April 10, 1970—It fell to The Cute One to say that the Fab Four were history. Inevitably, the announcement by Paul McCartney ignited a debate that continues to this day about who or what was really responsible for the breakup of the Beatles.
The Beatles bassist (“Macca,” as the British tabloids have called him over the years) felt aggrieved that many fans blamed him for the split in the band that, since their landing in the United States six years before, had transformed world culture. From his perspective, he was the last person in the quartet who should have taken the rap for this. All three of his bandmates had, at one time or another in the last year or so, walked out on the group as they found it increasingly impossible to work together. The prior September, in fact, John Lennon had to be talked out of revealing his decision to exit because the other members were finishing negotiations for a longed-for better deal on past royalties.
It had simply been his lot to state publicly (albeit coyly, in a promotional “self-interview” for his first solo LP) what had become increasingly apparent to those in the know: that he did not expect to work with the other three again
So who or what drove the four apart?
1) Drugs. How trite, I can hear you say, Faithful Reader: What rock ‘n’ roll group hasn’t gotten involved in drugs? True. But there are levels upon levels of drug use that make a huge difference, in productivity and interpersonal relations. In the case of the Beatles, McCartney might have been a pothead, but that didn’t interfere with his habit of doing something creative every day, instilled while he had dated former girlfriend Jane Asher by her mother. But Lennon had started taking acid and heroin, leaving him in little condition to match his ostensible songwriting partner in writing tunes or leading the band. The other members were stunned by what was occurring. “This was a fairly big shocker for us," McCartney said, in Mikal Gilmore’s revealing Rolling Stone analysis of the split nearly 40 years after the fact, "because we all thought we were far-out boys, but we kind of understood that we'd never get quite that far-out."
2) Infuriating musical sessions. The death of manager Brian Epstein in 1967 left the Beatles rudderless—a void that McCartney sought to fill. That tendency might have been resented by Lennon, but he was in little shape to offer an alternative direction because of his heroin abuse. All he could do was go into passive-aggressive mode in his withdrawn, inert state. Recording sessions at their Abbey Road studios took forever to start and, often, just as long to finish. McCartney, getting little feedback from Lennon, as he had in the old days, now indulged to the hilt his control-freak tendencies, particularly irking George Harrison by telling the masterful lead guitar not to play on one song. Just how fragile things had become became apparent when Ringo Starr, the most easygoing of the four, walked out on the group became of these rising studio tensions. Matters reached a truly awful state while preparing for a lunchtime concert atop their Apple headquarters in 1969. The so-called "Get Back" rehearsals were so lifeless and uncollaborative that the group feared for its reputation. Their attempt at a solution--hiring "Wall of Sound" producer Phil Spector--only further contributed to tensions. John, delighted that someone could do anything with with this mess, would turn to Spector for several subsequent solo LPs; McCartney, appalled by all the strings added to his song 'The Long and Winding Road," released his alternative version more than 30 years later, Let It Be--Naked.
3) Women. Those men who ascribe the faults of the universe to the female of the species had a field day with the women closest to the Beatles. Only this time, other women, jealous at the ones who made off with one of the desired Fab Four, often joined in the pileup. For awhile, it was Linda Eastman, wed to Paul in 1969, who bore the brunt of much scorn, particularly when Paul, dispensing with any possible conflict of interest, turned to her brother for financial advice. But before long, Yoko Ono took the full wave of public opprobrium—for stealing Lennon away from his wife; for joining him in group recording sessions that had normally been closed to outsiders, becoming, in effect, a fifth Beatle; for distracting her husband with all kinds of extramusical adventures (e.g., a “bed-in” for peace); and sometimes (but not always) mixed in with this, simple racism.
4) Money. They might have been the world’s most popular entertainers, but the Beatles were increasingly finding themselves hard-pinched. With their Apple venture, begun with high hopes, bleeding them dry, they sought financial advice to get them out of the morass. Their attempt to extricate themselves with a manager who would look after their interests only became a source of further division, with McCartney bitterly opposing their selection of Allen Klein to represent them. (They might have been better off simply to ask Dave Clark to chuck the music business for good and concentrate on their work-he was perhaps the most money-savvy of all the British Invasion musicians.)
5) Different Places in Life. When they started, the Beatles were four young guys hoping to make enough from whatever talent they had to emerge with something more than they had in Liverpool. In the years since, fame, the world, their aspirations, and life itself had gotten between them. John was giving full vent to the rebel tendencies that had been apparent even as a teenager, even as the collapse of his first marriage was bringing to the surface all kinds of guilt he would increasingly try to expunge through unconventional forms of psychotherapy. Paul, less interested in social statements, was concentrating on his recently started family with Linda. George had grown tired of having John and Paul, the group’s two principal songwriters, vetoing one song or another of his from the group’s albums. Ringo was displaying an entirely non-musical interest: acting.
Just before the end of the year, a writ would be filed on McCartney’s behalf in High Court in London to extricate him from the Beatles. As with most legal wrangles, it created an ancillary set of tensions and resentments that would linger even after the case was settled in 1975.
With time, the hopes for a reunion grew so wild and hyped that the group members, even when they visited each other or helped on individual projects, came to see that any possible return concert or project could only be viewed as anticlimactic.