I had first to ask myself: do I have to consider the body of solo works done during the Beatles era (Paul worked on a solo project back in 1966)? Or should I intellectually blindfold myself and do as if the Beatles had never existed, prior to the four solo careers? In that scenario, which body of works would stand out in itself and best endure the test of time and history?
As already hinted, all of the Beatles’ individual solo careers began a while before the Beatles’ end (let’s say, for discussion purposes, on April 10, 1970 when Paul announced he called it quits to the press. Eventhough anyone can say the split occured a long time before that). To my recollection, many songs issued on McCartney (Teddy Boy, Junk, between others), had been rehearsed and previously played by the Beatles, as we can hear on many bootlegs; equally, a few of George compositions (that appeared on All Things Must Pass) had also been rehearsed during the Let it Be and Abbey Road sessions. John composed Look At Me prior to the White Album sessions; eventhough it appeared only on Plastic Ono Band.
My point is that most of the early solo material was directly influenced by the Beatles sound, context and era. So, It took a while for the boys to distance themselves from all the Beatles 60’s rumble and hype.
Hence, in my opinion, John was the first to achieve musical independence with Imagine. Both Paul and Ringo had to wait a little longer, with Band on the Run and Ringo respectively. And, in my view, since a lot of what would appear on All Things Must Pass had already been rehearsed and, in a sense, ”withheld” from being released on a Beatles’ record, George genuinely came to age only in 1987 with Cloud Nine. No doubt I can already hear the upcoming general outcry (I know, I know, George has done good stuff – and bad too – before that). But his sound, musicality, creativity and artistic sensitivity had yet to find freedom from the Beatles’ shadow.
One should not be surprised that John was the first to get there since, according to himself, he was ready to leave the Beatles as early as 1966. And George was the individual who had the hardest time achieving emotional distance, away from the initial resentment he publicly expressed.
So, to me, the best overall solo career is Paul. Before the split (and/or around, since it is so hard to trace the line), I’d say George; with John a very, very close runner-up. And after? Again, George achieved early commercial success, but on the long run, I would say Paul has been the best.