When The Beatles split up, their head honchos were incessantly compared to one another, and in truth, that debate still rumbles on today. During the early chapters of their solo careers, the rivalry was fierce and fruitful, with provocation often leading to creativity. Even a decade after they called it quits, one Paul McCartney song became the muse required to get John Lennon back in the studio recording music.
It was only human nature for a rivalry to be born in the wake of The Beatles moving on to pastures new, especially when a songwriting partnership is as bountiful as Lennon-McCartney. If it wasn’t for the two of them spurring one another onto greatness when The Fab Four were together, then the group may have never reached such dizzying heights as they constantly tried to better each other’s work.
Characteristically, they used to argue about petty matters and squabble over trivialities such as who could get the most songs on an album or the chart success of their respective singles for The Beatles. Their intrinsic competitive nature is what helped make their output prosper at such a prolific and unprecedented rate. Still, this fraternal rivalry carried on long after The Fab Four were laid to rest.
However, John Lennon’s life had dramatically changed by 1980. He was no longer on his fabled ‘Lost Weekend’ with Harry Nilsson; he’d settled down and was living a relatively normal existence in New York with his family. Lennon hadn’t recorded an album of original songs since 1974’s Walls and Bridges, then the single ‘Coming Up’ by McCartney would change everything. The track featured on McCartney II, and although Lennon wasn’t initially convinced by the project, ‘Coming Up’ converted him.
McCartney once revealed, “I heard a story from a guy who recorded with John in New York, and he said that John would sometimes get lazy. But then he’d hear a song of mine where he thought, ‘Oh, shit, Paul’s putting it in, Paul’s working!’ Apparently ‘Coming Up’ was the one song that got John recording again. I think John just thought, ‘Uh oh, I had better get working, too.’ I thought that was a nice story.”
Furthermore, this story relayed by Macca does check out with comments his former bandmate made about the track before his tragic end.
“Somebody asked me what I thought of Paul’s last album, and I made some remark like I thought he was depressed and sad,” Lennon told David Sheff in 1980. “But then I realised I hadn’t listened to the whole damn thing. I head one track – the hit, ‘Coming Up’, which I thought was a good piece of work.”
Lennon further said about the track: “I thought that ‘Coming Up’ was great, and I like the freak version that he made in his barn better than that live Glasgow one. If I’d have been with him, I would’ve said ‘that’s the one’ too. And I thought that the record company had a nerve changing it round on him, and I know what they mean, they want to hear the real guy singing, but I like the freaky one.”
Even when The Beatles were no more, that brotherly bond between McCartney and Lennon was still spurring them on just like it did when they were kids armed with a shared dream to raid the hit parade. Yes, it was born out of love, but McCartney’s ‘Coming Up’ laid down a high benchmark that Lennon wanted to prove he could surpass.