I’m a 2per. So is George Harrison, and so is John Entwistle, and so is Dave Davies. That’s the term I’m slapping on a person in a band with a dominant songwriter who typically gets two of his songs included on each album among the principal songwriter’s songs. When I brought up the concept to E. Pluribus Gergley of RTH discussing who the best 2per is, he responded in his typically open-minded way that there’s nothing to discuss. It’s George Harrison. So I sat on the topic until I thought of a different angle on it.
What I thought was that in the parallel universe where the Beatles are exactly the same, but George never wrote a song for them, the Beatles are still considered the greatest of all time. So, despite George being the greatest all-time songwriting 2per, you don’t REALLY need his songs for the Beatles to still be as great as they are. They didn’t necessarily need anyone to play that role because they had plenty of songs with enough variety already. His songs just fit in at that same level of quality with a fairly similar perspective, excluding the Indian-themed numbers that are considered George’s weakest anyway. So maybe the greatest 2per’s songs have to fit a specific role in their band, and the band would be radically diminished without having the 2per’s input.
So what role is Entwistle or Dave Davies playing with their 2-song contributions? Are their songs ever better than their more dominant band mates? Are there other significant 2pers, and what role do they play in elevating the band beyond what you’d get if you only had songs from the main guy(s)? Is it better when their songs fit right in, or is better when they are clearly a songwriting departure? I’m confident throwing Colin Moulding into the discussion. Proportionally, the man wrote many more hits than his more recognized and prolific partner in XTC. They are clearly a much weaker band without getting his 2-song contributions each album.
This reminds me of debates over MVP candidates in any sport. There may be a start player on a team loaded with star players whose stats are comparable to THE star player on a lousy team. Some people argue that the MVP should be awarded to the “best” player in the league, while others argue that it should go to the player who meant the most to his team. There’s a lot to be said for taking the latter, more literal approach to the award, but then there are times the award goes to a player who was highly valuable to a team that did not make the playoffs. Sure, they may have finished last without player X, but is finishing 3rd that valuable an achievement compared with the rest of the league’s players?
Harrison is the star 2per on the 1927 Yankees, while Moulding may be the game-changing player on the otherwise second-division team. I do think they are the best 2pers among those chick brings to the table. Dave Davies’ songs are too much like Ray’s, and Entwistle’s songs, with a few exceptions, are pleasant oddities among the Who’s output.
Our younger son wanted to hear Abbey Road on a drive this weekend. That’s always been among my least-favorite Beatles albums, and I felt the urge to grumble. However, I wanted to be a good dad and even the worst Beatles album (The White Album, IMNSHO) is healthy for consumption. As the album played I not only appreciated Paul’s bass playing, as I always do, and the engineering (as I increasingly do), but as always I was reminded of how key George’s 2 songs are. To me, his contributions on that album may be the greatest 2per “season” in history.
Abbey Road was certainly the album where George’s stuff surpassed his big brothers’. As Frank Sinatra misunderstood, “Something is the greatest love song Lennon and McCartney ever wrote.” When you consider 1969 for Abbey Road, and 1970 for All Things Must Pass, that’s an MVP season for sure.
Short of doing the math, two 2pers who come to mind for me who brought similar qualities to their respective bands are Steve Diggle of the Buzzcocks and Gary Waleik of Big Dipper. Like I said, I’m not sure if they typically had 2 songs per album, but it seems like their average would be close. Each songwriter brought a toughness or grittiness to their contributions that was not natural to their respective band’s primary songwriter.
I often like the 2per more than the band that’s his/her day job (see Coxon, Graham).
Coxon’s a curious case, since I think he only received sole writing credit on a single Blur song (“Coffe + TV”), while the rest are usually either attributed to all four of them, or to Albarn on lyrics and all four on music. Thus seemingly making it hard to tell which parts of Blur were Albarn and which were Coxon.
I say that because around the time of the self-titled album and 13, I had assumed that Coxon would have been the one pushing for the very different, longer songs that depend so heavily on his immense guitar skills. And when Coxon left prior to Think Tank, I figured the “creative clashes” were down to Coxon wanting to continue to make that new kind of sound and Albarn wanting the more traditional pop/rock. But everything since then indicates it’s the other way around, since Albarn does alll the diverse side projects, while Coxon’s solo albums largely sounded closer to “regular” mid-period Blur.
I thought of Big Dipper too. I since went to their credits and found that they take the unsatisfying approach where they list the whole band as having written the songs. I’m assuming that Gary wrote 2 of my favorites, Lunar Module and Mr. Woods because he sings the lead vocal. Socialism has no place in a band. Take your credit where you should.
Grant Hart wrote too much in Husker Du to qualify, right?
James McNew of Yo La Tengo; you could also call him the hot dog of the Kaplan/Hubley marriage.
Wasn’t Dennis Wilson the 2per for the Beach Boys?
I don’t know enough about Husker Du to respond. I was on team Minutemen who I do believe had a legit 2per in Mike Watt. The songs he sang seemed like they were organic additions that boosted the albums by having a necessary change of voice.
Some of the other 2pers strike me as always getting their 2 songs per album because the main guy was rewarding him for services rendered on the main guy’s songs. I wonder if Townshend really liked the Ox’s songs or if he just felt obligated to have them included. While I like a bunch of them, I don’t think they nearly measure up to Pete’s level of quality.
I think Watt is a co-owner of that franchise even if he doesn’t sing much. Lots of the best stuff is his.
I dunno how the Ox fits in, I think Pete is one of those guys who would write regardless of the merit of his lyrics. But I think Entwistle is the counterbalance who probably keeps us from having to endure even more of Pete’s self-flagellation songs, and challenges him to be sillier or at least engage the audience more in some way. If the Ox were still alive, maybe there would be a Dogs III.
Can a 2per also be the 2nd banana who occasionally sings a few hits? I’m thinking Mick Jones here. If you assume that the singer is the main songwriter (I do) no matter what the credits say … than Jones had some really big hits when it was his time up to the mic.
That being said, I would still agree that Harrison is the 2per gold standard. He came up to the plate less often … but he had the higher batting average, IMO.
Not a 2per, but a 1per: Roger Taylor of Queen (the drummer, of all things!) usually was given one slot per record and filled it with harder, edgier tunes. Examples: “Modern Times Rock and Roll,” “The Loser in the End,” “I’m in Love With My Car,” and my fave of the bunch “Sheer Heart Attack.” AND, they let him sing!
How bout that, Ringo?
I feel so inar-inar-inar-ticulate.
I think in Uncle Tupelo Jeff Tweedy was a 2per who eventually came to challenge Jay Farrar in a power struggle that destroyed the band.
Can a 2per be a lady? I’m no expert but didn’t Christine McVie add quite a little bit of hits to the B/N configuration of FMac?
Why not? She’s a good one. She always took the self-conscious “edge” off of the Buckingham and Nicks contributions, in my opinion.
I consider a 2per has a role that is recognized by all parties as subservient in the band. He might want a bigger role, but he is relegated to the 2 per album rule, and that dynamic is settled into. Even though Mick Jones didn’t contribute as much to the songwriting, I think both he and Strummer considered themselves equals. (I guess up to the point where Joe gave him the boot!) Mockcarr is right about Mike Watt, too. He and D. were partners, and Mike wasn’t being prevented from taking a bigger role.
It’s interesting when the dynamic gets switched like the Uncle Tupelo case when the student becomes the master.
The problem is that on Rumours, for example, she has four songs (Don’t Stop, Songbird, You Make Loving Fun, Oh Daddy), which is definitely two more than the record can support. Probably three, but perhaps that is Bill Clinton’s fault more than hers.
Regarding the Minutemen, I highly recommend the 33 1/3 series book about Double Nickels on the Dime. Very interesting information about the impetus for a Double album being the fact that the Huskers had done the double Zen Arcade, so the Minutemen cranked out another 2 dozen or so songs to fill out a double. The sequencing was done draft style, each member getting a side and filling it up with their draft choices in order so the best stuff would be toward the beginning of a side. Side 4, “Side Chaff” was the stuff no one picked. Best of all, Hurley threw the whole plan out of kilter by picking his free-jazzy drums and flute noodle as the first song on his side. Also Hurley wrote a good potion of the lyrics, which not only were inscrutable to Boon and Watt, but even George would forget what they were about after handing them in!