Imagine this: You’ve been in the same room with the same three people for seven years. You work together, you travel together, and even when you’re on your own, you’re constantly being asked about the habits and opinions of those same three people. Sounds pretty exhausting, doesn’t it? Well, that was what life was like for John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr during the years they performed together as The Beatles.
No wonder, then, that the cracks began to show. Although much of the group’s appeal was the honest friendship and comradery between its members, by the late ’60s each member of The Beatles had started to assert a more individual artistic agenda.
At no time was this more present than during the recording of The White Album, when the disharmony between ‘the Fab Four’ began to disrupt their studio sessions, eventually spilling out into their business meetings.
This period also marks the point that members began periodically quitting and then rejoining The Beatles, frustrated by the position their fame had put them in.
Below, we’ve compiled all of the times a Beatle quit the band.
When The Beatles left the band:
Ringo Starr – August 22nd, 1968
Starr’s walkout during the recording of The White Album was the beginning of the end. Exhausted by The Beatles’ workload and the sour atmosphere which had started to develop inside the studio, Starr decided to take a yacht owned by Peter Sellers and travel to the beautiful Italian Island of Sardinia.
It was during this sun-lit time that Starr wrote his song ‘Octopus’s Garden’, featured on Abbey Road. He would later comment that at that time: “I felt I wasn’t playing great, and I also felt that the other three were really happy and I was an outsider,”
Without Starr, Paul McCartney had to fill in as drummer, and it is his sticks you can hear thrumming the snare on ‘Back In The USSR’. Ringo would later be persuaded back into the studio after his bandmates wrote him a letter in which they told their friend how much they missed him. On his return, he found his drum kit had been decorated with flowers in an arrangement that read, “Welcome Back Ringo”.
George Harrison – January 10th, 1969
In 1969, during recording sessions for Let It Be, George Harrison picked up his things and walked away. Although he did so without much of a fuss, inside, he was burning up. Part of his frustration stemmed from his relationship with Paul, who he regarded as being domineering and selfish at that time.
Harrison believed his songwriting talent wasn’t being utilised and felt his songs weren’t being given the time that the Lennon-McCartney ones were. Harrison would later say: “At that point in time, Paul couldn’t see beyond himself. He was on a roll, but… in his mind, everything that was going on around him was just there to accompany him. He wasn’t sensitive to stepping on other people’s egos or feelings.”
Eventually, it all got too much for Harrison and he left the studio with the line: “See you round the clubs”. He would return five days later following a mammoth meeting in which Harrison was able to air his wounds.
John Lennon – September 20th, 1969
Lennon’s dramatic exit from The Beatles was the combined result of business disagreements and the tension which had formed between Paul McCartney and himself. Like Harrison, Lennon disagreed with McCartney’s notion that the band should return to their roots by performing in live rock ‘n rock clubs like they had in the old days. But, as McCartney recounted, “Lennon looked at me in the eye and said, ‘Well, I think you’re daft. I wasn’t going to tell you till we signed the Capitol deal…but I’m leaving the group!”
For a long time, nobody knew if Lennon was even serious. He was famously impulsive, and the band expected him to go back on his word. McCartney described how: “Nobody quite knew if it was just one of John’s little flings, and that maybe he was going to feel the pinch in a week’s time and say, ‘I was only kidding.'”
But that didn’t stop the remaining members from taking the opportunity to work on their solo material. They had all been desperate to establish themselves in their own right and this was their chance. Harrison worked with John Lennon on ‘Instant Karma’ (a scathing attack on McCartney), whilst Ringo recorded ‘Sentimental Journey’.
Paul McCartney – April 10th, 1970
In stark contrast to Harrison’s exit, Paul McCartney timed his walkout to coincide with the release of his solo record McCartney. Paul, with the help of Apple recordings, released some publicity material that would break the news gently. In response to a question regarding the likelihood of any further Lennon/McCartney song’s being recorded, McCartney simply said “No”.
Paul had wanted to get away from The Beatles for some time and used Lennon’s exit the January prior as an excuse to end things. McCartney would later recall how he knew the band was over when John broke the news: “We’d all (except John) had goes at trying to to keep the group together and failed. So it wasn’t any longer a case of trying to keep it together, it was now whether we tell the world or not, and I thought, ‘Well, if we are going to go our own separate ways it’ll only work against us if they all still think we’re in the Beatles.'”
“So I said, ‘There’s been a clean break. Let’s just admit it. Let’s just tell the world now. Isn’t it time?'”