Feature: The power of two

Peter Hook (bassist with Joy Division and New Order) once told Stylus: “The chemistry that allows you to write great music is the same chemistry that will destroy you.” And he’d know, wouldn’t he? However, his own tumultuous relationship with band mates is just one example of a collaborative force turning sour. Here are some other great songwriting partnerships that, over time, became childish shouting matches…

Words Isla McGregor

“Creativity is demanded…which can become flash points for conflict and disaffection” (Deena Weinstein)

John Lennon and Paul McCartney,
The Beatles

Lennon and McCartney, arguably, the most successful songwriting partnership in history. Their joint efforts brought us classics like ‘She Loves You’, ‘Yellow Submarine’, ‘Help’ and so many more. When the guys were just 16, they made an agreement: every song, whether written by Lennon or McCartney, would be under a joint credit. Smart move, as surely there’d never be any arguments over it, right? Wrong. Petty disagreements over who wrote some of the band’s most famous songs soon ensued. Lennon claimed that the first verse of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ was McCartney’s, while the rest was “basically” his. McCartney thought different. According to him, John “helped” on a “few words” but he put it at 80/20 in his favour. These squabbles put a strain on their creative relationship and ultimately their friendship. So, moral of the story? Give credit where credit is due, for Pete’s sake.

The Rolling Stones at Hyde Park

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, The Rolling Stones

The “Glimmer Twins” (as they were affectionately named) have been writing tunes together since day dot. Among their co-written repertoire are the likes of ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, ‘Wild Horses’ and ‘Gimmie Shelter’. All masterpieces. But it was in the middle of several later albums, Dirty Work and Steel Wheels, that things began to fall apart. Tensions between the two Dartford boys arose when Jagger, who had become more interested in his solo career, refused to do a tour to support one of the albums. This frustrated Richards. In a Rolling Stone interview, Richards said: “It was too hard a slap in the face to deliver us. It was a death sentence.” Heavy words. Although they’ve since worked together, and continue to write songs, things have never quite been the same.

Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth, Van Halen

Such petty conflict isn’t the exclusive remit of us Brits, though. Take the childish antics of Eddie Van Halen and vocalist David Lee Roth (Van Halen) as an example. Having peaked with their album, 1984, which contained synth wonder ‘Jump’, and the fast paced ‘Hot for Teacher’, they had to ruin things. And yet again, it’s because one idiot had to go and have a solo career. Things remained chilly between Roth and Van Halen until a particularly memorable MTV Video Music Awards ceremony. A full-on fist fight was narrowly avoided backstage as Roth poked fun at Van Halen’s hip surgery, and Van Halen threatened to kick him where it would really hurt. Boys please, you both need to grow a pair before that happens


Axl and Slash, Guns N’ Roses

Members of this group dropped in and out frequently. But when Axl made the decision to replace guitarist Gilby Clarke with an old school friend, Paul Tobias (Gilby was actually a replacement for Izzy Stradlin, so you can see it gets messy), it really kicked off. According to biographer Mick Wall, Slash thought Paul was “completely useless.” By the recording of ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ in 1996, Slash had officially left the band. Shame really, because Rose and Slash’s collaboration on ‘Paradise City’, created in the back of a van after a gig, would become one of their best known and most popular songs. Oh well.

“Bands grow to f**king hate each other. Being in a band with someone for that long, you see all their worst tendencies” (Danny Murphy)

Kanye West and Jay-Z

It’s not just rock bands that split. Kanye and Jay-Z were like brothers from another mother. But when Jay-Z and his wife Beyonce failed to attend the younger rapper’s wedding, tensions arose. Several public accusations by Kanye, along with a money dispute, cast a rift between the two rappers. Though they have since become amicable, they are yet to create another song together.

“Everyone wants to be the greatest in the world. You know what I’m saying?” (Jay Z)

So, you see my point? And don’t you think it’s funny how there aren’t any female songwriting duos that turn out this way? That light friendship, or deep brotherly love between two professionals always has the potential to turn sour. Whether it’s the stress of success, artistic differences or just plain greed, as long as people collaborate on artistic endeavours, there’ll always be a scuffle.

This feature was included in issue 24 of the Stylus magazine, which was included in the first edition of Stylus’ Songwriter Series.

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