The Beatles' breakup

The Beatles' breakup

The Beatles were one of the most popular and one of the most influential musical groups in history. Ian MacDonald : "Revolution in the Head",PIMLICO ,2005] There were numerous causes for their split, and the breakup itself has become almost as much of a legend as the band itself or the music they created while together.David Bennahum: "The Beatles After the Break-Up: In Their Own Words ",Omnibus Press, 1991]


The Beatles' breakup can be described as a series of events.

The overwhelming impact of Beatlemania took its toll on the band members. After the cessation of touring in 1966, the personal changes that each Beatle experienced were not parallel in a collective sense. The death of their founding manager Brian Epstein in 1967 led to financial and legal conflicts of interest.

Internal dissension arose from the emergence of individual artistic interests and ventures, supplanting group unity and vision. Both Harrison and Starr 'left' the group at various points during 1968-1969 and all four band members had begun working on solo projects by 1970 as the appeal of working together as a group began to wane. Ultimately, animosity made it impossible for both group and individual pursuits to mutually coexist and Paul McCartney made the breakup public knowledge as part of the press release for his first solo album, McCartney.

Although there were sporadic collaborative recording efforts among the band members (most notably Starr's "Ringo" being the only time that the four have--albeit on separate tracks--appeared on the same album post-breakup), all four Beatles never fully and simultaneously collaborated as a recording or performing group ever again. After Lennon's death in 1980, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr reconvened for Harrison's "All Those Years Ago". The trio reunited as The Beatles for the "Anthology" project in 1994; using the two unfinished Lennon demos Free as a Bird and Real Love for what would be the last two songs under The Beatles name.

Brian Epstein's death

Brian Epstein, The Beatles' manager, was arguably the man most influential in launching and promoting the group's worldwide popularity. He also managed to hold the group together, as his management style was to let the group pursue its musical notions and projects, while often mediating if there was a conflict of opinion. However, this role began to diminish after the band ceased touring, although he still exercised a strong influence as he still settled disputes among members and, most importantly, handled the group's finances. When he died in 1967, there was a void left in the band. John Lennon had the closest personal relationship with Epstein and ostensibly was the most affected by his death and cast a shadow on the future leadership and management for the group.Ray Coleman: "Lennon: The Definitive Biography" 3rd edition, Pan Publications, 2000] Paul McCartney likely sensed the precarious situation and sought to initiate projects for the group. While this may be considered to be a noble if not pragmatic move, the rest of the band progressively became perturbed by his growing domination in musical as well as other group ventures.Barry Miles: "Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now", Owl Books, 1998] Lennon retrospectively perceived McCartney's efforts as necessary to the survival of the band, but he still believed that McCartney's desire to sustain the viability of the band arose from McCartney's misgivings about pursuing a solo career.Jan Wenner: "Lennon Remembers: The Rolling Stone Interviews", Popular Library, 1971] McCartney maintained the greatest devotion to the group as an entertainment entity. Thus, his efforts at maintaining the band's cohesiveness may reflect his artistic faith in The Beatles' immense popularity."Paul and Linda McCartney Interview", "Playboy", December 1984] The foundation of Apple Corps was initiated under the oversight of Brian Epstein as a tax shelter endeavour. His unexpected death left the planning and implementation of Apple Corps in an incipient but tenuous state. The lack of Epstein's supervision and the Beatles' inexperience as businessmen led to an unexpectedly chaotic venture that only added to the incipient stresses when the band returned to the studio for the convoluted sessions that would result in "The Beatles" (aka "The White Album"). Ian MacDonald : "Revolution in the Head",PIMLICO ,2005] The void of Brian Epstein's role as band manager would never be harmoniously filled during the remaining years of the group's existence. Ultimately, the discord over managerial leadership would be one of the precipitating factors of the band's dissolution.Peter McCabe: "Apple to the Core: The Unmaking of The Beatles", Martin Brian and O'Keeffe Ltd, 1972]

George Harrison's emergence as a songwriter

In the early years, John Lennon and Paul McCartney were the two primary songwriters, while the other two members, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, took more supporting roles in the band. Lennon and McCartney would often compose one song per album for Starr to sing, and let Harrison either cover an old standard, or record one of his own compositions. From 1965 onward, Harrison's compositions started to mature and become more appealing in their quality.Mark Lewisohn: "Beatles Recording Sessions", Gardners Books, 2005] George Harrison:"I Me Mine", Simon & Schuster, 1980] Gradually the other band members acknowledged his potential as a song writer.DK Publishing: "The Beatles: 10 Years That Shook the World", DK Adult, 2004] Mark Lewisohn: "Beatles Recording Sessions", Gardners Books, 2005] Though Harrison emerged as a proficient songwriter and producer, he nonetheless continued to have his song ideas for the most part rejected, especially when his compositions were offered during the Twickenham rehearsals (where his composition "All Things Must Pass" was rejected in favour of "For You Blue"). He became frustrated and this led to estrangement and resentment towards the rest of the group, especially Lennon and McCartney. ["George Harrison Interview", "Crawdaddy" magazine, February 1977]

Difficulty in collaboration

After the band had stopped touring, each of the musicians to one degree or another began to identify and pursue musical autonomy. When the band convened to resume recording in late 1966, there was still a palpable camaraderie and desire to collaborate as musicians. However, their individual trends were becoming more salient. Paul McCartney, perhaps to a greater degree than the others, maintained a deep interest in the pop musical trends and styles emerging both in Britain and the United States, whereas George Harrison developed an interest in Indian music and John Lennon's compositions became more introspective and experimental. Ian MacDonald : "Revolution in the Head",PIMLICO ,2005] Ray Coleman: "Lennon: The Definitive Biography" 3rd edition, Pan Publications, 2000] George Harrison:"I Me Mine", Simon & Schuster, 1980] Consequently, McCartney began to assume the role of the initiator and, to a degree, leader of the artistic projects of The Beatles.Philip Norman: "Shout!: The Beatles in Their Generation" (second edition), Fireside, 2003]

Each band member began to develop individual artistic proclivities and agendas, which eventually compromised the level of enthusiasm among the musicians. The varying level of cohesive interest in songwriting and production gradually transformed into a lack of patience with and at times tolerance of mutual collaboration. This became most evident on the album "The Beatles" (aka the White Album) in which personal artistic preferences began to dominate the recording sessions, which in turn further undermined the band's unity.Geoff Emerick & Howard Massey: "Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles", Gotham, 2006]

Yoko Ono

John Lennon was in a fragile state of mind after returning from the band's sojourn to India in early 1968. He was disillusioned and resentful that the Maharishi did not fulfill his expectations. Coupled with renewed drug use and deterioration in his marriage and family life, his personal identity and his artistic role within the Beatles was a source of discontent. Although Paul McCartney may have been the first to be exposed to the other forms of artistic developments and trends, Lennon began to develop a more intense interest in one artist in particular, Yoko Ono. A Japanese-American conceptual artist, she met Lennon at one of her exhibitions in 1966. The pair maintained a platonic relationship until the spring of 1968. In May 1968 they spent time together in his home studio while his wife, Cynthia, was away on holiday. They recorded an avant-garde tape that would eventually be released as "", before consummating their new relationship. From that point on, the two were rarely apart, including when Lennon was working with the rest of the band in the studio. This violated a previous tacit agreement between the members not to let wives or girlfriends into the studio. However, as John Lennon's artistic infatuation with Yoko Ono grew, he desired that she would be alloted artistic input into the band's recordings.Andy Peebles and John Lennon: "The Last Lennon Tapes", Dell, 1982] Frequently, Ono would comment or make suggestions in the recording studio, which only served to increase the discontent between Ono and Lennon's bandmates.Ray Coleman: "Lennon: The Definitive Biography" 3rd edition, Pan Publications, 2000] ["John Lennon and Yoko Ono Interview", "Playboy", January 1981] Ono has been accused by some fans of "breaking up The Beatles", [Many jokes have been made on this subject throughout the years, one of the more memorable was a comment during of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" that implicitly blamed Yoko Ono for the breakup of The Beatles. During a closeup shot of a young Japanese girl, Crow imitates her saying "I'm going to grow up to break up the Beatles."] while others argue that Ono's presence was not an issue, that the breakup was caused by the fact that the Beatles were moving in different directions musically and personally, as well as by growing conflicts that simmered after Epstein's death.

"The Beatles" double album

The Beatles reconvened at George Harrison's home in Esher in May 1968 to record demos that would ultimately become released in November 1968 as "The Beatles". This was released as a double album and both The Beatles and the public ultimately referred to it as "The White Album". Contemporaneous reviews and retrospective commentary by The Beatles acknowledged that the album reflected the development of autonomous composers, musicians and artists.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney's artistic venues for The Beatles became more disparate. George Harrison continued to develop as a songwriter; unfortunately he had little support from within the band. His composition "Not Guilty" reflected his state of mind during the recording of "The Beatles". Ringo Starr began to develop and pursue cinematic opportunities during this period. He was also distressed by the increasingly dour and tense atmosphere that was characteristic of the recording sessions.Bob Spitz: "The Beatles : The Biography", Little, Brown and Company, 2005]

As the sessions progressed there was a growing tension in the band. The disquiet was multifaceted in nature, but it was the artistic and personal discord that was most salient. The strain of the sessions took its toll on Geoff Emerick (recording engineer employed by EMI) and more notably Ringo Starr. Both left during the sessions, which commenced in June and concluded in October. These were the first substantive signs of the group's emerging disunity and antipathy.. Rolling Stone described the double album as "four solo albums in one roof".

Upon completion and release of "The Beatles" the group did not give collective interviews or recorded appearances. The public relations were carried out individually. The most telling evidence of the group's collective alienation was the release of the 1968 Christmas fan club recording. The contributions were entirely individual and John Lennon made disparaging remarks about his band mates' apparent disdain for Yoko Ono.Mark Hertsgaard: "A Day in the Life: The Music and Artistry of The Beatles" (Reprint edition), Delta, 1996] John C. Winn: " That Magic Feeling: The Beatles' Recorded Legacy (volume two) 1966-1970" Multiplus Books, 2003]

The Twickenham and Apple studio recording sessions

By the end of 1968, The Beatles' status as a group entity was in limbo. Paul McCartney, who had unofficially assumed the mantle of leadership since Brian Epstein's death, suggested a group project involving rehearsing, recording and performing the songs in a live concert. Though the recording sessions for the double album initially involved ensemble playing, the band was ill-prepared to settle comfortably back into this mode. Only eight days after recording sessions commenced, George Harrison's frustration and resentment peaked and he informed his band mates that he was leaving. The combined patronizing by McCartney and estrangement from John Lennon had taken its toll on George Harrison. Thus, the band was on the verge of potential collapse and at an impasse. In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine cited a recording that exists from the Twickenham sessions the day after Harrison's departure in which Lennon suggested having Eric Clapton take over lead guitar duties.

Ultimately, complicated and heated negotiations brought Harrison back into the group's activities. The plan for a concert was abandoned and the recording sessions were resumed at Savile Row Apple Studios. The band gave its last public performance on the rooftop of Apple's headquarters in Savile Row, London, on 30 January 1969 as a substitute for an audience-based concert.John C. Winn: " That Magic Feeling: The Beatles' Recorded Legacy (volume two) 1966-1970" Multiplus Books, 2003] [Doug Sulpy & Ray Schweighardt: "Get Back: The Unauthorised Chronicle of The Beatles' "Let It Be" Disaster", St. Martin's Griffin Pub., 1999] Peter Doggett: "Abbey Road/Let It Be: The Beatles" (Classic Rock Albums Series), Schirmer Books, 1998]

Business quagmire: Allen Klein, Lee Eastman and ATV-Northern Songs

Apple Corps during this period was plagued by business problems. John Lennon and Yoko Ono met with Allen Klein regarding managerial advice. Subsequently, Lennon requested that Klein represent his business interests in the band. George Harrison and Ringo Starr acquiesced, while Paul McCartney had ambiguous feelings about Klein's managerial potential. McCartney's growing relationship with Linda Eastman opened the opportunity for Lee and John Eastman, Linda's father and brother, respectively, to become involved in advising the band's financial and legal decision-making. However, the band members' quarrels and disharmony over musical matters soon permeated their business discussions.The Beatles: "The Beatles Anthology", Chronicle Books, 2000]

Dick James, who held substantial rights to Northern Songs (the Lennon/McCartney song catalogue), became increasingly concerned over the band's dissension and resentment towards him. Without informing The Beatles, he inconspicuously entertained offers to sell his substantial shares in Northern Songs. Allen Klein and the Eastmans were caught off-guard and their attempts to reclaim control of The Beatles (via Maclen Music) failed. It soon became evident that the Eastmans and Klein had developed an adversarial relationship given their disparate advice and counsel. This further aggravated the underlying mistrust and antipathy experienced within the band. [Peter Brown & Steven Gaines: "The Love You Make: An Insider's Story of The Beatles" (Reprint edition), NAL Trade, 2002]


The "Get Back"/"Let It Be" project from the January 1969 recordings and filming was aborted. However, the group continued to sporadically record together during the spring and summer of 1969. These recording sessions ultimately paved the way for The Beatles' last studio recording project, "Abbey Road".

John Lennon's departure

John Lennon's alleged pattern of heroin use inspired him to record "Cold Turkey" shortly after the sessions for the album "Abbey Road" concluded. Offered to The Beatles for recording as a single, it was met with indifference. The formation of the Plastic Ono Band was originally conceived as an artistic outlet for John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1969. However, their enthusiastic reception as performers in Toronto's Rock and Roll Concert extravaganza in September 1969 ostensibly crystallized his decision to leave the band. He informed Allen Klein and Paul McCartney of his decision on 20 September 1969. [Anthony Fawcett: "John Lennon: One Day at a Time : A Personal Biography of the Seventies" (Revised edition), Grove Pr., 1980] Ironically, in the autumn of 1969, the band signed a renegotiated contract with a higher royalty rate. This was the group's last demonstration of unity, though transient in nature. Further disclosure revealed that the contract bound the members of the band until 1976 collectively and separately. Thus, this renegotiated contract precipitated the final legal actions abrogating the partnership in 1972

Paul McCartney's departure

Despite his efforts at maintaining the band's cohesiveness, Paul McCartney acknowledged that The Beatles had effectively disbanded in a November 1969 interview conducted by "Life" magazine. ["Paul McCartney: 'I Want to Live in Peace'", "Life", November 7 1969] At the beginning of 1970, McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr briefly reconvened to complete recordings for the album "Let It Be". Each of the band members otherwise focused solely on individual projects.John C. Winn: " That Magic Feeling: The Beatles' Recorded Legacy (volume two) 1966-1970" Multiplus Books, 2003]

During this time, McCartney grew deeply dissatisfied with Phil Spector's treatment of some songs on the upcoming "Let It Be" album, particularly "The Long and Winding Road". McCartney had conceived of the song as a simple piano ballad, but Spector dubbed in orchestral and female choral accompaniment. On April 14 1970, he sent a sharply worded letter to Apple Records business manager Allen Klein demanding that the added instrumentation be reduced, the harp part eliminated, and "Don't ever do it again." [The Beatles, "Anthology", p. 350, (full letter)] These requests went unheeded, and the Spector version went on to be included in the album.

Another issue McCartney faced around this time frame surrounded his impending solo album. "McCartney" was scheduled for release on April 17, but the other Beatles and Apple realized that the album's release date could conflict with the impending "Let It Be" album and film. When Starr was sent to request that McCartney delay his solo debut, McCartney refused, asking Starr to leave for the only time in either one's life: "I had to do something like that in order to assert myself because I was just sinking." Although the "McCartney" album was released as planned, McCartney's bitterness over these incidents was a contributing factor to his public announcement concerning his departure from the band.

At the beginning of 1971, McCartney sued his band mates for the dissolution of The Beatles' contractual relationship and subsequently a receiver was appointed.


ee also

*List of Beatles songs by singer

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