Break-up of the Beatles

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The break-up of the Beatles, one of the most popular and influential musical groups in history,[1] has become almost as much of a legend as the band itself or the music they created while together.[2] The Beatles were active from their formation in 1960 to the disintegration of the group in 1970.

The break-up itself was a cumulative process throughout 1969–70, marked by rumours of a split and ambiguous comments by the Beatles themselves regarding the future of the group. Although John Lennon privately informed the other Beatles that he was leaving the group in September 1969, there was no public acknowledgement of the break-up until Paul McCartney announced on 10 April 1970 he was quitting the Beatles.

Although there were sporadic collaborative recording efforts among the band members (most notably Ringo Starr's 1973 album Ringo, the only time that the four—albeit on separate tracks—appeared on the same album post-break-up), all four Beatles never simultaneously collaborated as a recording or performing group again; Starr's 1976 album Ringo's Rotogravure is the last post-break-up album on which all four Beatles contribute and are credited: besides Starr's drumming and songwriting contributions, Lennon, McCartney, and George Harrison all composed one track apiece. After Lennon's death in 1980, McCartney and Starr appeared on Harrison's single "All Those Years Ago", and the trio reunited for the Anthology project in 1994, using two unfinished Lennon demos—"Free as a Bird" and "Real Love"—for what would be the final new songs to be recorded and released as the Beatles.[3]

There were numerous causes for the Beatles' break-up. It was not a single event but a long transition,[4] including the cessation of touring in 1966, and the death of their manager, Brian Epstein, in 1967, meaning the Beatles were personally involved in financial and legal conflicts.[5] Conflict arose from differences in artistic vision.[6] Both Harrison and Starr temporarily left the group at various points during 1968–69 and all four band members had begun working on solo projects by 1970 as they all realised the likelihood the band would not regroup. Ultimately, animosity made it impossible for the group to continue working together in the years following.[7]

Brian Epstein's death[edit]

Arguably the most influential person in launching and promoting the band's worldwide popularity, Brian Epstein 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 when there was a conflict. However, this role began to diminish after the band stopped touring in 1966, although he still exercised a strong influence, settling disputes among members and, most importantly, handling the group's finances. When he died of a medical drug overdose in 1967, there was a void left in the band. Lennon had the closest personal relationship with Epstein and was the most affected by his death.[8] McCartney likely sensed the precarious situation and sought to initiate projects for the group. The rest of the band progressively became perturbed by his growing domination in musical as well as other group ventures.[9] Lennon later reflected that McCartney's efforts were important for the survival of the band, but he still believed that McCartney's desire to help came from McCartney's own misgivings about pursuing a solo career.[10]

The foundation of Apple Corps was initiated under the oversight of Epstein as a tax shelter endeavour. His unexpected death left the future of Apple Corps in doubt. The lack of Epstein's supervision and the Beatles' inexperience as businessmen led to an unexpectedly chaotic venture that only added to stress when the band returned to the studio to produce The White Album.[1] Epstein's role as band manager would never be replaced, and ultimately the lack of strong managerial leadership would be a major cause of the break-up.[11]

George Harrison's emergence as a songwriter[edit]

In the early years, Lennon and McCartney were the two primary songwriters and vocalists, 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 onwards, Harrison's compositions started to mature and become more appealing in their quality.[12][13] Gradually, the other band members acknowledged his potential as a songwriter.[7][10][12] 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. He became frustrated and this led to estrangement from the rest of the group.[14]

Difficulty in collaboration[edit]

After the band had stopped touring, each of the members, to varying degrees, began to pursue their own musical tastes. When the band convened to resume recording in late 1966, there was still a camaraderie and desire to collaborate as musicians. However, their individual differences were becoming more apparent. 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 Harrison developed an interest in Indian music and Lennon's compositions became more introspective and experimental.[1][8][13] Consequently, McCartney began to assume the role of the initiator and, to a degree, leader of the artistic projects of the Beatles.[3]

Each band member began to develop individual artistic agendas, which eventually compromised the enthusiasm among the musicians. Soon, each band member became impatient with the others. 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.[15]

Yoko Ono[edit]

Lennon was in a fragile state of mind after returning from the band's sojourn in 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 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, Ono 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 Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins, before consummating their new relationship. From that point on, the two were almost always together, even as 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 Lennon's artistic infatuation with Ono grew, he desired that she would be allotted artistic input into the band's recordings.[16] Frequently, Ono would comment or make suggestions in the recording studio, which only served to increase the discontent between Ono and Lennon's bandmates.[8][10][17]

The Beatles double album[edit]

The White Album

The Beatles reconvened at 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 alternatively 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.[7]

Lennon and McCartney's artistic venues for the Beatles became more disparate. 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. Starr began to develop and pursue acting opportunities during this period. He was also distressed by the increasingly sour and tense atmosphere that was characteristic of the recording sessions.[6] At one point he felt so left out that he decided to leave and went on a break from the band for several weeks. On return he found his drum kit decorated with flowers (which were a gift from George Harrison).[18]

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 salient. The strain of the sessions took its toll on Starr in particular, as well as EMI recording engineer Geoff Emerick. Both left during the sessions, which commenced in June and concluded in October.[15] These were the first substantive signs of the group's emerging disunity and antipathy.[12] Rolling Stone described the double album as "four solo albums in one roof".

Upon completion and release of The Beatles the group no longer gave 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 Lennon made disparaging remarks about his bandmates' apparent disdain for Ono.[4][19]

Twickenham and Apple studio recording sessions[edit]

By the end of 1968, the Beatles' status as a group entity was in limbo. McCartney, who had unofficially assumed the mantle of leadership since 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 rehearsals commenced, Harrison's frustration and resentment peaked and he informed his band mates that he was leaving. The combined patronising by McCartney and estrangement from Lennon had taken its toll. 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 negotiations brought Harrison back into the group's activities. The plan for a concert was abandoned and the recording sessions were resumed at Apple Studios in Savile Row. The band gave its last public performance on the rooftop of Apple's headquarters on 30 January 1969 as a substitute for an audience-based concert.[19][20][21]

Business quagmire: Allen Klein, Lee and John Eastman and ATV-Northern Songs[edit]

Apple Corps during this period was plagued by business problems. Lennon and Ono met with Allen Klein regarding managerial advice. Subsequently, Lennon requested that Klein represent his business interests in the band. Harrison and Starr acquiesced, while 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.[5]

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. 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.[22]


The Get Back/Let It Be project from the January 1969 recordings and filming was halted (to be resumed in January 1970 for release in May). However, the group continued to record together sporadically during the spring and summer of 1969. These recording sessions ultimately paved the way for the Beatles' last studio recording project, Abbey Road.[21]

Lennon's departure[edit]

Lennon's alleged pattern of heroin use inspired him to record "Cold Turkey" soon 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 Lennon and Ono in 1969. However, their enthusiastic reception as performers at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival in September 1969 ostensibly crystallised his decision to leave the band.[citation needed] He informed Klein and McCartney of his decision on 20 September 1969.[23] In the autumn of 1969, the band signed a renegotiated recording contract with Capitol Records with a higher royalty rate. This was the group's last, transient, demonstration of unity.[11]

McCartney's departure[edit]

Despite his efforts at maintaining the band's cohesiveness, McCartney acknowledged that The Beatles had effectively disbanded in a November 1969 interview conducted by Life magazine.[24] At the beginning of 1970, McCartney, Harrison and Starr briefly reconvened to complete recordings for the album Let It Be. Each of the band members otherwise focused solely on individual projects.[19][21] McCartney felt that the four members' evolution from musicians to businessmen was the central reason for the band's breakup.[25]

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 overdubbed orchestral and female choral accompaniment. On 14 April 1970, McCartney sent a sharply worded letter to Apple Records business manager Klein demanding that the added instrumentation be reduced, the harp part eliminated, and "Don't ever do it again."[26] 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 17 April, but the other Beatles and Apple realised 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 (for the sake of group harmony and loyalty), 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.[9]

On 31 December 1970, McCartney filed a lawsuit against the other three Beatles in London's High Court for dissolution of the Beatles' contractual partnership, and subsequently a receiver was appointed. The legal process and negotiations were lengthy and the formal dissolution of the partnership took place on 9 January 1975.


  1. ^ a b c MacDonald, Ian. Revolution in the Head, PIMLICO, 2005
  2. ^ David Bennahum: The Beatles After the Break-Up: In Their Own Words, Omnibus Press, 1991
  3. ^ a b Philip Norman: Shout!: The Beatles in Their Generation (second edition), Fireside, 2003
  4. ^ a b Mark Hertsgaard: A Day in the Life: The Music and Artistry of The Beatles (Reprint edition), Delta, 1996
  5. ^ a b The Beatles: The Beatles Anthology, Chronicle Books, 2000
  6. ^ a b Bob Spitz: The Beatles : The Biography, Little, Brown and Company, 2005
  7. ^ a b c DK Publishing: The Beatles: 10 Years That Shook the World, DK Adult, 2004
  8. ^ a b c Ray Coleman: Lennon: The Definitive Biography 3rd edition, Pan Publications, 2000
  9. ^ a b Barry Miles: Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now, Owl Books, 1998
  10. ^ a b c Jann Wenner: Lennon Remembers: The Rolling Stone Interviews, Popular Library, 1971
  11. ^ a b Peter McCabe and Robert D. Schonfeld: Apple to the Core: The Unmaking of The Beatles, Martin Brian and O'Keeffe Ltd, 1972
  12. ^ a b c Mark Lewisohn: Beatles Recording Sessions, Gardners Books, 2005
  13. ^ a b George Harrison:I Me Mine, Simon & Schuster, 1980
  14. ^ "George Harrison Interview", Crawdaddy magazine, February 1977
  15. ^ a b Geoff Emerick & Howard Massey: Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles, Gotham, 2006
  16. ^ Andy Peebles and John Lennon: The Last Lennon Tapes, Dell, 1982
  17. ^ "John Lennon and Yoko Ono Interview", Playboy, January 1981
  18. ^ "Ringo Starr 1976 Interview". The Beatles Ultimate Experience Database. Retrieved 8 April 2009. 
  19. ^ a b c John C. Winn: That Magic Feeling: The Beatles' Recorded Legacy (volume two) 1966-1970 Multiplus Books, 2003
  20. ^ Doug Sulpy & Ray Schweighardt: Get Back: The Unauthorised Chronicle of The Beatles' "Let It Be" Disaster, St. Martin's Griffin Pub., 1999
  21. ^ a b c Peter Doggett: Abbey Road/Let It Be: The Beatles (Classic Rock Albums Series), Schirmer Books, 1998
  22. ^ Peter Brown & Steven Gaines: The Love You Make: An Insider's Story of The Beatles (Reprint edition), NAL Trade, 2002
  23. ^ Anthony Fawcett: John Lennon: One Day at a Time : A Personal Biography of the Seventies (Revised edition), Grove Pr., 1980
  24. ^ "Paul McCartney: 'I Want to Live in Peace'", Life, 7 November 1969
  25. ^ Business caused beatles' break-up, McCartney says. (1986, Aug 22). Chicago Tribune (1963-Current File)
  26. ^ The Beatles, Anthology, p. 350, (full letter)

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