Why The Beatles ‘died as musicians’ according to John Lennon
There were very few critics of The Beatles when they suddenly became the biggest band on the planet. The group were so successful that to critique them felt like spitting into the wind. It was pointless, except, of course, if you were John Lennon.
The bespectacled Beatle was never shy to throw some shade the way of his old band, especially after the group had disbanded. In one particular scathing interview with Rolling Stone, Lennon suggests that the band never improved as musicians and cites one clear reason for their premature death.
For John Lennon, especially in 1970 when speaking with Rolling Stone, the shadow of The Beatles was still hanging heavy over his career. While the singer had a plethora of new projects on the horizon with his wife Yoko Ono, everybody who had some time with Lennon began their conversations in a similar fashion with a bunch of questions about the Fab Four.
Many of those questions were interested in finding out the background to the band’s split or the conception of their songs but in this conversation in 1970, Lennon not only explored The Beatles myth but also shared why, in his opinion, the band ‘died as musicians.’
In the conversation Lennon is asked, “the Beatles were talked about — and the Beatles talked about themselves — as being four parts of the same person. What’s happened to those four parts?” It’s a question with some serious weight as it offered the singer a chance to open up about one of the band’s biggest myths.
“They remembered that they were four individuals,” dryly replied Lennon. “You see, we believed the Beatles myth, too. I don’t know whether the others still believe it. We were four guys… I met Paul, and said, ‘You want to join me band?’ Then George joined and then Ringo joined.” It’s an idyllic scenario for any band, let alone the biggest the world had ever seen.
Lennon tries to simplify the iconography that has surrounded him throughout the previous decade into one sentence, “We were just a band that made it very, very, big that’s all.” But he does offer up a leading question for RS when he said, “Our best work was never recorded.”
Of course, that provokes the explanation and it seems to all reside on the lack of performing live. “We were performers—in spite of what Mick [Jagger] says about us—in Liverpool, Hamburg and other dance halls,” says Lennon reminiscing about the band’s early days. “What we generated was fantastic, when we played straight rock, and there was nobody to touch us in Britain. As soon as we made it, we made it, but the edges were knocked off.”
The singer then continues to eulogise what was, in his eyes, the loss of the band’s musical integrity, “You know Brian put us in suits and all that, and we made it very, very big. But we sold out, you know. The music was dead before we even went on the theatre tour of Britain. We were feeling shit already, because we had to reduce an hour or two hours’ playing, which we were glad about in one way, to 20 minutes, and we would go on and repeat the same 20 minutes every night.”
It was clear that a man like John Lennon preferred the buzz and the authentic connection of artist performing for their audience than the studio, like his songwriting partner Paul McCartney. “The Beatles music died then, as musicians. That’s why we never improved as musicians; we killed ourselves then to make it. And that was the end of it.”
“George and I are more inclined to say that; we always missed the club dates because that’s when we were playing music, and then later on we became technically, efficient recording artists—which was another thing—because we were competent people and whatever media you put us in we can produce something worthwhile.”
Many Beatles fans would argue that removing themselves from the live circuit actually propelled their career forward and certainly helped the group become a prolific recording outfit. However, it’s hard not to see Lennon’s point here. Perhaps the Fab Four could have continued a little bit longer if they were given the buzz of performing that clearly at least two of them desired. Alas, it was not to be but at least we have a ream of incredible records to comfort us.