One of the biggest contradictions in The Beatles’ break up was the role that George Harrison played in it. In one way, Harrison was the catalyst: he had a number of quality songs that were being ignored by his bandmates, and his dissatisfaction with the group atmosphere caused him to walk out of the Get Back sessions after only one week. Had it not been for the intervention of his bandmates, Harrison could have gone solo over a year before he actually did.
On the other hand, Harrison continued to contribute to The Beatles’ sessions and be a team player. He brought in Billy Preston to help facilitate getting the band’s working habits back on track, dutifully declined to perform any of his songs during the group’s rooftop performance, and was even responsible for the final recording session of The Beatles’ career. After John Lennon unofficially left following the completion of Abbey Road, Harrison reassembled Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr to finish ‘I Me Mine’ in April of 1970, as the song was set to appear in Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s Let It Be film.
In a 1977 interview with Crawdaddy magazine, Harrison opened up about how the recording of All Things Must Pass contrasted with the final year of The Beatles. “I liked the first song that was on the album, ‘I’d Have You Anytime,’ and particularly the recording of it, because Derek and the Dominoes played on most of the tracks and it was a really nice experience making that album– because I was really a bit paranoid, musically,” Harrison claimed.
“Having this whole thing with The Beatles had left me really paranoid,” Harrison continued. “I remember having those people in the studio and thinking, ‘God, these songs are so fruity! I can’t think of which song to do.’ Slowly I realized, ‘We can do this one,’ and I’d play it to them and they’d say, ‘Wow, yeah! Great song!’ And I’d say, ‘Really? Do you really like it?’ I realised that it was OK… that they were sick of playing all that other stuff.”
Harrison’s difficulty at presenting his songs to his bandmates was made clear during The Beatles: Get Back, particularly as the band rehearsed ‘All Things Must Pass’ without actually taking it on. Harrison wrote ‘Wah Wah’ shortly after his initial departure to get out his negative emotions, and when he returned, he purposefully threw out lower-grade material like the blues pastiche ‘For You Blue’ and the half-finished ‘I Me Mine’ in order not to experience the frustrations that came with some of his best songs getting rejected.
When Lennon quietly left The Beatles in September of 1969, McCartney responded by recording a solo album, 1970’s McCartney. When the release date for the finished Let It Be album was going to conflict with his solo album’s release date, McCartney refused to change it and produced a self-interview that was the final domino in The Beatles’ official fall. In May of 1970, less than a month after The Beatles broke up for good, Harrison began recording All Things Must Pass, setting the course for his own future as a solo artist.
See a breakdown of the Beatles’ split, below.
A time of The Beatles break-up:
The end of live shows
After years of being hounded by screaming fans and endless work, a terrifying tour in the Philippines meant Harrison, Lennon and Ringo could finally convince McCartney to give up the road.
A change of direction
The band enjoyed a break returning to friends and family, but Lennon couldn’t settle back into relaxed civility, so he decided to shoot a film in Spain. “I was always waiting for a reason to get out of The Beatles from the day I made How I Won the War,” he later said.
Personal problems begin to spiral
Recording of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is well underway when it becomes clear that Lennon is dissatisfied with his marriage and his drug use spirals. “I think we didn’t really realise the extent to which John was screwed up,” Harrison later reflected.
A devastating death…
The band’s manager and lynchpin Brian Epstein passes away on August 27th. “After Brian died, we collapsed. Paul took over and supposedly led us. But what is leading us when we went round in circles? We broke up then. That was the disintegration,” Lennon said.
A commercial flop
The Beatles have their first critical disaster after the release of the Magical Mystery Tour film. As producer George Martin explains: “When it came out originally on British television, it was a colour film but shown in black and white, because they didn’t have colour on BBC1 in those days. So it looked awful and was a disaster.”
Harrison’s Indian influence
Harrison encourages the band to travel to India to study Transcendental Meditation. Harrison isn’t impressed by his bandmate’s actions during the stay. “There were some flaky people around back then,” he later said, “and we were four of them.”
John Lennon’s relationships…
Divorce proceedings begin between Lennon and his first wife Cynthia, as he looks to set up a new life with Yoko Ono. “Suing me for divorce? On what ground is he suing me?” Cynthia would exclaim before pursuing her own claim.
The White Album woes
The Beatles record The White Album, and the situation is divisive. McCartney is recording songs on his own, Harrison thinks the only way to be heard is to introduce guests to the studio, and Yoko Ono’s constant presence is irking. Ringo walks out, “I felt I wasn’t playing great,” he recalled, “and I also felt that the other three were really happy and I was an outsider.”
The Ringo return
After a successful TV performance of ‘Hey Jude’ and Ringo re-joining the band, the ‘Fab Four’ live to fight another day. But despite being upbeat they seem to know their days are numbered. When Ringo was later asked whether he thought The Beatles were basically done by now he simply responded, “Oh yeah.”
Harrison storms out
During recording sessions of Let It Be, Harrison thinks the same unresolved problems were being perpetuated. Harrison would later say: “At that point in time, Paul couldn’t see beyond himself.”
He then has a blazing row with Lennon and quietly says: “I’m out of here. Put an ad in [the papers] and get a few people in. See you ’round the clubs.”
Private personal complaints begin to boil
A meeting is called, and things are patched up enough for Let It Be to continue but issues remain unresolved.
While Ringo opines on the Ono issue “She’s not a Beatle, she never will be.” Lennon privately thinks, “That old gang of mine. That’s all over. When I met Yoko is when you meet your first woman and you leave the guys at the bar and you don’t go play football anymore and you don’t go play snooker and billiards.”
Business relations scupper creativity
It becomes clear that since Epstein’s death, the finances of the band have not been managed correctly, Lennon meets with the controversial Allen Klein. A business meeting is later called.
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!”
After a disagreement over the release timing of McCartney’s solo effort, he decides to make the split public. Prior to his famous press release, amid the squabble McCartney recalls turning to the band and “I said, ‘There’s been a clean break. Let’s just admit it. Let’s just tell the world now. Isn’t it time?’”
The rest is history.