The Beatles posing for Borge, London
(Credit: Bent Rej)

Revisiting the ‘lost tapes’ of John Lennon and Paul McCartney on the Tonight Show, 1968

52 years ago today would see John Lennon appear alongside Paul McCartney for an appearance on The Tonight Show. Quite a coup to have two of The Beatles in the studio at one time but that wouldn’t stop the tapes from being lost for decades.

Thankfully, however, one Beatles super fan recorded the fascinating interview and would upload the content onto the internet years later. The tapes offer an intriguing viewpoint of Lennon and McCartney just before their relationship would come crashing down.

The appearance came at a pivotal time in The Beatles‘ career. They were in the midst of announcing their new company Apple Corps and had just come back rejuvenated from a spell of meditation in India. Just two weeks after this appearance on The Tonight Show they would begin the recording sessions for The White Album in London. The programme was hosted by Joe Garagiola rather than Johnny Carson on this occasion and actress Tellulah Bankhead was also a guest for the evening. But everybody had tuned in to see The Beatles.

At one point in the conversation, Garagiola asked the duo what they would have liked to do if they hadn’t had the success with music which, in hindsight, perhaps wasn’t the question that was on the lips of Beatles fans watching at home. Lennon replied: “Ahh, I don’t know. Films for me” and he also jokingly suggested that his bandmate would make a great policeman but Macca had other ideas, he revealed: “I was nearly gonna be a teacher but that fell through, luckily.”

The duo also spoke about how they had managed to still have some anonymity in New York’s bustling streets despite being two of the most famous people in the world. Even wandering around Central Park without fans bombarding them: “We just walked out, you know. We often do it. If people don’t know — expect us, what are they gonna do but see a bit of long hair walking around like all the other long hair.”

The duo also discussed their new venture ‘Apple’ and why they decided to set up the business at this time, Lennon explaining: “We decided to play businessmen for a bit, because, uhh, we’ve got to run our own affairs now.”

Lennon continued: “So, we’ve got this thing called ‘Apple’ which is going to be records, films, and electronics— which all tie-up. And to make a sort of an umbrella so people who want to make films about… grass… don’t have to go on their knees in an office, you know, begging for a break. We’ll try and do it like that. That’s the idea. I mean, we’ll find out what happens, but that’s what we’re trying to do.”

McCartney then added that there was a DIY ethos at the heart of their recently established company: “Big companies are so big that if you’re little and good it takes you like 60 years to make it. And so people miss out on these little good people.”

Their working-class background also played a part in why they wanted to offer people the opportunity to make art whom they felt may have fallen through the net if it was left solely down to major companies: “Well, (we had it) no tougher than anybody else, you see, but George said, ‘I’m sick of being told to keep out of the park.’ That’s what it’s about, you know. We’re trying to make a park for people to come in and do what they want.”

When the interview finished up the band were asked if they were fed up with the incessant media coverage they were obliged to do and whether there was one question that especially bugged them. Lennon responded calmly, saying: “No. We’re past being bugged by questions unless they’re very personal. I mean, you just get normal human reactions to a question. You know, but there used to be one about, ‘What are you going to do when the bubble bursts?’ and we thought we’d have hysterics because somebody always asked it.”

The host then turns to John and asks: “Let’s go down the list of the questions. What are you going to do when the bubble bursts?” to which Lennon poignantly replies: “I haven’t a clue, you know. I’m still looking for the bubble.”

It’s a tremendous shame that the video was lost but it is still an absolute joy to listen to and catches Lennon and McCartney on frivolous form before they would go on to create arguably their best work on The White Album before the band would turn against each other and split just 18-months later.

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