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Pop Culture

Inside the Beatles’ messy breakup, 53 years ago

More than 50 years later, there's still more to learn about the world's greatest band.

via TM on music / Twitter

Fifty years ago, when Paul McCartney announced he had left the Beatles, the news dashed the hopes of millions of fans, while fueling false reunion rumors that persisted well into the new decade.

In a press release on April 10, 1970 for his first solo album, "McCartney," he leaked his intention to leave. In doing so, he shocked his three bandmates.

The Beatles had symbolized the great communal spirit of the era. How could they possibly come apart?



Few at the time were aware of the underlying fissures. The power struggles in the group had been mounting at least since their manager, Brian Epstein, died in August of 1967.

'Paul Quits the Beatles'

Was McCartney's "announcement" official? His album appeared on April 17, and its press packet included a mock interview. In it, McCartney is asked, "Are you planning a new album or single with the Beatles?"

His response? "No."

But he didn't say whether the separation might prove permanent. The Daily Mirror nonetheless framed its headline conclusively: "Paul Quits the Beatles."

The others worried this could hurt sales and sent Ringo as a peacemaker to McCartney's London home to talk him down from releasing his solo album ahead of the band's "Let It Be" album and film, which were slated to come out in May. Without any press present, McCartney shouted Ringo off his front stoop.

Lennon had kept quiet

Lennon, who had been active outside the band for months, felt particularly betrayed.

The previous September, soon after the band released "Abbey Road," he had asked his bandmates for a "divorce." But the others convinced him not to go public to prevent disrupting some delicate contract negotiations.

Still, Lennon's departure seemed imminent: He had played the Toronto Rock 'n' Roll Festival with his Plastic Ono Band in September 1969, and on Feb. 11, 1970, he performed a new solo track, "Instant Karma," on the popular British TV show "Top of the Pops." Yoko Ono sat behind him, knitting while blindfolded by a sanitary napkin.

In fact, Lennon behaved more and more like a solo artist, until McCartney countered with his own eponymous album. He wanted Apple to release this solo debut alongside the group's new album, "Let It Be," to dramatize the split.

By beating Lennon to the announcement, McCartney controlled the story and its timing, and undercut the other three's interest in keeping it under wraps as new product hit stores.

Ray Connolly, a reporter at the Daily Mail, knew Lennon well enough to ring him up for comment. When I interviewed Connolly in 2008, he told me about their conversation.

Lennon was dumbfounded and enraged by the news. He had let Connolly in on his secret about leaving the band at his Montreal Bed-In in December 1969, but asked him to keep it quiet. Now he lambasted Connolly for not leaking it sooner.

"Why didn't you write it when I told you in Canada at Christmas!" he exclaimed to Connolly, who reminded him that the conversation had been off the record. "You're the f–king journalist, Connolly, not me," snorted Lennon.

"We were all hurt [McCartney] didn't tell us what he was going to do," Lennon later told Rolling Stone. "Jesus Christ! He gets all the credit for it! I was a fool not to do what Paul did, which was use it to sell a record…"

It all falls apart

This public fracas had been bubbling under the band's cheery surface for years. Timing and sales concealed deeper arguments about creative control and the return to live touring.

In January 1969, the group had started a roots project tentatively titled "Get Back." It was supposed to be a back-to-the-basics recording without the artifice of studio trickery. But the whole venture was shelved as a new recording, "Abbey Road," took shape.

When "Get Back" was eventually revived, Lennon – behind McCartney's back – brought in American producer Phil Spector, best known for girl group hits like "Be My Baby," to salvage the project. But this album was supposed to be band only – not embroidered with added strings and voices – and McCartney fumed when Spector added a female choir to his song "The Long and Winding Road."

"Get Back" – which was renamed "Let it Be" – nonetheless moved forward. Spector mixed the album, and a cut of the feature film was readied for summer.

McCartney's announcement and release of his solo album effectively short-circuited the plan. By announcing the breakup, he launched his solo career in advance of "Let It Be," and nobody knew how it might disrupt the official Beatles' project.

Throughout the remainder of 1970, fans watched in disbelief as the "Let It Be" movie portrayed the hallowed Beatles circling musical doldrums, bickering about arrangements and killing time running through oldies. The film finished with an ironic triumph – the famous live set on the roof of their Apple headquarters during which the band played "Get Back," "Don't Let Me Down" and a joyous "One After 909."

The album, released on May 8, performed well and spawned two hit singles – the title track and "The Long and Winding Road" – but the group never recorded together again.

Their fans hoped against hope that four solo Beatles might someday find their way back to the thrills that had enchanted audiences for seven years. These rumors seemed most promising when McCartney joined Lennon for a Los Angeles recording session in 1974 with Stevie Wonder. But while they all played on one another's solo efforts, the four never played a session together again.

At the beginning of 1970, autumn's "Come Together"/"Something" single from "Abbey Road" still floated in the Billboard top 20; the "Let It Be" album and film helped extend fervor beyond what the papers reported. For a long time, the myth of the band endured on radio playlists and across several greatest hits compilations, but when John Lennon sang "The dream is over…" at the end of his own 1970 solo debut, "John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band," few grasped the lyrics' implacable truth.

Fans and critics chased every sliver of hope for the "next" Beatles, but few came close to recreating the band's magic. There were prospects – first bands like Three Dog Night, the Flaming Groovies, Big Star and the Raspberries; later, Cheap Trick, the Romantics and the Knack – but these groups only aimed at the same heights the Beatles had conquered, and none sported the range, songwriting ability or ineffable chemistry of the Liverpool quartet.

We've been living in the world without Beatles ever since.

Tim Riley is Associate Professor and Graduate Program Director for Journalism, Emerson College

This article was originally published by The Conversation on 4.10.20. You can read it here.

Pop Culture

Paul McCartney hints the ‘final’ Beatles song is coming soon. Here’s what it may sound like.

Technology is bringing John, Paul, George and Ringo together again for one last time.

A trade ad for The Beatles taken in 1965

In 1994, the surviving members of The Beatles, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, reunited to record new music for the “Anthology” multimedia project. The “Threatles” came out of the sessions with two new tracks based on late-'70s John Lennon demos, “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love.”

The songs were seen as a bit of curiosity at the time because the group used digital technology to allow all four Beatles to play together 14 years after Lennon’s death.

During the sessions, the group also tinkered with another Lennon demo given to them by his widow, Yoko Ono, called “Now and Then.” Unfortunately for Beatles fans, their work on the song has never been heard. But after a recent McCartney interview with the BBC, people are speculating that “Now and Then” may finally see the light of day.


“So when we came to make what will be the last Beatles record—it was a demo that John [Lennon] had that we worked on, and we just finished it up and will be released this year—we were able to take John's voice and get it pure through this AI so that then we could mix the record as you would normally do,” McCartney told the BBC.

McCartney’s mention of the term “AI” had many afraid that he and Starr were digitally recreating Lennon’s voice, a controversial practice in today’s music industry. However, McCartney probably refers to the same learning technology used for The Beatles' “Get Back” documentary that can separate different sounds recorded on the same track.

“They tell the machine: ‘That’s a voice, this is a guitar, lose the guitar.’ And he did that. So it has great uses,” McCartney told the BBC. The same technology was also used on the latest Beatles re-release of the “Revolver” album, where engineers used AI to create a greater separation of individual instruments.

The belief that the song is “Now and Then” was given additional credence when what appears to be a renewed song copyright was posted on Reddit’s Beatles forum.

Here’s a demo Lennon performed of “Now and Then” in 1978.

If the song is “Now and Then,” it’s unclear whether Harrison, who died in 2001, made significant contributions to the recording. However, a 2005 story in The Washington Post claims that he is on the track. According to The Beatles Bible, the three only worked on the song for two days, producing a “rough backing track.”

The mystery surrounding McCartney’s cryptic claim that there’s another Beatles song on the way, aided by AI, has got Beatles fans speculating over what they're going to hear. But that’s always been one of the fun parts about loving The Beatles. Their legacy is filled with enough mystery, trivia, speculation and debate that it’s kept fans interested for over 60 years. Regardless of what the track will be, how it happened or how great it will sound, half the fun is just trying to suss out what Paul and Ringo are doing and how Harrison and Lennon are involved.

This article originally appeared on 06.22.18


Imagine you're sitting in a pub and Sir Paul McCartney walks in.

That's exactly what happened when he guested on an episode of "Carpool Karaoke." The legendary performer rolled through his hometown of Liverpool with host James Corden, sharing memories of the city, surprising fans in his favorite pub, and bringing all of us a badly needed emotional release with his music.


McCartney's trip down Penny Lane was poignant, and his message of positivity brought James Corden to tears.

The most prevailing themes in The Beatles' music are those of love, peace, joy, and togetherness. It's the kind of music that you put on during the happiest times and when you've had a really rough day.

One of the most comforting songs in difficult times is "Let It Be," and that's no accident. During their road trip, McCartney told Corden it was inspired by a dream of his late mother.

"My mum, who died, came to me in the dream and was reassuring me, saying it's gonna be OK, let it be." McCartney said. "I wrote the song 'Let It Be,' but it was [inspired by] her positivity."

"It got me emotional there, Paul," Corden said, echoing the feelings of everyone watching.

"That's the power of music," McCartney replied. "It's weird, isn't it, how that can do that to you?"

McCartney's reminder that things will be OK is something we all need.

"All you need is love" might sound a little sappy, but in these times, that message is more important than ever. And the Beatles' continued success is a testament to how much we all need to work toward the joy the group so often sang about. To achieve it, we've all got to come together (right now).

Watch the full video below, free your tears, feel the full spectrum of your emotions, and then get to work making the world the awesome place we all know it can be. (The story starts at 4:50.)

James Corden heads to Liverpool for a special day with Paul McCartney spent exploring the city of Paul's youth, visiting his childhood home where he wrote mu...

Paul McCartney composing 'Get Back' in minutes.


Even the biggest Beatles fan might not be ready for Peter Jackson’s epic, three part, 7.8-hour behemoth of a documentary "Get Back," which recently aired on Disney Plus (November 25). But if you have two minutes, there is a singular must-watch moment that not only encapsulates the distinctive brilliance of the band, but of the creative process itself.

It’s when we see Paul McCartney compose “Get Back” in all of two minutes.

A video of their hit song being born (or perhaps conceived?) has already racked up more than 300,000 views on YouTube. And you don't have to be a Beatles connoisseur to appreciate being a fly on the wall.

Paul McCartney composing 'Get Back' (January 7, 1969)

“Lennon’s late again,” McCartney remarks as he grabs the bass. The band members (minus John, of course), sit in a circle and listen to McCartney nonchalantly strum and sing some “ohs” and “ahs.” In the blink of an eye, those strums become a rhythm, and the sounds become lyrics.

The video flash cuts to a fur coat clad John Lennon, waltzing into the jam session and—without missing a beat—he starts playing a bright yellow guitar, adding his own flair to the mix. It goes to show that despite the tension (don’t let the British politeness fool you, the drama was ripe), it was no match for their artistic attunement.

As the video says, that song would go on to become their next single. And it was practically pulled out of thin air.

We know that there are several hit songs that were written in minutes. But it’s another thing to see one come to life in real time. Perhaps this is what makes these tunes so inexplicably special; there’s an inherent visceral quality to them. It can’t help but be felt.

The documentary has a plethora of other behind-the-scenes gems that give an unparalleled richness to Beatles history. But this moment reminds us all of what made them so great in the first place. Anyone struggling with a lack of creative confidence might find inspiration from it.