Why The Beatles Broke Up

Page 5 of 6

This disagreement came at the worst possible time for the Beatles, when everything was happening too fast. In a matter of months, the Beatles lost their chance to commandeer Brian Epstein's former management firm, NEMS (costing them a fortune), and, more crucially, Lennon and McCartney lost the rights to Northern Songs, their music publisher. In the course of it all, McCartney married Linda Eastman on March 12th, 1969. and Lennon and Ono married on March 20th, in Gibraltar. In addition, on the same day as McCartney's wedding, Harrison and his wife, Pattie, were arrested for marijuana possession (Lennon and Ono had been arrested on a similar charge by the same police officer months before, and the disposition of that case affected Lennon's life for years). Klein had been of no benefit in any of the business debacles, despite his assurances, and yet Lennon, Harrison and Starr remained supportive of him.

On the evening of May 9th, 1969, at a recording session at Olympic Sound Studios, Allen Klein waited outside while Lennon, Harrison and Starr, at his behest, demanded that McCartney sign a three-year management deal with Klein immediately. McCartney wouldn't do it. He told the others that Klein's 20 percent fee was too high, but in truth he simply couldn't reconcile himself to the reality of Allen Klein as the Beatles' manager. The others grew furious, but McCartney held his ground. "The way I saw it, I had to save the Beatles' fortunes," he said. "They said, 'Oh, fuck off!' and they all stormed off, leaving me with the session at Olympic."

This was essentially a battle between Lennon and McCartney; these were men fated to prevail, and neither could afford to lose. McCartney eventually succumbed, though with a fine subterfuge: When the Beatles signed their contract with Klein, McCartney refused to put his signature on the document. Neither Klein nor the others believed this mattered – the Beatles had a majority-rule understanding. But in that moment of dissent, Paul McCartney pulled off the only brilliant maneuver that anybody accomplished during the Beatles' whole sorry endgame: By withholding his signature, McCartney would later convince a court that he was no longer contractually bound to remain with the Beatles and had never been bound to Klein.

By this time, McCartney had lost his heart for Apple, the company that had resulted largely from his vision. In fact, he now hated the place, and stopped visiting the Savile Row offices. When McCartney would try to reach Klein, the Beatles' nominal manager would sometimes refuse the call."Tell him to call back Monday," Klein told his receptionist.

Despite the travail of the "Get Back" sessions, the Beatles reconvened to make another album. Myth later had it that the Beatles knew they were ending and wanted to make a final record worthy of their reputation, but the truth is, no matter their troubles, the Beatles still liked the music they made together, even if they didn't like one another. They had already been recording intermittently since the January sessions, and had produced "The Ballad of John and Yoko" (with just Lennon and McCartney) and Harrison's "Old Brown Shoe" (with the full band). McCartney persuaded George Martin to return to the production helm and also brought back Geoff Emerick, under assurances that the Beatles would work on their best behavior. Lennon had to delay his arrival at the sessions after wrecking a car that he, Ono, Julian and Kyoko were riding in, on July 1st, 1969. When Lennon arrived at Abbey Road, he had a bed installed on the studio floor, so his wife could rest and offer commentary. None of the other Beatles dared protest. "The three of them were a little bit scared of him," recalled EMI engineer Phil McDonald. "John was a powerful figure, especially with Yoko – a double strength."

There were still disagreements, including Lennon barging into McCartney's house one day when Paul had missed a session, and in a shouting rage, breaking a painting he'd given McCartney. At another point, John wanted his and Paul's songs relegated to separate sides of the vinyl album. In the end, a compromise was reached – most of the stand-alone songs on one side, and the suite (known as "The Huge") on the other. Just as important, Harrison finally enjoyed some long-overdue prominence when his two contributions, "Something" and "Here Comes the Sun," were recognized as among the best work the Beatles recorded during the summer of 1969. The resulting album, Abbey Road, provided a sweeping display of the band's mature strengths and a perspective on its history, whether the Beatles intended it that way or not. Lennon would later renounce Abbey Road as "something slick" that McCartney fashioned "to preserve the myth," but Lennon had the habit of not appreciating anybody's depths but his own. McCartney had been watching the Beatles come apart, and he was grieving over it. Talking about the closing segments of Abbey Road's suite with Barry Miles, in Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now, McCartney said, "I'm generally quite upbeat but at certain times things get to me so much that I just can't be upbeat anymore and that was one of the times ... Carry that weight a long time: like forever! That's what I meant."

By the time Abbey Road was released on September 26th, the Beatles' fellowship had effectively ended. On September 13th, John Lennon and Yoko Ono performed at the Toronto Rock & Roll Revival, with a makeshift group that included Eric Clapton, and the experience convinced Lennon that he could no longer withstand the confines of his old band. A week later, during a meeting at Apple – with Klein, the Beatles and Ono in attendance – McCartney tried once more to persuade his bandmates to undertake a tour and return to the stage. "Let's get back to square one and remember what we're all about," he told them. Lennon responded, "I think you're daft. I wasn't going to tell you, but I'm breaking the group up. It feels good. It feels like a divorce."

The people in the room didn't know whether to be shocked or to take the claim as another show of bravado on Lennon's part. Nobody – including Ono – knew this would happen on this day. "Our jaws dropped," McCartney said. For once, McCartney and Klein were in agreement: They persuaded Lennon to hold off on any announcement for at least a couple of months. Klein had just finished a new deal that won the Beatles a substantial increase in royalty rates, and he didn't want to spook EMI with the knowledge that the band was breaking up. Plus, both Klein and McCartney believed that Lennon might reconsider; it wasn't uncommon for him to swing between extremes. But Ono knew better, and she was as unhappy as anybody else in that moment.

"We went off in the car," she later told Philip Norman, "and he turned to me and said, 'That's it with the Beatles. From now on, it's just you – OK?' I thought, 'My God, those three guys were the ones entertaining him for so long. Now I have to be the one to take the load.'"

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