Why The Beatles Broke Up

Page 4 of 6

There is a famous scene in the Let It Be film in which McCartney worries that his musical guidelines are irritating Harrison too much, and Harrison replies that he'll play whatever Paul wants from him, even if it means playing nothing. "You're not annoying me anymore," Harrison says, with palpable annoyance. The scene has been taken to represent the crux of the sessions' problem: that McCartney was pushy and insensitive, and that Harrison got fed up with it all. To be sure, Harrison had legitimate grievances. He had long been relegated to the role of sideman by Lennon and McCartney. But Harrison was troubled by other matters. He had come to dislike intensely the idea of a live show – and as the time grew closer, his protests grew bolder. By then, the Roundhouse date had fallen through, and when Lindsay-Hogg suggested a bigger or more exotic setting, such as a show in a Roman amphitheater, Harrison was sickened. "It would be just our luck to get a load of cunts in there," he said.

The most dangerous tensions during January, though, passed between Harrison and Lennon. After being sidelined for years, Harrison now found that Yoko Ono sometimes had a voice in band matters that equaled or even bested his. Worse, though, Lennon and Ono were now practicing what was known as "heightened awareness" – based on a belief that verbal communication was unnecessary between people "tuned in" to larger truths. Its real effect, however, was to shut down any meaningful or helpful interactions. When crucial issues came up, Lennon would say nothing, deferring to whatever Ono thought – which drove his bandmates crazy. McCartney had developed an equanimity about it all. There were only two options, "to oppose Yoko and get the Beatles back to four or to put up with her." He opted for the latter, because he didn't want to lose John. In addition, he said, he felt he had no place in telling John to leave Yoko at home. It did, however, always rankle McCartney when Ono would refer to the Beatles without "the" – as in, "Beatles will do this, Beatles will do that." Paul tried to correct her – "Actually, it's the Beatles, luv" – to no avail.

Finally, Harrison reached a breaking point. Early in the afternoon of January 10th, Harrison and Lennon got into a fight that they had to later deny came to blows (though George Martin would tell Lennon biographer Philip Norman that the argument indeed became physical, but "was hushed up afterwards"). The moments of that confrontation are among the few that Lindsay-Hogg was unable to capture for posterity. He did, however, manage to film Harrison apparently quitting the Beatles. "I'm out of here," he said, packing up his guitar. "Put an ad in [the papers] and get a few people in. See you 'round the clubs."

McCartney and Starr seemed shocked, but Lennon was unruffled, launching into a version of the Who's "A Quick One, While He's Away," essentially mocking Harrison's anguish. Later that day, Ono took George's place, picked up a microphone and launched into a wordless blues, as the remaining Beatles joined in, not sure what else to do if they wanted to keep Lennon from bolting as well. (It is, in fact, a fairly remarkable performance.)

Later that afternoon, Lennon suggested recruiting Eric Clapton to replace Harrison: "The point is, George leaves, and do we want to carry on as the Beatles? I certainly do."

On Sunday, January 12th, all four Beatles met at Starr's house to try to resolve their differences, but when Ono persisted in speaking out on Lennon's behalf, Harrison walked out. The Beatles finally reached an accord days later, but Harrison imposed stiff terms: No more talk about any major live concerts, and no more work at Twickenham studios. Ono, however, would remain in attendance at all sessions, alongside John. "Yoko only wants to be accepted," Lennon said. "She wants to be one of us." When Starr replied, "She's not a Beatle, John, and she never will be," Lennon dug in his heels. "Yoko is part of me now. We're John and Yoko, we're together."

Almost two weeks after George's walkout, the Beatles resumed playing, this time in a studio in the basement of the Beatles' Apple headquarters on Savile Row. That same day, Harrison brought in organist Billy Preston, whom the Beatles had met in Hamburg, Germany, in 1962, and who later played with Sam Cooke and Ray Charles. Preston played on the remaining sessions, and his improvisational and professional skills brought a new and badly needed dignity to the final rehearsal days. Lennon found Preston so vitalizing that he wanted to add him immediately as a bona fide, permanent member of the group, a fifth Beatle. McCartney's response was adamant. "It's bad enough with four," he said.

Time was running out on the project. Starr was obliged to begin filming The Magic Christian within days, and it was plain by the end of January that there was no longer time to plan a concert anywhere. Still, the Beatles and Lindsay-Hogg wanted an ending for the film they had begun, and on January 29th, somebody – some say Ringo, others claim it was Paul or even Lindsay-Hogg – suggested staging a concert the next afternoon on the rooftop of Apple's offices. The following afternoon, waiting in the stairwell just below the roof, Harrison and Starr suddenly weren't sure they wanted to go through with the venture, but at the last instant, Lennon said, "Oh, fuck, let's do it," and he and the others, accompanied by Preston, stepped onto their makeshift stage, overlooking London's tailoring district. This was the Beatles' only concert-style performance since August 1966, and it would be their last. That it was also the finest of their live shows says much about the collective power of the musicianship and charisma that they had nurtured over the years, and that even mutual recriminations couldn't nullify. As they played for that near-hour in the bitter cold, triumphing by way of matchless instincts, Lennon and McCartney trading smiles at every keen or botched moment, their best truth became plain: The Beatles were a true kinship – a family with a shared history that spoke a language they would never forget. Those moments, though, weren't enough to redeem what was about to happen.

Reportedly, the earlier fight between Harrison and Lennon started with a remark Lennon had made in an early-January newspaper article, in which he said that if Apple kept losing money at its present rate, he – and therefore the Beatles – would be bankrupt by midyear. It was perhaps an overstatement, but Apple was in fact running out of control, and neither Harrison nor McCartney appreciated Lennon spreading that news.

As a result of all the artist signings, and the price of buying the Savile Row building plus paying high salaries to friends and executives, Apple's expenses soared. Like all the Beatles, McCartney was an Apple director, but in the company's crucial first year, he was the only one who took a daily interest in the business. (Harrison, always the first to sour on anything, told confidants he hated Apple and its "rooms full of lunatics… and all kinds of hangers-on.") In those first months, McCartney tried to curb the company's outlay, but he was met with the other Beatles' resistance; they had no real conception of economic realities, since they simply spent what they needed or desired, and had Apple pick up the bills. When Paul warned them of the financial problems, he was confronted with the view that worry over money matters was an outmoded mind-set. "It was like a traitorous utterance," he said. "It was a rather un-communist thing to do … and anything I said seemed to come out wrong." McCartney recalled trying to alert Lennon that he in particular was spending far too much. "I said, 'Look, John. I'm right.' And he said, 'You fucking would be, wouldn't you? You're always right, aren't you?'"

Matters finally hit a critical point when an accountant quit, leaving behind a blunt memo: "Your personal finances are in a mess." Both McCartney and Lennon now felt that Apple needed a firm hand – that perhaps it was time for the Beatles to acquire a new manager. They approached various financiers and consultants, and McCartney soon believed he had found the ideal solution close at hand: Linda Eastman's father, Lee, and her brother, John, were New York attorneys specializing in artist representation. McCartney believed that the Eastmans could manage Apple and save the band's fortunes, but the other Beatles were leery. All three felt that McCartney already exercised enough sway over the band's fate, and they did not want his potential in-laws also overseeing their business. John, in particular, thought he couldn't allow his partner such an upper hand.

For years, New York accountant Allen Klein had been looking for an entree with the Beatles. A brusque and tenacious man, Klein was known for uncovering lost royalties for music artists, and he had managed singer Sam Cooke before his death. More recently, he had been the business manager for such English acts as Herman's Hermits, Donovan and the Rolling Stones. However, Klein also had a reputation for questionable ethics and was under investigation by U.S. financial authorities. Even so, more than anything, he wanted the Beatles. He had once offered to help Brian Epstein make the band bigger fortunes, but Epstein had declined even to shake Klein's hand.

After reading Lennon's comments about the Beatles running the risk of going broke, Klein managed to inveigle a reluctant Peter Brown, a director of Apple, into arranging a formal introduction to Lennon. On January 28th, 1969, two days before the Beatles' Apple rooftop performance, Klein met Lennon and Ono at a London hotel, and charmed both. He knew the Beatles' music inside out – and he knew how to get on Lennon's good side: lauding Lennon's particular contributions to various songs, and vouchsafing to Lennon Ono's validity as an artist in her own right. Just as important, Klein convinced Lennon that they shared a similar sensibility – both were streetwise men who had made their own way in a hard world. By the evening's end, John and Yoko were won over: Lennon and Klein signed a letter of agreement, and Lennon informed EMI and the Beatles the next day. "I don't give a bugger who anybody else wants," Lennon said. "But I'm having Allen Klein for me."

This set off the conflagration that killed the Beatles. McCartney still tried to advance Lee and John Eastman to represent the group's interests, and arranged a meeting for all the central players. But Allen Klein turned the encounter into a trap, baiting Lee Eastman, accusing him essentially of being a secretive Jew (Eastman had abandoned the family surname Epstein years before), and Lennon joined in. finally, Eastman exploded in fury, calling Klein "a rodent." then he and McCartney left the meeting. "I wouldn't let [Eastman] near me," Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1970. "I wouldn't let a fuckin' animal like that near me who has a mind like that." The worse Klein behaved and the more that Eastman impugned his character, the more Lennon and Ono championed him as the Beatles' rescuer, and Harrison and Starr soon agreed. "Because we were all from Liverpool," Harrison said in the mid-1990s, "we favored people who were street people. Lee Eastman was more of a class-conscious type of person. As John was going with Klein, it was much easier if we went with him too." Though Mick Jagger, who no longer trusted Klein at all, tried to dissuade the Beatles – "Don't go near him," he wrote in a note to McCartney – it was no use.

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