It Was Fifty Years Ago Today – The Beatles Break Up

“Why should the Beatles give more? Didn’t they give everything on God’s earth for ten years? Didn’t they give themselves?” Playboy Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, published in January 1981 issue.

The reasons for the Beatles’ breakup were myriad, not the least of which is this – How does the most successful, most scrutinized rock band of all time stay together? Or for matter, how did they manage to stay together so long? (Lennon and McCartney met on July 6, 1957. Do the math. That’s almost 13 years.)

Contrary to a certain amount of popular belief, Yoko Ono did not break up the Beatles. She was part of the mix but John Lennon had expressed interest in leaving the band as far back as when he was making the movie How I Won the War in 1966. {“The English army had just won the war.”)

Lennon: “Of course I was a Beatle, but things had begun to change. In 1966, just before we met, I went to Almeria, Spain, to make the movie How I Won the War. It did me a lot of good to get away. I was there six weeks. I wrote “Strawberry Fields Forever” there, by the way. It gave me time to think on my own, away from the others.

From then on, I was looking for somewhere to go, but I didn’t have the nerve to really step out on the boat by myself and push it off. But when I fell in love with Yoko, I knew, My God, this is different from anything I’ve ever known. This is something other. This is more than a hit record, more than gold, more than everything. It is indescribable.”

Wikipedia: “Their breakup was a cumulative process attributed to numerous factors, such as the strain of the Beatlemania phenomenon, the death of manager Brian Epstein in 1967, McCartney’s domineering role, Lennon’s heroin use, his relationship with Yoko Ono, Harrison’s prolific songwriting output, the floundering of Apple Corps* and the Get Back project (later Let It Be, 1970), and managerial disputes.”

I agree with all of that and my own take it on it is that an early indicator was the death of Brian Epstein in August of 1967. He had been their north star and the Beatles were just lost without him. Collectively – at least at that time – they probably had as much business sense as grade school kid. All the contractual and tax stuff had been done for them. And even though he hadn’t been in the studio for much of the Beatles career, it was he and producer George Martin who would mastermind the next releases of albums and singles.

None of this is to say that the Beatles didn’t have great output from that point on. (They’d quit touring in 1966.) But there were missteps such as the incredibly pointless Magical Mystery Tour film which bombed so badly on British TV that American TV refused to air it. (I chuckle to think that the word ‘Plot’ appears in the Wikipedia description of this film.) It was subsequently screened at the Fillmore East and didn’t make its way to American theaters till 1974.

But they did manage to put out four albums before the band ceased to exist: The White Album, a glorious mess that was really four individual guys doing their thing even including the pictures; Yellow Submarine, a so-so soundtrack with a fun animated film; Abbey Road**, which brought back their trademark cohesiveness (“Can we make an album like we used to, Mr. Martin?” “I will if you’ll let me.”) and the long-delayed Let it Be, another pretty good, if not great, mish-mash of stuff.

The recording of Let it Be was – in many ways – the last straw. Stuck filming and recording the thing in remote and cold Twickenham Studios, only McCartney seemed able to muster any enthusiasm for it. Here’s a fun clip from the film where a worn-down Harrison says to McCartney, “I’ll play whatever you want me to play.”

Once John Lennon and the other guys got Allen Klein involved, the business headaches began to be exacerbated. Paul brought in his own manager, his wife Linda’s father, Lee. This did not go down well at all. McCartney’s song “You Never Give Me Your Money” from Abbey Road was as much about this nightmarish situation as anything:

You never give me your money,
You only give me your funny paper,
And in the middle of negotiations, you break down.

And so, the Fab Four had pretty much had enough. And while John had privately announced his intention to leave, this was the (sort of) official announcement:

Rolling Stone: “The world finally got the message on April 10th, 1970. That was the day Paul McCartney made headlines with a Q&A he sent out with press copies of his solo album McCartney, in which he casually announced a “break with the Beatles.” Why? “Personal differences, business differences, musical differences, but most of all because I have a better time with my family.” Temporary or permanent? “I don’t know.” Was he planning to make any more music with the band? “No.”

Paul had said things like this before, in public and in private — all four of them had. But this time, nobody made a move to deny it. When their new movie Let It Be premiered in London on May 20th, none of them showed up. The four Beatles never got together to watch the movie or listen to the album. The four Beatles never set foot in the same room again.”

And then of course, recriminations were tossed back and forth, mostly between Paul and John. I won’t go into every petty little detail but suffice it to say that

  • John Lennon wrote “How Do You Sleep?” in the aftermath of Paul McCartney’s successful suit in the London High Court to dissolve the Beatles as a legal partnership. If you know Paul’s output, you’ll get it when John says, “The only thing you done was yesterday / And since you’ve gone you’re just another day”
  • Paul and Linda took out full-page advertisements in the music press, in which, as an act of mockery towards Lennon and Yoko Ono they were shown wearing clown costumes and wrapped up in a bag. (“Eating chocolate cake in a bag.”
  • Paul wrote a song for his 1971 album Ram called “Too Many People” which took direct potshots at Lennon. (“Too many people preaching practices, don’t let them tell you what you want to be.”

John and Paul did eventually reconcile. In fact of April of 1976, they were watching Saturday Night Live in John’s apartment at the Dakota when – as part of a skit – they were offered money (some say $3000) to just come on the show. Per a brief moment, they thought about it but then said nah, fuck it. A shame. That would have been a moment.

I couldn’t think of a particular song or album to share so spend some time enjoying the Abbey Road webcam. It’s not quite as active as it usually is due to coronavirus. But I can tell you that there are worse ways to spend a day then watching people pause on the crossway.

Apple webcam

*The Apple corps fiasco was so fucked-up it requires its own post. Hell, there are books written about it.

**The last song the Beatles ever recorded together in the studio (20 August 1969) was the great “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).”

 

29 thoughts on “It Was Fifty Years Ago Today – The Beatles Break Up

  1. I think they’d run their course. It’s a shame they didn’t accommodate Harrison more on those late records – he clearly deserved more than two songs per LP by 1968.

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    1. Yes they had. Since Abbey Road was really their last album – Let it Be having been delayed – they left on a high note. I recall reading John saying something along the lines of “With two egomaniacs like Paul and I it’s no wonder George never got any songs on there.” John never really felt George had a Lennon-McCartney level song until “Something,” clearly having overlooked (at least) “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” arguably the most covered song from that album. And the dynamics of the founding of the band never changed. John always saw George as a kid.

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      1. Do you know what the most-streamed Beatles song on Spotify is (hint: it’s a George song)?

        I’m not actually huge on Abbey Road – the two George songs are great, and the production and musicianship are arguably at their peak, but a lot of the songs are flat for me. Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, Octopus’ Garden, Oh! Darling, Because, etc are all pretty low in The Beatles canon for me.

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        1. Maybe ‘Something’ or ‘My Sweet Lord.’ Yeah, I think we discussed Abbey Road before. I’m with you on ‘Garden’ and the egregious ‘Maxwell.’ The rest of the album I love.

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        2. Very interesting. What would John say about that given his overall disdain for George’s writing? As you know, even though they agreed early on to make them Lennon/McCartney songs, typically there’s a primary songwriter which is the guy who wrote it. And some were written entirely by one guy. My (not-so-quick) analysis says that George has 3, Paul 30, John 20, Ringo 1. (I demand a recount). 5 were evenly co-written. and ‘Twist and Shout’ was an Isley Brothers tune but not written by those guys either. So Sir Paul wins

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        3. Lennon’s pretty dominant on early albums like A Hard Day’s Night and Beatles for Sale. I didn’t look closely past the top 10, but I imagine it’s dominated by later records where McCartney took a lot more of the spotlight.

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  2. I agree that they had run their course. What else were they to do? I couldn’t see them carrying on in a modified way a la The Rolling Stones. To break up (acrimoniously or otherwise) left us wanting more, and hoping for reunions. Much better to end it than to be sitting there 10 years later pumping out their equivalent of “Emotional Rescue”.

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    1. Yeah, it would definitely have sucked. They had done it all and were running out of ideas. With few exceptions their post-Beatles output was never as strong.

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  3. The Beatles remain my all-time favorite band. From that perspective, I have mixed feelings about the break-up.

    On the other hand, I completely agree it was inevitable. Plus, there’s no other conclusion than to say they had great run. Thirteen studio albums in seven years is pretty impressive, even if some were better than others. Many other bands don’t get to release as much material and, if they do, it’s usually over a much longer period.

    The one beautiful thing about great music is it will always be with us.

    I’m also looking forward to the Peter Jackson documentary “The Beatles: Get Back,” which features plenty of never-seen-before footage from the making of the “Let It Be” album and the full rooftop concert. The film is set for release in the U.S. and Canada on Sep 4.

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    1. I can say I have no mixed feelings. These things have a life and I believe they went out on a high note at the right time.

      I think I may have vaguely heard if the Jackson film. Should be interesting.

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      1. Interesting, I love “Here Comes the Sun,” so nice to see it at no. 1.

        One of my all-time favorites is another George Harrison tune that didn’t make the list at all: “If I Needed Someone”

        If recall it correctly, George himself didn’t think particularly highly of it. I dig the simplicity and, of course, the Byrdsy style Rickenbacker.

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        1. I like “Sun” as well and once upon a time could credibly play it on the gee-tar. Maybe I’ll get back to that. I wonder how up-to-date this list is. I say this because that is exactly the kind of song people would want to listen to right now.

          I confess to being lukewarm on “If I Needed Someone.” If I had to pick a couple of early George-written songs I’d go with “Don’t Bother Me” and then “I Need You.” (from Help!) Byrds never did much for me. Actually, it’s a Beatles-y style. McGuinn went out and bought a Rick after he heard George. 🙂

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        2. Ha, fair point about McGuinn actually getting by George to get a Rickenbacker for himself. Though I would still argue he then took it to the next level and created the signature Byrds jingle-jangle sound. 🙂

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  4. I love your honest assessment. A lot of folks are blind when it comes to things that are special to them. It’s a good think Mac wasnt talking to you instead of George. He might of got El Kabonged. The Grand is up there with you on the Lads. I”l have to ask him about this.
    (Are you going to do Band On The Run or are u waiting for CB?)

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    1. I try to be objective about bands I love. Gotta see ’em warts and all otherwise you’re not a critic you’re just a fan boy. Band on the Run is long overdue by either of us I suppose. Feel free to do it if you’re so inclined. Now that I’ve done a Beatles post there won’t be another one for a while.

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        1. Have you seen the movie ‘Yesterday?’ It got hammered by some critics but I loved it. I got my fellow Beatlemaniac sister to watch it. She loved it so much she bought it. A fun story and some poignant Lennon stuff. (All fictionalized Beatles movies are actually about John.)

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  5. I have now seen Yesterday. John’s appearance was quite moving. I realized yesterday that he’s now been dead for as many years as he lived. How depressing is that?

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    1. Yes, that was a bittersweet, unexpected moment. Overall, did you enjoy it? I could see where someone might think it was hokey. But I took it in the spirit it was delivered.

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