Yoko Ono has been receiving abuse for over half a century from a sub-section of The Beatles’ fanbase who lay the band’s split firmly on her shoulders. In the eyes of many, everything in Camp Beatles was rosy before John found himself tangled up in love with Ono. Suddenly his priorities changed with The Fab Four no longer being what he wanted to throw his heart and soul into — but did Yoko Ono really break up The Beatles?
Following The Beatles’ split, Lennon famously uttered the line in an interview with Rolling Stone: “I had to either be married to them or Yoko, and I chose Yoko, and I was right.” Ever since Lennon uttered this sentence, there has been an albatross around her neck. Did Yoko Ono really deliver an ultimatum to Lennon stipulating it was The Beatles or her? Or did Lennon mean that the band was too all-encompassing, and if he didn’t step off the carousel, then he’d end up being twice divorced in his early thirties with all the riches in the world, yet, still deeply unhappy?
Even George Harrison, who didn’t initially see eye-to-eye with Ono, and was reportedly hostile about her entering The Beatles inner-circle, did dispute that she broke up The Beatles, saying: “The group had problems long before Yoko came along. Many problems, folks.”
Lennon knew that he wanted to end the group after performing with the Plastic Ono Band at Toronto’s Concert for Peace in September 1969. When the bespectacled Beatle returned, he told his bandmates about his decision and confirmed what they already suspected. “When I got back [from Toronto] there were a few meetings and Allen (Klein) said, ‘Cool it,’ ’cause there was a lot to do [with The Beatles] business-wise, and it wouldn’t have been suitable at the time,” Lennon told Jann Wenner in 1970. “Then we were discussing something in the office with Paul, and Paul was saying to do something, and I kept saying, ‘No, no, no’ to everything he said. So it came to a point that I had to say something.
“So I said, ‘The group’s over, I’m leaving.’ Allen was there, and he was saying, ‘Don’t tell.’ He didn’t want me to tell Paul even. But I couldn’t help it, I couldn’t stop it, it came out,” he continued. “Paul and Allen said they were glad that I wasn’t going to announce it, like I was going to make an event out of it. I don’t know whether Paul said, ‘Don’t tell anybody,’ but he was damn pleased that I wasn’t. He said, ‘Oh well, that means nothing really happened if you’re not going to say anything.’ So that’s what happened.”
A section of the issues surrounding the topic has stemmed from Paul McCartney’s not-so-subtle approach of shifting the blame towards Yoko Ono, often speaking openly about the battering that his mental health took following the split. “I must admit we’d known it was coming at some point because of his intense involvement with Yoko,” he said in Anthology. “John needed to give space to his and Yoko’s thing. Someone like John would want to end The Beatles period and start the Yoko period, and he wouldn’t like either to interfere with the other. But what wasn’t too clever was this idea of: ‘I wasn’t going to tell you till after we signed the new contract.’ Good old John – he had to blurt it out. And that was it. There’s not a lot you can say to, ‘I’m leaving the group,’ from a key member.”
Lennon later appeared on The Dick Cavett Show alongside Yoko Ono in 1972 and was quick to refute that she was the catalyst for The Fab Four splitting up. “Anyway, she didn’t split The Beatles because how could one girl or one woman split The Beatles, they were drifting apart on their own,” he told the host. Dick Cavett, querying to Lennon if there was one specific moment where he knew it was over, saw the musician poignantly respond: “No, it’s like saying do you remember falling in love? It just sort of happens.
“Everything is fun on and off y’know so it could have carried on being fun on and off or it could have got worse, I don’t know,” Lennon said in reflection of their split. “It’s just that when you grow up we don’t want to be The Crazy Gang which they may not know over here as they are British or the Marx Brothers which is sort of being dragged on stage playing ‘She Loves You’ when we’ve got Asthma and Tuberculosis when we’re 50.”
He then added: “A long time ago, I said I don’t want to be singing ‘She Loves You’ when I’m 30, I said that when I was about 25 or something which in a roundabout way meant that I wouldn’t be doing whatever I was doing then at 30. Well, I was 30 last October and that’s about when my life changed really.”
As all four band members remain so beloved, it’s easy to point fingers at Yoko Ono being the deciding factor in their split. When, in reality, if John hadn’t met Yoko, then he’d have met somebody else and want to move on to another direction with his life anyway. Equally, if they hadn’t met, then Lennon wouldn’t have been so invigorated as to make their last few records some of their best.
Given the fractions between personal relations, there was no way that The Beatles could last forever. To be the most formidable act in music for almost a decade is something we have never witnessed since or before The Beatles. It was inevitable that something as magical as what they had created couldn’t last long, and eventually, they needed to move on to new creative avenues. To pin the blame on Yoko Ono is unfair but the easy way out.
The truth is, their split was as inevitable as time passing by. Lennon was turning 30 and was no longer the same person who founded The Beatles all those years prior. He wanted to flex his artistic muscles in a new direction, and the Plastic Ono Band was the destination he wanted to explore.