Paul and Yoko duke it out once more, but for what?
So what’s the big stink? Paul wants to switch the order of names on the songs he mainly wrote. Who cares? Apperently, Yoko. Though I tend to see it as a lot of hot air, most media outlets have reported that Yoko Ono is investigating her legal options to force McCartney to switch back the names on later releases of his Back in the U.S. Live 2002 album. Is there any legal ground?
McCartney’s publicist, Paul Freundlich doesn’t think so. In an E! Online interview Freundlich said, “Merely switching a credit on a song doesn’t seem to misrepresent who wrote the song in any way shape or form.”
And I tend to agree with him. Actually deleting John’s name may get Macca a kick in the nuts from Yoko’s attorneys, but simply changing the order wouldn’t remove authorship. And besides, anyone who cares already knows who wrote what, a fact Freundlich points out.
“It’s pretty much public knowledge, I would say, as to which songs were authored mainly by Paul and which songs mainly by John… All he’s done is switch the names. It’s not meant to be divisive,” said Freundlich.
Furthermore, Canadian daily The Globe Daily Mail, reported in a December 28, 2002 story that “Donald Passman, a prominent music-industry lawyer in Los Angeles, said recently that he believes that transposing a credit doesn’t seem to misrepresent authorship or damage the song as a piece of revenue-generating property. Moreover, there seems to be general agreement that on his own releases, Mr. McCartney can rearrange the heretofore standard byline as he sees fit.”
But legal matters are all together different from the court of public opinion where McCartney’s actions seem to be further sullying the legacy he’s so desperately trying enhance. Poor old Paul has been trying to live in his more boisterous partner’s shadow for most of his adult life. That shadow grew longer and colder in 1980 when Lennon was gunned down in New York City, solidifying his position as an icon with an untimely death. In countless interviews, McCartney has tried to convince the public that he was no “Salieri to Lennon’s Mozart,” as Ono famously quipped years ago. For the most part his efforts have fallen flat simply because they sound desperate. This latest ploy to switch the order of names in what is arguably the best-known partnership of the 20th Century is similarly misguided. Elliott Mintz, Ono’s perpetually tanned spokesperson takes it less kindly.
“There’s no question this is an attempted act of Beatle revisionism,” he of the extraordinarily white teeth told Associated Press. “And it does appear to be an attempt to rewrite history.”
Ono claims that McCartney’s attempt at revisionism may in the end actually hurt his legacy.
“If those songs are credited to ‘McCartney-Lennon’ and the rest of the 200 or so are credited to ‘Lennon-McCartney,’ people may think Paul wrote those songs and John wrote the rest,” said Ono.
But isn’t that Paul’s problem? Perhaps, to further confuse the hissing numbskulls at Beatlefest who spit and slur whenever Ono’s name comes up, Yoko’s just looking out for Paul’s best interests? But why the threat of legal action then? It’s not that he’s trying to nullify the agreement he and John made 40 odd years ago, in fact, it’s not clear that the order of names was even part of that agreement.
The 1964 pressing of Introducing the Beatles on Vee Jay records lists McCartney’s name first on all of the duo’s originals (see label scan). History clouds the story around the Beatles’ releases on Vee Jay and they may not have had a hand in the packaging, but there was no stink made about it then. Same with the Parlophone release of Please, Please Me from the Beatles’ own EMI (see label scan).
On page 94 of the book the Beatles Anthology, McCartney explains the original arrangement as:
“I wanted it to be McCartney/Lennon, but John had the stronger personality and I think he fixed things with Brian [Epstein] before I got there…they all said, ‘Lennon/McCartney sounds better’…I had to say, ‘Oh, all right, sod it.'”
McCartney added, maybe a bit too conveniently, that he and Lennon had always agreed that “if we ever wanted it could be changed around to make me equal.”
More recently, McCartney switched the order of the names on his 1976 live album Wings Over America (see label scan). A massive release from arguably one of the most successful bands of the 1970s, it’s unlikely that this slipped under Lennon’s radar, which begs the question: would John even care?
John was always very candid in interviews about who wrote what (sometimes charitably, sometimes to avoid association with songs he disliked). But it seems John was always comfortable with his legacy and isn’t Yoko’s threat of legal action to leave the order as it is grounded in the same false logic that somehow a legacy is at stake?
In the end, Lennon-McCartney are as eternally linked as Leiber-Stoller, Ali-Frazier, or Costner-Waterworld. Whenever anyone thinks of one, they will always think of the other—regardless of order. To first try and get top billing over the person with whom you actually made your legacy is unfortunate. To then sue to ensure that petty act is punished with monetary remuneration is ludicrous.