carry her own and doesn’t need a band to back her up. The writer definitely has a point — an obvious point perhaps — that a band is great because of all of it’s members, not just one key individual. But there are exceptions!