RAM on against the critics

Paul and Linda McCartney RAMIn my last article on criticism I focused on John Lennon. Let’s have a look at what happened to Paul McCartney who had to deal with criticism in a different and more prolonged way.

McCartney had, unlike John, lived his life almost without any form of criticism at all, right up until the end of the 60s. Then it hit him hard. Blamed for the acrimonious way the Beatles split up and appearing to attack the other three and their business decisions, it placed McCartney as the outsider. The press and the public seemed to always side with Lennon and the others. While Lennon’s first solo efforts were seen as deep, McCartney’s were seen as shallow. He suddenly found himself in a place where, just a year or so earlier he was hailed as Britain’s greatest songwriter, responsible for YesterdayMichelle, Eleanor Rigby, Sgt. Pepper, Hey Jude and Let it Be, his new efforts were seen as pale and trivial.

Today we know better. Listening to Every Night and Maybe I’m Amazed of 1970’s McCartney we can imagine that a followup to Abbey Road would have been every bit as great.

In 1971 McCartney recorded his second solo effort and his first post-Beatles LP, entitled RAM. He’d been in a panic as to what to do following the split. The pressure to deliver something spectacular must have been enormous. His solution was a great one: just do what would be fun. He retreated to his Scottish farm and with the help of his new wife Linda, created the new album.

When it was released it face almost universal scorn. Lennon reportedly hated it (it contained secret messages to Lennon encoded in the themes of the songs Too Many People and Dear Boy). Even Ringo, who nearly always managed to stay positive and not take sides said that “there wasn’t a good song on it”. However it did spawn a massive US number one single with Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.

Everyone, including McCartney’s own record company despised the fact he’d credited the album to ‘Paul and Linda McCartney’ and the ‘fan’ backlash against Linda continued. That had begun with his marriage to Linda in 1969 – how could ‘their’ Beatle, leave beautiful and talented Jane Asher (she left McCartney by the way) for this plain, American divorcee? Paul took his family on tour with him throughout the 70s with his band ‘Wings’ and Linda sang (and played) in the shows and on the records, giving rise to the joke, ‘what do you call a dog with wings? – Answer: Linda McCartney.’

But what makes the story of RAM all the more curious is that in May 2012 it was re-released in remastered form, on multiple CDs, DVD box sets and as 190g vinyl record to universal acclaim, with radio stations and rock magazines showering praise and awards on it.

They even went as far as saying that RAM was McCartney’s best ever album.

And Linda turned out to be a devoted wife, loving mother, talented award winning photographer, famous celebrity chef, founder of and instigator of soya protein vegetarian food. When she tragically died from breast cancer in 1999, everyone loved her.

So it just goes to show, even when you face what seems like universal criticism, you can never really be sure of the context, which might be different for every critic. Getting criticism doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve done a bad job. People will always have their own agendas and reason for slagging you and you work off.

So take care. You may well have just produced your greatest work too.

(In 1995, the famous and successful comedian and actor Stephen Fry disappeared. His friends got worried. It was because he’d had a bad review for a show. He said he’d felt as low as he thought possible. If his talent and his track record wasn’t enough to fend off just one bad review then it’s no surprise the rest of us suffer.)

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

The two year creativity rule and how the Beatles used it

(or Why you must turn She Loves You into Tomorrow Never Knows)

Beatles US visit 1964 ink drawing  by Ayd Instone

The Beatles in 1964. Drawing by Ayd Instone.

Most things in popular culture have a shelf life of just two years. Two short years before they run out of steam, become passe or boring and disappear, or, change form into something different, and then last another two years.

If you look at the pop charts, there are few artistes there from earlier than two years ago.

Just take a moment to look at your own life. The two year rule appears to work there too.

It’s as if human projects, be it friendships, affairs, or bands, clubs or gym membership begin with an enthusiasm which powers it long enough to last 600 – 700 days before the energy runs low. If the project doesn’t have another burst of enthusiasm, it will fall apart. But if it does get another injection of energy, it will change, hopefully for the better.

If you look at television series, the first two seasons have a similar feel. The third has to change the format somehow which either makes the show a hit and lasts another two years, or loses it’s audience and dies off. When the format ceases to innovate for that third series and tries to keep everything the same, even if it appears to the writers that their stuff is as good as ever, often it has become a parody of itself, re-treading old ground and becoming self-referencing. This is the point it either develops a cult following, or flops and fades away.

It’s the same with our lives. The two year rule reminds us that we must constantly innovate, but must be prepared for drastic change every two years.

If you’ve been in a job, in the same role for two years, the third year will seem repetitive and stale. If you don’t get promotion, changes in your role, more responsibility or something else, you’ll get bored and it will begin to affect other areas of your life.

There are plenty of examples of how best to use the two year rule but my favourite is the story of the Beatles.

Beatlemania arguably began in autumn 1963. The Beatles were enjoying universal success in the UK with their third number one, She Loves You and had just performed for the nation live at the London Palladium. This is our starting point. They slowly evolved, producing hit after hit for the next two years, conquered America and the World, keeping within their winning mop-top formula, keeping the girls screaming and everybody buying their records.

Then the two year rule took effect in late 1965. If they had produced another ‘Merseybeat’ happy-go-lucky song and album at that time they could have gone the way of all the other early sixties beat groups. They didn’t. They went in the studio and recorded Tomorrow Never Knows (Revolver, 1966). In just under three years from recording She Loves You they had produced something which was just about as far away from that song as is possible to get, and which at the time sounded like nothing on Earth. (It incidentally and unintentionally lay a foundation for modern electronic dance music too).

Beatles Revolver 1966 ink drawing by Ayd Instone

The Beatles in 1966. Drawing by Ayd Instone.

They became the market leader in this new phase of ‘psychedelic’ music. A phase which again, like every other, had a shelf life of two years. Again, many bands tried to stick with this new sound past 1968. They would come to be seen as the next batch of old fashioned yesterdays groups. Instead, the Beatles went (as they described it) ‘back to basics’ on their White Album, which appeared as a literal antithesis of the garishness of Sgt. Pepper which came before it.

This re-found ‘rawness’ heard on The White Album, the Get Back sessions (later released as Let it Be) and Abbey Road took them through to 1970 when another change was due. The change they chose then of course was to work apart.

The musical styles that followed also adhered to the two year rule as the Beatles handed the batten to a new generation of bands to carry it forward. But very few other acts managed to do as they did and survive the two year change and stride the changes that inevitably come, in music and in every field.

From the early 1970s onwards music went through a number of mainstream trends, (some overlap but essentially are) the heavy rock/folk rock of 70-72 into Glam Rock 72-74, Disco 75-77, Punk 76-78, New Wave 78-80, New Romantic 81-83 and so on.

Where are you in your projects, work and life? Have you been working within something for nearly two years? If so you may need to work out what will innovate and revitalise it before it loses power and is overtaken by newer ideas from outside.

Here are a few ideas to do every two to three years:

  • reignite your personal relationships, partners and friends with a celebration.
  • If you are in business, think of a new product or service to launch or a completely new marketing campaign to revitalise the old
  • Start a new hobby or take an existing one to the next level by getting advanced training, new equipment or new players and partners to join in with
  • Go somewhere new for your holidays
  • Have a massive ‘spring clean’ in your home, work and life, getting rid of what no longer serves or is broken

Ask yourself this question: If you’re doing well right now, at the top of your charts with your own She Loves You – how can you top it? How can you create something bigger, better, more influential and yet still very much you: what will be your She Loves You into Tomorrow Never Knows transformation?

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

Creativity and the Beatles

This is adapted from my forthcoming book, Creativity and the Beatles.

The Ghost of Yesterday

John Lennon and Pal McCartney by Ayd InstoneAs in all myth, the concept of the creative muse, a supernatural goddess who inspires creative endeavour, contains some truth. Those who have found their creative flow often refer to something coming to them from somewhere else. John Lennon once said that he felt as though he hadn’t actually written his best songs, they had instead been transmitted to him. His ‘aerial’ had picked up the signal and he had written them down.

Many songwriters have described how their songs were ‘transmitted’ to them and all they had to do was write them down. Sometimes they had to leap out of bed to catch the tune that played in their head before it was lost. This has happened to me quite a few times.

I awoke in the night with a fully formed song, with music, lyrics and title complete. I jumped out of bed and played and sang it on the guitar, otherise it would have been lost.

So where did it come from?

A 56 year old man from London claimed recently to have written 350 songs that he was suddenly urged to write by channelling, so he said, the spirit of John Lennon*. The creative process is so weird that it’s easy for many to invoke the supernatural. Mike Powell claimed that Lennon’s ghost visited him after he visited the graves of his deceased parents in 1992. I imagine his experience is less likely to be spectral and more likely to be bicameral.

Perhaps emotions and ideas he was unaware of were being presented to his conscious mind from his subconscious in a way that was so out of character for him and augmented his reality in such a way that it felt as though it must be external. There are many cases of previously un-artistic people suddenly picking up a paintbrush or a guitar and being not only proficient but highly talented. The triggers for these transformations are numerous, but are often unusual stress, or sudden release of stress or even physical trauma.

Paul McCartney said this about the creation of Yesterday, (which became the most recorded song ever). In early 1965 he woke with a melody in his head. It was so powerful that he was sure it must be an old jazz tune. He played it to a few people, but no-one knew it. At that time he didn’t have the words, and as it was breakfast time he improvises words of “Scrambled eggs… oh how I love your legs…” just so he could play through the tune.

He later worked out the real lyrics and the song was released on the No.1 Help! LP in the UK and as a No.1 single in the US. (At the time the Beatles felt the song too sentimental to release as a single in the UK). They even poked fun at it and at Paul when it was first performed.

There’s an interesting appendix to the story of Yesterday. It’s well known that Paul McCartney nearly always wrote about other people in his songs. This allowed him to create masterpieces like Eleanor Rigby and Hey Jude, but unchecked and without Lennon’s realism he was also capable of producing banal and meaningless songs like 1985s Only Love Remains. John Lennon on the other hand, always wrote about his own feelings. This allowed him to give us real emotion in songs like Help!, In My Life, God or Jealous Guy. But unchecked by McCartney’s commercial eye he could easily produce self-indulgent ramblings like Two Virgins, songs with Yoko’s name in and the hurtful How Do You Sleep?

But it’s not that clear cut. It wasn’t until 1995 that Paul realised, while compiling the Beatles Anthology that his 1965 song, Yesterday, apparently on the surface, about the loss of a lover was actually about the very real loss of his own mother a few years earlier from cancer. It was written with his own, secret emotion, all along.

Have a listen to the song again with this context in mind and you’ll hear a pain coming directly from Paul’s unconscious, back there in 1965, at the height of the Beatles glory and fun. A pain that he wasn’t consciously aware of when he wrote it.

Perhaps creativity is a ghost after all, a spectre of energy, emotion and hidden memory that at certain times, perhaps when we least expect it, will come to haunt us.

*Make you own mind up on Mike Powell here.

Creativity and the BeatlesSee the Beatles first ever performance of Yesterday. It’s eerie as the fans emotions change from mania screaming to sobbing as they tune into the song.

This is an extract from my forthcoming book, Creativity and the Beatles.

Read more here.

Book Ayd to speak at your event.
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Why John Lennon’s message is better than you think

John Lennon beatles

Drawings by Ayd Instone

John Lennon’s and the Beatles’ music comes from a time when music seemed to actually matter. Their influence on music, art and youth culture is well documented. But what of the other angle, Lennon’s so-called ‘message’ about peace and love?

Some bores have criticised Lennon’s simplicity in his message. What did they want? A doctoral thesis? Essays on psychology? Those things exist, but who reads them, who remembers them and who acts on them? No-one.

Overplayed and overused, 1971’s Imagine is not quite what people think it is. The message isn’t a banal hollow hippy one. It doesn’t make empty promises. It doesn’t dictate a solution. It just asks the listener to imagine a different world. Nothing wrong with that. Nothing to criticise there. It’s just a simple a mind game that we should all be able to play unless we have become dangerous creatures that lack the imagination to wonder ‘what if?’. Imagine is a creativity workout song.

Two years earlier Lennon recorded the improvised Give Peace a Chance. Again it’s criticised for its simplicity. The message is in just one line, “All we are saying, is give peace a chance”‘. That’s all he was saying. Again, he wasn’t offering solutions to the world’s complex problems. He knew there were people better equipped to work those solutions out (“we’d all love to see the plan”). All he was saying was to give peace a chance, not to overlook it or rush in and miss the opportunity for it. “You may say I’m a dreamer” he sings in Imagine. But in fact he was an imaginative realist too who knew the limitations of our society and of himself, even when, for a brief time he was one of the most powerful cultural figures on Earth.

Lennon’s approach to revolution was different from many rebels. He wasn’t wanting to usurp the current leaders and take over. He wasn’t insular, speaking only to a select few. He was instead sending out messages to everyone, all the people and the leaders, to instil a sense of doing a better job of getting along with each other.

The Beatles All You Need is Love is another so-called ‘peace and love’ song that is criticised for its simplicity. It was performed and recorded live in the first global satellite broadcast in 1967 to 500 million viewers. Why not use the opportunity to send a simple message that almost everyone could understand? Again the critics have missed the point. Lennon wasn’t necessarily saying that all you need is love, that you don’t need anything else (like food and water for example). He was saying that you have everything you need and now, the one thing you are lacking, is love.

The fact that people are still talking abut Lennon’s ‘peace and love bed-in’ 41 years after the event (even if it’s to moan about how simple and rubbish the idea was) shows what a great publicity stunt it was. In fact, in terms of peace protest (or guerilla marketing awareness campaign as they are now called) you’d be hard pushed to top it. Lennon’s simple idea of staying in bed for the week and inviting the world’s press to come and chat is second only to Ghandi in memorability and cultural resonance (whether you agree with the methods or results or not).

We’re still talking about him 30 years after his death. We notice and mark his 70th birthday.  Lennon isn’t going away anytime soon and possibly never will. In many ways the myth gets stronger as time passes. Lennon is the most recent god elected to the pantheon alongside Shakespeare and Mozart. It doesn’t even matter what you and I think.

It doesn’t matter whether you love the Beatles or not (although if you don’t you may be in the minority). As a cultural phenomenon they are here forever and as long as our civilisation endures, they will be listened to, referred to and talked about.

Making the complex appear simple is not easy, it is an art in itself. Taking complex psychology or a meaningful message to motivate, inspire or engage and packaging it up in a medium such as a song that can transcend barriers of time and space is the work of a creative genius. We should all aspire to being that simple.

Creativity and the Beatles

This is an extract from my forthcoming book, Creativity and the Beatles.

Read more here.

Book Ayd to speak at your event.
For more interesting info see: