Sunday marked an anniversary most Beatles fans would rather forget: the day in 1970 when Paul McCartney announced to the world that the Beatles were essentially over. To promote his first solo album, McCartney, Paul issued a four-page interview with himself. The band, McCartney wrote, was divided over "personal differences, business differences, musical differences," adding, "Temporary or permanent? I don't know." To his own question, "Do you foresee a time when Lennon-McCartney become an active songwriting partnership again?" he bluntly answered, "No."
What was Paul's motivation and what was the immediate fallout? While researching my upcoming book Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY and the Lost Story of 1970 (Da Capo, June), I went in search of documents I'd long heard about but had never seen: the court papers of Paul's lawsuit to dissolve the Beatles, filed Dec. 31, 1970.
The papers documenting the legal end of the Beatles aren't easy to examine. They're stored an hour outside London at the National Archives, home to historical documents dating back 1000 years, and I had to look at them in a windowless room, locked from the outside. I wasn't allowed to photograph any of the papers and could only use a pencil to take notes.
Despite these restrictions – and with the help of some interviews of some crucial players – I was able to put together a timeline of the last days of the Beatles. Here's some of what I gleaned.
March 20: Allen Klein, then handling the Beatles' business affairs, asks EMI to delay the release of McCartney, which Paul wants out on April 17. With the Let It Be album already scheduled for that month, and Ringo about to unveil his solo album Sentimental Journey, Klein is concerned about a glut of Beatle product in the stores.
March 23: Unaware of Klein's maneuver, Paul finishes up McCartney at EMI Studio. The same day, Klein meets personally with EMI and repeats his (and other Beatles') demands. EMI agrees to postpone McCartney.
March 31: John and George write a letter to Paul to explain their actions: "We thought a lot about yours and the Beatles LPs – and decided it's stupid for Apple to put out two big albums within seven days of each other. … We're sorry it turned out like this – it's nothing personal." Later that day, Ringo hand-delivers the letter to a shocked Paul at his London home; Paul reads it, yells at him and asks him to leave. "I got really angry when Ringo told me that Klein had told him my record was not ready," Paul says in his court affidavit. Ringo convinces John and George to let Paul's album come out as planned and to delay Let It Be by a month.
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