50 years without the Beatles – the biggest band break-up in history

Font Size:

It wasn’t quite the day the music died, but for Beatles fans the world over, it must have felt pretty close.

On 10 April 1970, Paul McCartney issued a press release alongside advance copies of his solo album, which seemed to announce the Beatles’ demise.

Framed as the transcript to a Q&A, he confirmed that he did not miss his bandmates, that he was not planning anything with them, and that he could not foresee writing any future songs with John Lennon. When asked if he enjoyed solo work, he said: “I only had me to ask for a decision, and I agreed with me.”

Lennon responded furiously, but his words seemed to confirm those of his bandmate. “He can’t have his own way, so he’s causing chaos. I put out four albums last year, and I didn’t say a f***ing word about quitting.” In reality, he had privately departed months before.

While millions of fans gently wept, the headline writers tried to work out what on earth had happened. For the public it was a bolt from the blue, but for band insiders it was less A Day In The Life, more The Long And Winding Road. For three or four years, the group had bickered and squabbled, and all four members had either temporarily quit or threatened to.

There was no obvious starting point for the decline, but observers current and contemporary agree that the tragic death of long-time manager Brian Epstein in 1967 caused a shock that set the band’s relationships reeling.

Epstein had handled the group’s business dealings, keeping the decisions – and the disagreements – separate from the music, and had deftly mediated between the band’s burgeoning egos. “I knew that we were in trouble then,” Lennon said later. “I thought, ‘We’ve f***king had it now’.”

Epstein had also kept the quartet grounded in the midst of global fame that was, at the time, unmatched in the whole of human history. Lennon bore no love for Beatlemania – “one has to completely humiliate oneself to be what the Beatles were” – and George Harrison had already nearly walked out in protest at their exhausting schedule.

Oft overlooked in this great British break-up, Harrison was the first to start simmering, as his prolific song writing was publicly and privately smothered by the Lennon-McCartney duopoly. He – not unreasonably – felt unappreciated and was the first Beatle to release solo work.

As for the duopoly, through the final years they diverged further by the day. McCartney thrived on the daily adulation, despaired of Lennon’s chaotic approach, and artistically remained rooted in pop. Lennon, on the other hand, became increasingly experimental – in drugs and in music – and felt that his bandmate had let fame go to his head.

1968’s White Album was a successful but bizarre blend of styles, later described by Rolling Stone magazine as “four solo albums under one roof”. No conventional record could reconcile Lennon’s Revolution and McCartney’s Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da – a song Lennon found so happy-clappy and tedious he stormed from the studio mid-recording.

McCartney went on to call the White Album “the Tension Album”, and the band’s competing visions never realigned. “Paul said, ‘Come and see the show’,” Lennon recalled later. “I said, ‘I read the news today, oh boy’.”

Outside the studio, the band’s sort-of-record-label and all-round money pit Apple Corps became the site of a proxy war. McCartney warned correctly that the company desperately needed oversight, but his financial concerns were received “like traitorous utterances” by the rest of the band.

A power struggle ensued: McCartney backed the Eastmans, New York attorneys related to his partner Linda, while Lennon favoured the influence of Allen Klein, a weaselly executive whose imaginative business practices would eventually see him jailed by the US Internal Revenue Service. McCartney lost the vote three to one, but detested Klein so much he still refused to sign the contract.

The Abbey Road recordings in 1969 marked the band’s final work in the studio – miraculously a masterpiece given the goings-on. Ironically, the opening number was Come Together; the final track was more appropriately named The End.

So much for the music and the money, the public post-mortem focused heavily on a very different question. How much should we blame Yoko Ono?

Villain or victim, muse or monster, John Lennon’s second wife arrived on the scene late in 1966 and remains more controversial than any actual member of the band. For Lennon, Ono was a soulmate, a conceptual artist who pushed him creatively as he’d never been pushed before, but to the rest of the band she was a pain in the neck.

The group had a longstanding rule that there must be no other halves in the studio, but Ono not only attended recordings but offered strident musical advice, apparently often speaking on Lennon’s behalf. The other members protested furiously, but Lennon would have none of it. “Yoko is part of me now. We’re John and Yoko, we’re together.”

Since biblical times, of course, it’s been fashionable to blame the woman behind the man, and it was easy to point at Ono and claim she was the fly in the ointment. But if she was, it was Lennon who had put her there. “She certainly didn’t break the group up,” said McCartney in an interview in 2012, adding that Lennon was already “definitely going to leave”.

The irony is that the accusations flatter Ono with a level of power she probably didn’t really possess. “I don’t think you could have broken up four very strong people like them,” she said later, “even if you tried.”

As tension mounted, Lennon teetered, Harrison and Starr grumbled, and eventually McCartney jumped. There was a certain poetry to McCartney being the one to close the curtains. He was often criticised by his bandmates for being too domineering, but it was probably his energy and pragmatism that had kept them going for so long.

In 2016, a letter from Lennon to the McCartneys drummed up nearly $30,000 at auction. For two scathing pages, Lennon offers his unfiltered opinion on the Beatles, decrying “the s**t we took to make them so big” and telling Paul to “GET OFF YOUR GOLD DISCS AND FLY.”

He bemoans his treatment before the break-up – “I hope you realise what s**t you … laid on Yoko and me” – and called his former band “just as big b*****ds as everyone else.” At the bottom there’s a postscript in pen: “About addressing your letter just to me – STILL …!!!”

The Beatles broke up because they’d lost the things that kept them together. In his infamous press release, McCartney cited “personal differences, business differences, musical differences, but most of all because I have a better time with my family.” Answers on a postcard.

Who was your favourite? Did you purchase any solo albums?

– With PA

If you enjoy our content, don’t keep it to yourself. Share our free eNews with your friends and encourage them to sign up.

Join YourLifeChoices today
and get this free eBook!

Join
By joining YourLifeChoices you consent that you have read and agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy

RELATED LINKS

The Beatles: Online

The Fab Four, like all good things, had to come to an end eventually. Five decades on,

Study shows how music boosts brain activity

Music soothes the soul and, so it seems, people with dementia. But how?

Ringo Starr on life as a Beatle

The man who put the beat in The Beatles, Ringo Starr, turns 75 today.

7 Comments

Total Comments: 7
  1. 0
    0

    They made great music, but it cannot last forever when the pressures are on so much. I don’t have a favorite they were all good in their own right and too many good songs to choose from.

  2. 0
    0

    Will society still remember them in another 50 years? I suspect so, as there are several distinct styles, forms, and melodies that had a major effect on subsequent popular music. I still have an original Abbey Road LP. Most of the songs on it do not stand alone well, but form a complete musical experience when played as a set. That is what set them apart.

    It was a good thing they separated. Nothing lasts forever (entropy) and the ones with talent went their own good way.

  3. 0
    0

    B4 the beatles in the Uk we had the bbc with Larry the Lamb and everyone spoke nicely,the idea was that it would rub off on the children and it did,But when the Beatles came along even kids in the south of EEngland spoke SScouse and then along came Cilla Black which made things worse,,Theres such a thing as influence you know that’s why class families have children who speak well and become successful,,,we all had short back and sides joined the army became UNIFORM responsible ,respected our elders and the police,,,I was so pleased when lee Kong Yew wouldn’t let the long haired mongrels into Singapore,go there and see who respectable the children are.The beatles were the end of British respectability..General Degaulle also said that when Tv came in there would only be one programme station and it would be for news ,debates ,documentaries and the suchlike what a pity it didn’t come to pass,,,I saw a German slap his 8 yr old boy across the face at a party in Austria and the English parents were aghast but by God did those English kids shut their dear little mouths after that,Put the stick about …Now we have 3 generation dole bludgers ,empty the prisons and bring back the stocks fine the parents and all pensioners who rely on the GOV can go out and polish the lampposts or something

  4. 0
    0

    B4 the beatles in the Uk we had the bbc with Larry the Lamb and everyone spoke nicely,the idea was that it would rub off on the children and it did,But when the Beatles came along even kids in the south of EEngland spoke SScouse and then along came Cilla Black which made things worse,,Theres such a thing as influence you know that’s why class families have children who speak well and become successful,,,we all had short back and sides joined the army became UNIFORM responsible ,respected our elders and the police,,,I was so pleased when lee Kong Yew wouldn’t let the long haired mongrels into Singapore,go there and see who respectable the children are.The beatles were the end of British respectability..General Degaulle also said that when Tv came in there would only be one programme station and it would be for news ,debates ,documentaries and the suchlike what a pity it didn’t come to pass,,,I saw a German slap his 8 yr old boy across the face at a party in Austria and the English parents were aghast but by God did those English kids shut their dear little mouths after that,Put the stick about …Now we have 3 generation dole bludgers ,empty the prisons and bring back the stocks fine the parents and all pensioners who rely on the GOV can go out and polish the lampposts or something

  5. 0
    0

    Heard a podcast on this on the weekend, they mentioned something I had never heard before, John Lennon was a heroin addict. May explain some of the tension that became very evident towards the end. There is a scant reference to it in the article above.

  6. 0
    0

    I used to like the Beatles in their day but now not at all. Rolling Stones and Queen are far superior but my favourite to this day is ABBA, still enjoy all their music unlike the Beatles which sounds a bit lame these days

  7. 0
    0

    As Lennon said they will be playing our music in 200yrs just using different instruments


FACEBOOK COMMENTS



SPONSORED LINKS

continue reading

Fitness

Exercise proven to aid cancer patients

At Sydney's iconic Bondi Icebergs pool, on a crisp spring morning, Siobhan O'Toole and Donna Moclair look like seasoned swimmers...

Health

How to … safely remove embarrassing stains

Tips and tricks on removing red wine or pasta sauce stains from clothing are readily exchanged between family and friends,...

Podcast

Podcast: Why you need Five Good Friends in your life

Simon Lockyer from Five Good Friends joins John Deeks to discuss how Five Good Friends has revolutionised home care, how...

Living in retirement

I wrote my autobiography. You can too – and you should

Peter Harris is 73 and has finished a project that has absorbed and excited him for more than two decades....

Lifestyle

Dog behaviours and what they mean

Dogs will be dogs. They eat, lick, fetch and give unlimited love. They'll also chew, bite, dig and bark, and...

Community

A prostate catch 22

Columnist Peter Leith takes the time to talk, lobby and observe. In this addition to his Aspects of Ageing true...

Destinations

Max Williams experiences the magic of Lake Mungo

I gaze in wonder at the small bone fragments I am holding. Most likely they are part of a Murray...

Travel News

WA opens borders – but not to everyone

After hard lockdowns, travellers from New South Wales and Victoria have been granted quarantine free access to Western Australia. As...

LOADING MORE ARTICLE...