Better Off as Two

I was thinking the other day about artists – particularly in music – who were better off together than they were apart. For example, Lennon and McCartney. Both fine songwriters separately, but when put together they really came up with something amazing. In fact, the Beatles as a band seemed to pull together to form something more than the sum of its parts.

I once heard a story that summed it up. Paul McCartney is a relentless optimist, and I think John Lennon was very cynical. In the song “Getting Better” (from Sergeant Pepper), Paul McCartney was singing it through and got to the line “It’s getting better all the time”. John Lennon walked in, having never heard the song before, and sung “Can’t get no worse” in perfect time to it.

It got me wondering whether truly great art comes from a tension – such as the tension between Lennon and McCartney, between optimism and pessimism. As with many things in life, the truth often lies somewhere in between two extremes.

The other example I thought of was The Smiths: the songs were written by Morrissey and Jonny Marr. Neither of them, to my mind, have done anything quite as good since. Certainly I haven’t really liked Morrissey’s albums so much. Why is that? I think part of the reason is, Morrissey on his own would be too depressing – it was the genius of Jonny Marr’s guitar parts that made it listenable and generally great music.

I wondered if anyone had any other thoughts on great partnerships like that?

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